I always find it odd that in all the necessary and laudable celebrations of Women’s History Month, that they are often devoid of any celebration of the critically important work of mothering. As we celebrate female firsts in corporate America, science and technology and afar fields that we never imagined possible, it is also equally important to point out the female-always-have-beens-and-things-men-cannot. This would seem like prime fodder, and quite frankly, ground zero, for any honoring of women. I know, every woman is not a mother, but every woman came from a mother so that makes the mothering experience critically important for shaping the lives and outcomes of young girls. And according to recent Census data, 53% of women aged 15-50 are mothers.
This dangerous omission is an unintended consequence of a much-needed feminist movement that for decades has been focused on achieving equality to men. That’s the good news. The bad news is that in this quest to be “like” men, we actually suppressed the things that make us uniquely women—such as giving birth and lactation. While we rightfully freed ourselves from the imperative to mother, we neglected those who may actually choose to mother and even enjoy it! (Gasp!) Our push for reproductive rights, focused on preventing pregnancies and ending unwanted pregnancies, neglected to fight for our rights after pregnancy and that includes maternity leave and breastfeeding support. This is the feminist fall out and it’s dangerous to all women.
Here’s why. Omitting the role of mothering in women’s history perpetuates the continued undervaluing of mothering as important work, worthy of celebration for more than one day. When mothering is not valued as worthy of accomplishment status, we continue in a system where the U.S. is the only OECD country that does not offer a paid federal maternity leave. We continue under the insanity of me being able to pay someone to care for my child, but I cannot receive a portion of my income while doing the work myself. Things that only women can do, such as lactation, are not viewed as important time spent so we are encouraged to pump our breasts empty in 15 minutes and get back to acting like men at work—this separates the milk we produce from the nurturing we provide, and disrupts the bonding benefits of breastfeeding and the quality of our milk.
Even worse, it perpetuates the divide between all women, those of us with stretched out uteruses and those still unstretched, and feeds into the “women wars” of the childless vs. the child-ful. This puts Mothers on one day in May and Women in one month in March, instead of looking at women as all women and mothers as both current and future. According to recent Census data, 81% of women aged 40 to 44 had become mothers. It also misses where all of roles of women—wife, mother, sister, friend mix and collide with career ambitions, personal achievement, failures and the whole experience of womanhood. Excluding the important role of mothering, in the cumulative history of the rise of women, is shortsighted and dangerous. Nor should it be only relegated to one day in May with overpriced brunches.
Women’s History Month IS ALSO Mother’s History Month.