Cute babies. This is the song you should listen to while reading this post. Then listen to this one for fun.
There’s this thing in the men’s rights world where they blame feminism for all the woes of the modern world and think women should all just quit wanting to do anything but make babies and take care of their husbands. It seems like they want to go back to the “good old days”. I say we should go back further.
Way back in the day, in hunter-gatherer days, women and their children were not isolated from one another in boxes the way we are in modern life. The children would all hang out together and have lots of time without adult supervision and the women would talk, work, gather, help each other out with care of babies, etc, not sit alone in a box. Here’s what Peter Gray had to say about it:
A too-exclusive attachment of child and parent is not only unfair to the child but can also be burdensome to the mother (it usually is the mother, not the father). There is nothing natural about the idea that a woman should stop other activities and devote herself exclusively to children and domestic chores when she becomes a mother. Hunter-gatherer mothers continue their foraging activities, and continue to socialize fully with the other adults of the band and with neighboring bands. Motherhood does not isolate them; if anything, it ties them even more closely to everyone in the band, as they all enjoy relationships with the child.
Another important point about pre-history and families is that, in tribal societies, children grew up together and the older children would help out with the younger children. I imagine this made the transition to motherhood (and fatherhood for that matter) and the concept of becoming a mother much less terrifying, as one had been caring for children as just another part of living ever since one was old enough to have younger kids and babies in the tribe to help out with (see Hunter Gatherer Childhoods). Having one of your own probably wasn’t quite as huge and scary of a thing as it is now here in the west, where single folks can spend their entire 20’s mostly avoiding children if they want to, then suddenly have one of their own and feel completely overwhelmed, and in isolation as well (except Facebook), yikes! I think these may be factors in why so many intelligent women and men are opting out of parenthood, because they think logically and some of the benefits of parenthood are nonlinear, emotional, and not easily captured in a pros/cons list or cost benefit analysis, and the cons seem huge if they are so unknown while the pros are esoteric and hard to describe (see the first comic on this page).
Later in history women had housework to do, children did not go to school as much and farming allowed more interaction with the rest of the family. In the Little House on the Prarie books, which I loved as a kid, the mother had a day that was dedicated to a different major chore that we can now do with a machine or, for example, we just buy butter at the store instead of churning it. So, along comes a time when many women are sitting around in boxes, their children are at public school most of the time, they don’t spend all their time doing labor-intensive housework, and now they are bored and feel like their lives are meaningless. So, feminism happened. It went hand in hand with the technological and cultural evolution. It’s not something evil, it’s the human urge to feel like our lives have meaning! That’s not to be trivialized or dismissed as some sort of evil plot.
Now we are stuck as a society. We haven’t yet figured out how to combine career and family in a harmonious way, from what I can tell. Everyone I know who does it seems incredibly stressed out; that’s not how I want to live. I want to be busy, but not overwhelmed. Also, the combining of a high power career and a family often leads to overwhelm that can harm relationships and lead to so much stress that women find their sex drives diminished; sex has an important role in attachment to one’s partner, as discussed in this excellent book. Additionally, stressed out parents are not always their best at parenting, surprise surprise.
I’ve known women who worked part time while their children were young and that seems like a pretty good option to avoid the insanity. If both partners work part time, you can both have a passion for your family and a passion for your work, and fathers can develop a closer bond to their children. Some women are doing this, but I think we need to normalize it so that it’s easier to negotiate. I know someone who tried to negotiate this in a science faculty position and it did not go well.
I think communal living would also allow women to dedicate more of their life to their families but also have stronger social and intellectual networks in their community, which would keep our minds engaged and help us feel like we are living a meaningful life. Parenting is, according to many I’ve spoken about it with, rewarding in a way that is hard to describe, but it’s also very hard work and kids pretty much universally take their parents for granted.
Women wanting to feel like they’re important, rather than diminished, is logical, we want feel like we did something big and useful in this life so we can face the terror of death knowing we did something valuable with our lives while we have them. (I think almost everything about humans can be related to the book the Denial of Death. It’s such a powerful idea that is so prevalent once you get it.) Adherents who ignore the whole point was equal rights, not power for women at the expense of men, families and the future, are taking it to a harmful extreme, but at it’s core, women who have ambition and want to do something in this world is a good thing. However, it should not be at the expense of having healthy, happy families. We also need to be reminded that our reproductive choices not only affect the future or our species, but that our choices in our youth can have long term repercussions to our own happiness and fulfillment.
Women who want children should make having a family a priority and not something that is put off till later. I know many women who may miss out on their dream of being a mother because of the way our culture has shifted the family formation years further and further ahead. This is damaging to women and I myself was a victim to this emphasis in our culture. These women, including myself, feel like they have missed out and our careers aren’t fulfilling that need. Not only that, but childbirth and caring for a family are easier for women who are young and full of energy. I feel like it’s going to be exhausting to do it now and I wish I had done it earlier in life. Female fertility is ideally suited for family formation in our 20s. Finally, we strong women need to ensure that we pass our genes on and raise our kids well, or there won’t be many strong women in the future! It’s not rocket science, it’s biology, even a women can do that kind of science (obviously a joke so don’t be offended, silly head).
Many many women end up in their 30’s, after focusing on their careers in their 20s, and find their options are very limited. I myself put off dealing with the fact that the man I loved didn’t want what I wanted most in life, a family, because I was so focussed on pursuing my PhD. Dating in your 30’s when you want children badly is awful. Trust me, you don’t want it! Science babes, find a good man who wants a family and will be a good father early, or you too will be stuck looking for a man with a ticking time bomb. It’s like dating at gunpoint!
It sometimes feels like my entire species has rejected my DNA and decided I’m worthless as a human being and would make a lousy mother. Not to mention the ache in my heart for a family of my own, which gets more painful with every baby photo I see posted on Facebook. What is wrong with me that no one wants to mix their DNA with mine and make a tiny human? It’s good stuff, I promise. I’m sure many women in my boat feel this way, but most wouldn’t actually say that out loud and wouldn’t even think to blame feminism for this, we just get frustrated with men because it’s so hard to find one who is willing and able to start a family. But, back when men didn’t have the option for so much baby-free sex, well, trust me, a lot more would have been willing to have children! From my perspective, without having the direction of a family to support, modern men seem a bit lost, though that doesn’t mean they realize that may be the cause of their lack of direction.
I’m not sure what is ideal and what all the forces involved are or what to do about it, I just know that what we are doing now isn’t working for a lot of people: it’s not good for women who end up in my position, I don’t really think it’s good for men either, it’s not good for parents who are stressed out while trying to raise their children, it’s not good for children, and it’s not good for the future of our society. But that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t have a right to pursue their dreams and do what we want in our lives, it just means we have to be smarter about how we go about it. How, I’m not sure, but I am sure that ignoring this problem won’t make it go away. I’m also sure that I wish I hadn’t ignored that topic in my own life until it was so late in the game.