I started reading Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born, and I am so pleased that I picked this to be my next feministy read. While I've only made it past the introduction (I have little time to read these days with work and the baby), it has already proven to be quite insightful on the subject of motherhood as an institution and the politics of mothering. Obviously, I need to finish the book before I offer any real insight, but I wanted to leave you all with some thoughts that were sparked by this piece in the book:
Every infant born is testimony to the intricacy and breadth of possibilities inherent in humanity. Yet from birth, in most homes and social groups, we teach children that only certain possibilities within them are livable; we teach children them to hear only certain voices inside themselves, to feel only what we believe they ought to feel, to recognize only certain others as human. We teach the boy to hate and scorn and hate the places in himself where he identifies with women; we teach the girl that there is only one kind of womanhood and that the incongruent parts of herself must be destroyed.
As a mother, my sole job isn't just to provide food and shelter for H. I am to provide stability, care and love him, and I am to teach him. I am to teach him how to respect others and how to respect himself. I am to teach him about the bad/dangerous/evil things in our midst, and how to look beyond those things and also see the beauty and hope in the world. I am to teach him that anything is possible. And I am to teach him the value of exploring and expressing all the facets of his emotions--whether or not society may deem such emotions as feminine; to explore all corners of his mind and his creativity, even if it means he will face an uphill battle because he wants to wear dresses to school. I am what I never thought I could be--a teacher. I wonder if, when someone decides they want to have a child and they want to dive into the world of parenthood, people think about the difficult and wondrous things they will need to teach their child. Sure, some folks may think about the religion they want or don't want to teach/indoctrinate their child with or the basic values they want to instill in them--but does anyone think beyond that? I'd like to say I did, but I don't think my thoughts really went beyond my own basic theory: that I wouldn't push a sexual identity on him/her, that I would strive to provide diverse experiences, that I would explain that while mom and dad don't believe in a god that others do and there are many different beliefs in the world, that all people should be valued equally, that animals are just as valuable as people (because people are animals too!), and so on.
I am realizing that it goes so much deeper than my initial thoughts and intentions--that even if I am not making a conscious decision to outright teach H something, that my actions are showing him. The simple comments I say to him are teaching him how to value himself and how to see the world around him. This--mothering--is no simple task.