We can't all look like Ashley Graham, but we can take a leaf from her book by reconsidering societal perspectives on postpartum pregnancy stretch marks.
I am not a feminist. Well, at least, I don’t want to be. Thus I am a reluctant feminist. I don’t want to emasculate any men. I just want to be a regular person who goes about their life in a peaceful kind of way. Live and let live I suppose you could say. But as a woman, I find myself unwittingly being dragged into the conversation again and again that there is some injustice in the world where genders are concerned. (Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about race, that’s just a conversation for another time).
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A Reluctant Feminist
By growing up, which was brutally spurred on by becoming a mother, I find that I have realised more acutely the imbalance that I had ever before. And I have found it no more present anywhere, than in the home. When I embarked on the journey of parenthood, I was of the understanding that I was taking the journey with another person. My partner.
But, some short distance along the path I turned to my left and right and found myself completely alone. It was this way for years in my household. I continually sought to be part of a partnership, part of a team. But time and time again, I would be abruptly reminded that the team only really had one player.
It is a bit like playing football against a bloodthirsty team, getting the ball and then looking around for someone to pass it off to… and realising that you are the only one who bloody turned up! So, you get slaughtered, and then on many occasions, you are subjected to the vitriolic criticism at having lost the sodding game. And ironically, for some bizarre reason, if you pipe up and voice a defence, or counter critical opinion about the injustice of the entire situation, it is deemed as being unjustified.
Perfect… I’ll just go back to the kitchen then I suppose.
Together, We Are All Alone
It is through more and more conversation on the matter with fellow lone travellers, that I established that this phenomenon was not unique to my situation, but a commonality among almost all women I knew who were parents. It would be a running joke at the school pick up line – said in jest, but felt with real sting. Anecdotes of useless husbands would flood forth, veiled humour and followed by sarcastic phrases like bless him, when what they really wanted to say was Fuck him!
Of course this gripe is not applicable to all situations, but the commonality and similarities are undeniable. Invariably, men’s justification for their perceived uselessness usually falls into the usual: can’t, won’t, shouldn’t have to, don’t know how to defences. How many times have women been delivered compliment ‘you’re better at it than I am’. With the it ranging from anything to do with domestic chores, household drudgery or children related admin. All the shit stuff basically.
Don’t get me wrong, more and more men do contribute to certain areas such as the cooking or stacking the dishwasher nowadays. But for some reason, they feel in their heart of hearts that they are doing us a favour by doing so, and in the worst instances they feel as if they are entitled to a bloody Nobel prize simply because they boiled an egg.
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
So how does this happen? How do well educated, confident, worldly women keep falling into the same trap of misery? Could it be love I ask?
Much in the same way as the the siren song was once blamed for luring the sailors of myth to wreck on the rocks, unfortunately the trickery of the idea of reciprocal love is so beguiling to women, that time and time again they have allowed themselves to be smashed on the jagged rocks of their disappointment.
As Tina Turner said, what’s love got to do with it – and she would know better than anyone.
So it can then, only be biology that is to blame for our demise as all powerful autonomous entities. It is that damn ticking clock wrapped up in decades of unrealistic narratives about true love circling around our heads and voila! You have the perfect recipe for disaster.
Isn’t It The Natural Way of Things?
As you look around and realise that the situation of women is so common, you cannot be blamed for asking: If this is how things are, maybe that’s how they are supposed to be? Historically speaking, women have tended not to be as warlike as men, which one must admit was incredibly important once upon a time. This is not to say that women can’t be formidable warriors (and have been), but their numbers add up to significantly fewer than their male counterparts.
Back in the day, men would hunt and make war, and women would gather and nest. But during those nostalgic periods of human existence we were part of a community – Hillary’s village as it were. But alas this village is no more. In the West especially, we seldom live within travelling distance of our next of kin nowadays, let alone live exclusively with them.
In fact, we are so separated from our clans that the judging gaze and scrutiny of our elders, that once kept the various members in line has all but disappeared. And with it, the burden of having to remain accountable for our attitudes and actions in the dynamic of our marital abode.
For it must be acknowledged that for some unknowable reason, many men treat their wives in a way that they would never tolerate for their daughters to be treated by their prospective husbands. So why do they do it?
It is because the disconnectedness of our current world has allowed the women to fall into the category of the other? Not from the same clan and therefore dismissible and disregardable? A kind of hired domestic help that has the misfortune of never being able to truly leave because the plight of a mother is to live in a permanently dichotomous state. The personification of two sides of the same coin. The proverbial double-edged sword. The mother vs the Self. Love vs Hate. Freedom vs Imprisonment. This is the lot of the woman in the modern world. This is the internal battle that is daily waged.
Is this why we run so willingly to divorce and to break up our families these days? Because we have grown to vehemently loathe and despise our captors? Our husbands?
What Is My Life Worth?
Contrary to popular belief, a mother’s job can be quantified. Firstly we have to consider, what it would cost to replace her? Well, to employ a full-time day nanny 6 days a week 12 hours a day would cost around £60,000 (US$82,000) or so per year, plus tax. And then they will be unlikely to perform every task with as much love and care as a mother would.
After all, mothering (or shall I say parenting), is no easy job. Correct me if I am wrong but weren’t sleep deprivation and the loud sounds of a screaming baby, among other things, two of the tactics used as forms of torture by the US Army to the detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? Which, despite the arguments about the ambiguity of the sovereignty of the territory, are still very much war crimes thank you very much Messers Bush and Blair.
And yet, when a woman is at her wits end when after being subjected to the same treatment month after month, year after year, she is unjustified in her complaints. Being responded to with such supportive comments as ‘well you wanted to have another baby’. With God as my witness, there is a special place in heaven for those mothers who are lucky enough to have had a few kids in quick succession, let me tell you.
Returning the valuation of life, we must also take into consideration the income that was sacrificed in order for the woman to be the child barer. Leaving the conversation of gender pay inequality to one side, as that is a whole other post despite its relevance, many women leave industries that would have seen them progress and earn significantly higher amounts had they not been on hiatus as mothers.
Even if we use the most conservative figures in our calculations, the average wage per annum for a woman in the UK is around £30,000 (US$40831.32). This figure is of course taxed, which is again another post altogether, but should leave her with around £24,000 (US$32665.06). You see the problem immediately. To replace me would cost £60K, but my earning capacity is only £24K, it seems that even if I allocated 100% of my income per year to a generic replacement, I’d only be one third of the way there. And that my friends, simply does not add up.
It is for this reason that we remain financially shackled to our husbands, like the ‘property’ that women were once considered to be in days gone by, but with grater illusion of freedom.
So What Do We Do Now?
So what is the solution? Do we need a new system? One’s that is bespoke to our modern circumstances and that still lends itself to our natural differences and strengths. One that’s fair to all parties? But what would that be? Should parenthood be carved up into a contract in the same way as any other partnership would be?
Can motherhood ever be fair when women will always be the ones who physically bear children, nurse them and are generally more skilled at rearing them? After all, women and men are different, it’s true. We have vastly different skill sets when it comes to the children and we both excel in different areas.
Maybe the only way forward is to follow in the footsteps of the loathed Amber Heard; seek to procreate, if so desired, without the burden of a male parent. This is, of course, somewhat preclusive as it takes fairly deep pockets to take time away from professional pursuits to raise a child. In addition, it takes a fairly well paying professional pursuit to return to when the time for outsourcing the day to day care of the child becomes necessary.
This is not possible for the vast majority of women. So who then, should pay? The State perhaps? Can you imagine the faceless hoards of men working away in anonymity, with the select genetically excellent few being chosen to donate their male essence to thousands of ripe wombs, in some kind of reverse Handmaids Tale communist inspired State for the ‘grater good’ style solution? No, neither can I.
Well then, perhaps the Spartans had it right. There it was mandatory for young boys of 7 to leave the comforting warmth of the mothers bosom to go off to be with the men. There they would flourish into brave and disciplined fighters in their path to become a warrior. From then on, they would seldom return to cohabitation with women, save as to procreate and again be gone. So women were free to live as they wished to live with the mutual support of the sisterhood of other Spartan women. It was they who kept the home fires burning while the men were away at war, unofficially running the State. And yet it was the commonality of the State that held this all together.
Well, until the Amazonian-style utopia takes over, we must be able to do something right? Right.
La Plus Ça Change…
In the immediate term, perhaps we need to take a look at the current situation regarding men’s attitudes and women’s access to finances. It would seem that if men would only treat with respect and appreciate the sacrifices that women daily make, much of the burning disappointment on the part of the women would be vanquished.
So too would the women’s happiness and autonomy be restored if the structure surrounding her employability and remuneration was more in line with the realistic situation, and not the numbers blurted out on some spreadsheet after applying the logic that some bloke came up with in the 1800s.
(Its actually true, William Pitt the Younger first announced income tax in his budget of December 1798 and it was introduced in 1799, in order to pay for weapons and equipment in preparation for the Napoleonic Wars.)
So what can we do? Well its the tech age silly! We start a movement damn it! We tweet and post and upload to our hearts content about the plight of the situation and how we aren’t taking it anymore.
Sure, we are too old (most of us) to see any benefit from it, but at least those of us with daughters will hopefully live to see any progress made along the path to equality. And those of us with sons are responsible for reshaping the attitude of male dominance and superiority over the lowly childbearing wife, and elevating it to one of admiration and appreciation for societies dependence on her and her role.