Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mothers: reduced to nothing, blamed for everything

I wouldn't want anyone to think I've lost my anger even though I may express it more calmly than I used to. I have to tell you though, I'm glad there was a time when I would write a piece like this — on Mother's Day yet! — and never think twice about the fallout.

This was a column I wrote in The Daily News for Mother's Day, May 12, 1991. It was just a few months after the start of the First Gulf War. I remember exactly where I was when that war started; I still remember watching the surreal scenes on television of bombs falling on Baghdad — little green explosions on the TV screen. I was sad and I was angry.

This column grew out of that sadness and anger.

Sometimes, when I want to refer to something as a “motherhood issue,” I write “so-called motherhood issue.” I do that to acknowledge society's meaning for the expression but also to point out society's ambivalence — not about the issue, but about motherhood. My “so-called” is usually excised by a sharp-eyed editor who no doubt asks himself, “Is it a motherhood issue or not?”

A few weeks ago, I quoted a few lines from an article by American sociologist Carol Cohn. The article, Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals, deals with the images and languages of war and its weapons. She prepared her article after spending a year at a centre for defense technology and arms control.

There's no shortage of research that suggests that some of the rage men feel toward women is rooted in envy of the biological power of women. I shudder every time I hear about fertilized eggs being implanted in a male body in one further step toward appropriating childbirth, and I emphatically disagree when I hear a woman say, “I wish they could have the babies and leave us out of it.”

Cohn found much childhood and motherhood imagery in the nuclear war industry. In December 1942, she writes, a telegram sent to the physicists who had developed the atom bomb read, “Congratulations to the new parents. Can hardly wait to see the new arrival.” The bomb was often referred to as “Oppenheimer's baby.”

The hydrogen bomb was referred to as “Teller's baby,” although “those who wanted to disparage Edward Teller's contribution claimed he was not the bomb's father, but its mother. They claimed Stanislaw Ulam was the real father; he had the all-important idea and inseminated Teller with it. Teller only 'carried it' after that.”

Cohn discovered that the idea of male birth and its accompanying belittling of maternity — “the denial of women's role in the process of creation and the reduction of motherhood to the provision of nurturance (apparently Teller did not need to provide an egg, only a womb)” — has survived to this day in the nuclear industry. She quotes an officer talking about a new satellite system saying, “We'll do only the motherhood role — telemetry, tracking, and control — the maintenance.”

Incidentally, the imagery doesn't stop with the “parents” but continues on with the “children.” In early testing of the nuclear weapons, scientists expressed the hope that the baby was a boy, not a girl — that is, not a dud.

So I guess you're thinking, if childbirth and motherhood have been reduced to so little importance, how come you get blamed for everything? Is it really all your fault?

These are the words of the revered Carl Jung on the subject:

“My own view differs from that of other medico-psychological theories principally in that I attribute to the personal mother only a limited etiological significance. That is to say, all those influences which the literature describes as being exerted on the children do not come from the mother herself, but rather from the archetype projected upon her, which gives her a mythological background and invests her with authority and numinosity.”

Having reduced women to nothing, writes Mary Daly in Gyn/Ecology, Jung then blames them for everything.

In the early days of what we so blithely call civilization, motherhood was the only recognized relationship — the one that was easily identified. It's really only since someone thought up the idea of marriage and exclusive sexual rights that paternity has become an issue — in fact, that paternity has been given such significance that mothers who raise children without a father are disparaged and discriminated against.

A “motherhood issue” is something we're supposed to accept as good without thinking about it. A good education system, universal health care, enough food for everyone — these are motherhood issues. Or are they so-called motherhood issues? You see my problem.

Happy Mother's Day, anyway.