by Sudha Chandrasekaran
Does Motherhood alone relate to a Woman’s Identity?
‘Continental Xtra – the strongest instant coffee’ campaign that is being telecast over the TV these days set me thinking…. “‘Three years into marriage- no good news as yet,” asks a nosy aunty. “I have bagged 8 awards, bought a 3 Bedroom apartment and have floated my own company too. What else is the good news you need Aunty,” asks the girl played by actress Nithya Menen.
It all boils down to the fact as to whether women achieve ultimate fulfillment only by bearing a child? Even now, in these modern times, we still do come across instances wherein a woman alone is blamed for not be getting a child and is set on fire only because she was unable to give the family an heir; and more so even men divorce their wives or else get remarried due to the same reason. This may be totally false as the man may also be infertile. The worst ordeal for a woman is that of being termed ’barren’ and being under societal coercion and constant humiliation. The gist of it being that at times, the woman’s motherhood appears to be her sole identification and it is rather sad that it is an indisputable truth in our densely populated country. To quote Chinmayee Manjunath, “My world is not incomplete without a child. And if that bothers people, they need to examine their own lives. Not mine.”
However, in recent times, our society is witnessing a great change and a huge advancement in our attitudes. But, nonetheless, some aspects still remain that demand our introspection and definitely the concept of motherhood is one amongst them. The idea that it is only ‘motherhood’ that completes a woman is ingrained in their minds right from their understandable age. Women who do not support this idea are branded as cruel and hard-hearted. Well, if you as a woman feel that motherhood is the one which completes you, then I do salute you and am totally supportive of your idea. At the same time, I also believe that this idea that birthing alone will complete a woman cannot be forced on anyone. I personally feel that there is nothing in this world that will ever complete you, as in this short life time of ours several are our experiences, both good and bad. How is it possible to feel complete with just this single aspect? Many movies that I have seen take pride in echoing this dialogue –“A girl becomes a complete woman when she enters wedlock and gives birth to a child”. This type of skewed thinking infuriates me. The assumption that motherhood is inevitable and eventual to girls is hammered into their heads right from their early age. Advice given to girls mostly from elders starts with something like “when you have children,” and not “if and when you have children.” Girls are raised with thoughts of motherhood happening to all girls, be it through wedlock (which is the only institution that is considered holy) naturally, or through adoption or assisted reproduction. If women are considered complete only on giving birth to a child, what can be said about those who are unwilling to embrace parenthood or about those who for some reason are unable to conceive? Also, whenever younger women express their desire for a child-free status, it is not viewed seriously and people feel that they will soon have a change in thinking and views.
Here’s something interesting that I wish to share with you all. Yesterday I attended the birthday party of a dog, at my friend’s house. It may sound a bit strange, but she is unwillingly to have children because the cares and responsibilities of raising children is something which she is not prepared for. Her views are not accepted by many of my friends. Likewise, a few celebrities have voiced their decisions to remain child-free. Aren’t they women too? I personally know some women who think beyond their strength, their security and their own obligations to devote their life to causes which are very close to their heart. Their contention is you live but once and so “let me choose to do what means the most to me”. Their sense of motherhood has been extended to accommodate several types of people and society at large and they .are trying to make a difference wherever it is possible. Their experiencing of motherhood and its fulfillment is by making active contribution to the progress of societies.
It definitely would be dim-witted and ignorant to come to the conclusion that a woman’s only contribution is just that of bearing a child. With her dedication, ardour, the requisite skills and business acuity, she can work wonders in any job of her choice, be it that of a leader, engineer, teacher, doctor, social worker, warriors……the list is endless... With technology growing by leaps and bounds, several are the jobs that are made simpler and less taxing and it broadens her choice of professions. One of my friends is a leading civil engineer .Conventionally
this branch of engineering is opted for mostly by men but it is heartening to see women taking up this ‘unorthodox’ professions. The purely personal choice of women about having children or otherwise helps them make positive contribution to the society they live in and this provides them the ultimate satisfaction in what they do.
Even if a woman chooses to express and experience her motherhood by birthing a child and dedicates her entire time in bringing up the child, I can say beyond all doubt that it is one of the most important jobs in this world. What kind of an individual she raises decides the future of a society. Several are the issues that are faced by a society today and to resolve them, socially conscious and responsible individuals who work towards the betterment of the society, are the need of the hour. The fact does not remain that bringing up a child is not to be considered an unimportant job nor is it a job meant for weak and an ambitious less persons. As much as we cannot veto a woman’s right to work outside her home or judge her for that, we have no right to judge a woman who chooses to make her home the centre of her existence.
Is motherhood to be experienced solely by women and is it their prerogative alone?
We are tempted to believe in this statement as women are usually the first to reach out and cuddle an infant even if it is not theirs. But are men are incapable of this instinct? No, definitely not. Studies point out that even fathers make good mothers and this maternal instinct is a social construction and not an inherent one. It has been stated by a couple of studies that men are as biologically ready as women to take of children and this defies the universal belief that women are better at parenting than men folk.. Men can be maternal too! It is rather unfortunate that often men who show empathy and compassion are branded by their peers as behaving ‘like a girl’. This probably is due to the belief that compassion and empathy are weaknesses rather than strengths and that strength is purely physical in nature but it is not so .Intelligence, Commitment and Persistence define Strength. Hence the art of mothering is not restricted to women alone. Motherhood’ is independent of gender. When you deeply care for someone – be it your parents, spouse, friend, or even strangers- you experience motherhood... This idea may seem to be revolutionary to those of them who believe that ‘motherhood’ is just about giving birth to a child and hence about women only. We see in our day to day lives that people who have adopted children are indeed capable of as much love, sacrifice and responsibility as their biological parents.
Experiencing motherhood is not the prerogative of women alone. All you need is the willingness to put others’ needs before yours and view others as someone more important than your own self.
In fact some people who have championed a certain cause or are pursuing a dream which they think will make the world a better place to live in, often prefer to remain single and have no families. This is because they value others’ needs more than theirs. These people too are, in my opinion, experiencing motherhood.
There is this emphasis on genetic and biological motherhood which rather proves to be an insult to those who have become parents by a variety of means, like surrogacy, adoption…... A good beginning is one in which the society at large, respects the decision of those women who choose to be childless. After all, fertility issue is a purely personal one.
So given the current climate of gender inequality in India and elsewhere, we need to work towards ensuring that women have complete freedom in choosing what they want to do with their life. The gradual change in thinking of what comprises a family is starting to weaken the existing default view that all women must be mothers, and that every family requires a mother.
Our society is now scooping the childless status for laughs, while using humour to bring out the point that a fulfilling and satisfactory life is possible without having kids. These days women do not shy away from comments calling them ‘child-less’. It’s time women define themselves and others have no part to play in this. All they need is the breathing room to be more than only their womb. She is an individual who has a mind of her own. Several are the roles enacted by women and motherhood is only one out of the many roles. Motherhood, for any woman, is just a choice and not an obligation. I am looking forward to the day when a woman is not influenced or coerced to make that ultimate decision on how she wants to shape her life. That day would really call for celebration as it would be a huge step forward in the advancement of humanity. ***