Once again it is Mother's Day, the day we have set aside in North America to honour our mothers and show them our appreciation with breakfasts in bed, chocolates, roses, and the canned sentimentality of Hallmark cards. This Mother's Day I would like for us to take the time to remember the mothers who might have been or at least one particular subset of that group. There are many factors that might intervene to prevent a woman from becoming the mother she would otherwise have been – early death, physical infertility due to illness or injury, entering a convent and taking a vow of celibacy, finding her erotic attraction limited to that of the Sapphic variety, etc. The might-have-been mothers I wish for us to think about today, however, are those who entered womanhood capable of bearing children, with the natural desire that they would one day do so, but who were deceived by the lies of the enemy of motherhood and femininity, feminism.
These victims of feminism have been on my mind as of late, ever since I learned that one of the iconic figures of second-wave feminism would be coming to town to speak later this week. As you may be aware, a few years ago a prominent Jewish family in Winnipeg that made its fortune in telecommunications, talked the government into dropping millions of the taxpayers’ dollars into constructing a monstrous eyesore near the Forks in the heart of the city. It is officially called the Canadian Museum of Human Rights but regarded by various groups who feel that their own historic suffering has been slighted or overlooked by the planners of the museum as being just another monument to the Jewish Holocaust. There will be an official opening later this year but already lectures are taking place there. On the fourteenth of May, the guest speaker will be Dr. Germaine Greer. I learned about this, oddly enough, in an opinion piece published by the Winnipeg Free Press on the third, written by an Athena Thiessen who objects to Greer’s appearance at the CMHR because Greer does not accept that people like Thiessen, who rejected the male body parts their Y chromosomes gave them for the imitation female body parts surgery could provide, are real women. Although this has nothing to do with my topic I cannot help but note the irony that the person making this complaint has adopted the Greek name of Minerva, goddess of wisdom.
Dr. Germaine Greer is an Australian born academic who became a feminist luminary in 1970 with the publication of her book The Female Eunuch. Although the title could mislead one into thinking she was writing about female genital mutilation of the barbaric type practiced in many African countries and certain suburbs of Toronto, a subject she did tackle in a later book, it was actually a diatribe about how traditional gender roles and the traditional family had deprived women of their sexuality. The book became a best-seller and its author hit the lecture circuit and became the darling of the media. She developed the reputation of being men’s favourite feminist. Her wit, sharp tongue, and foul mouth undoubtedly contributed to this, as did the fact that while she was a Marxist academic she was not a cold, doctrinaire, intellectual like Simone de Beauvoir. Nor did she give the impression of having just flown in from a Walpurgisnacht’s revel with the devil on Bald Mountain like Betty Friedan. Most importantly, the message which she both preached and modelled to young women, about finding their sexuality through multiple lovers and an avoidance of commitment and pregnancy happened to coincide perfectly with the adolescent fantasies of a generation of males who did not want to and in many cases refused to grow up.
Greer wrote several other feminist books but in 1999 put out The Whole Woman, a direct sequel to The Female Eunuch. In this book she made some interesting admissions. For example she wrote “In The Female Eunuch I argued that motherhood should not be treated as a substitute career: now I would argue that motherhood should be regarded as a genuine career option, that is to say, as paid work and as such an alternative to other paid work”. (p. 260) While this is not exactly a recantation and to equate motherhood with “paid work” is still demeaning it indicates that Greer had had something of an epiphany.
The personal struggle that lay behind this came out in an article that appeared in the inaugural issue of a women’s magazine, Aura, that was launched by Parkhill Publishing in Britain the following year. The headline was “I Was Desperate for a Baby and I have the Medical Bills to Prove It”. I have been unable to track down the full text of the article probably due to the fact that Aura seems to have folded after the first two or three issues, but Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer discussed it shortly after it appeared, quoting Greer as confessing “I still have pregnancy dreams waiting with vast joy and confidence for something that will never happen”. (1) Krauthammer wisely commented that Greer was a victim of her ideology, “In modern times we suffer not for our sins (sin having been abolished) but for ideology”, and that she was not the only one.
As a movement, second-wave feminism or “Women’s Lib” was not united in its vision of what it wanted to accomplish. Some hoped to achieve women’s independence of men, others aimed at women’s social, political, and economic equality with men. Some wanted to advance women as a class, others wanted to “emancipate” women as individuals. Then there were those who merely preached hatred of men and demanded a revolutionary overthrow of the family and in some cases of sexual reproduction itself. What the feminists did agree upon was that whatever their future goals for women were, the traditional ideal of woman as wife and mother stood in their way and had to go. They demanded that abortion be made “safe and legal” and so paved the highway to the future they wished to build with the blood and bones of millions of unborn children. In this, they resembled the Communist movement, the Marxist ideology of which many of their founders shared, but their message to young women was expressed in the language of liberal capitalism. They told young women that the path to finding and fulfilling themselves lay in the pursuit of ambitious, high-paying, careers, and that if they still wanted a husband and children they would have plenty of time for that later.
This, of course, was a lie, because women have a much more limited window of opportunity to reproduce than men do, with the optimal child-bearing years coinciding with those in which an ambitious career is usually established, to say nothing of the fact that abortions, even “safe and legal” ones, do not exactly enhance fecundity. So, many young women, bewitched by the message of “you can have it all”, put off their dreams of motherhood only to find that when they finally arrived at the date they had set aside in their planner for their appointment with Mother Nature, she, justifiably insulted at being put off so long, stood them up.
In The Whole Woman, Greer wrote that “The immense rewardingness of children is the best-kept secret in the western world.” (p. 415) The only people trying to keep what is otherwise universal knowledge a secret, however, were feminists like Greer herself, who did an excellent job of keeping it a secret from themselves. While it is a pity that Dr. Greer learned this “secret” too late for it to do her any good, I must say that I feel far more sorry for all those women who will never know the joys of motherhood because they bought into the lies she peddled.
These are the mothers who might have been and this Mother's Day, let us remember them as well.
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