Motherhood & Sexuality

In Chapter 1, 27 of the book of Genesis of Old Testament , woman was created together with man, and in the image of God like him. But it is again cited in Chapter 2, 22 of the same book that woman was created after man was created, and not from "the dust of the ground" like him, but from the man's rib. In attempt to explain this contradiction, Jewish tradition claims that the first woman was Lilith - a woman who was man's equal and devilish in her sexuality. Since she and man were fighting constantly, she left him and was copulating in deep waters with demons. Lilith refused to return to man even when God threatened to have a hundred of her offspring die each day. 

Eve, man's second woman and was created from a rib because the rib is the most modest part of the body. Thus the split between motherhood and sexuality has been revealed the deep ambivalence that characterizes the two contradictory perceptions of a woman: A woman can either be motherly like Eve and then is pure, virgin, holy, and a support for her husband, or she can be sexual like Lilith, and then she is sinful, devilish, lacking any maternal instincts. This idea still has been continuing in our society that more sexual a woman is perceived to be, the less she will be evaluated as a good mother. (See journal article by Ariella Friedman, Hana Weinberg, Ayala M. Pines; Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, Vol. 38, 1998) According to Christopher L.C.E Witcombe , the legend of Lilith merges with the earlier legend of Sumero-Babylonian origin, dating from around 3,500 BCE.

In patriarchal values there might be duality between sexuality and motherhood and Lilith and Eve were two symbolic characters to represent patriarchal ideas on Motherhood.

In first wave and second wave feminism, all feminists share a belief that women are enslaved by domesticity and defined by their roles as mother and wife. Betty Friedan called the family a 'comfortable concentration camp'.

According to Simone De Beauvoir, the myths of women are created by masculine world and these myths (such as the myth of the mother, the virgin, the motherland, nature, etc.) attempt to trap woman into an impossible ideal by denying the individuality and situation of all different kinds of women. Simone was against the motherhood and even against the marriage. It is no doubt that Feminism was influenced by Marxism for a long time. Simone was influenced by Hegelian 'others' theory and for a long time indirectly Hegel, Marx and Engels lead the feminist movement.

Marx's early thinking was greatly influenced by that of Hegel and Feuerbach, characterized by idealism and humanism. The very concept of alienation came from idealist thought of early Marx, where he broke radically with every theory that based history and politics on an essence of man. The idea of commune concept developed by later Marxist activists was also based on this alienation concept where the idea of family structures and mother hood responsibilities were denied. Marx believed that history was "determined" by changes in the relationship of production and consumption, and consumption was often a product of rhetorical pressures imposed by ideologies, which created a "false consciousness." But in due course it is observed that one should not judge every human activity with production and consumption factor and the relationship of mother and her offspring are the first example to refuse that production and consume theory. In this prospect, I have to remember Simone again. She was somehow influenced by Marx (or to say pro Marxian Hegelian theory). She categorically denied Motherhood.

Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique in 1963, where she argued for abolishing the family, but in 1981, she again wrote The Second Stage, where, she explained that her theories had been misunderstood. Friedan asked for a reconsideration of marriage. She pleaded for feminists to move away from anti-family rhetoric and back to a dialogue that addressed the needs of most women, who were wives and mothers. She called for a humanistic evolution that would enrich the institution of the family by including the needs and desires of men in the picture.

In the '70s Germaine Greer encouraged women for the revolutionary breakdown of sex roles. With her outrageous and shocking language, she proposed that women should refuse to marry. Being married; there might be every chance for a woman to become a subject for her role as a commodity in a capitalist society. But in a later book, however, Greer forthrightly defends a more traditional version of the family. She accepts the idea that a husband, wife and children constitute the basic familial unit.

Sexuality of a woman no doubt is repressed by motherhood because the sexual drive calls for active and immediate need gratification; motherhood requires sacrifice passivity and postponement of gratification. But sex is not all for either in the life of man and woman. Motherhood brings some feminine sensuality which a woman can't rule out from her life. Desire for children is a feminine sensibility and while considering all aspects, we should not overlook the emotional suffering of infertility, pregnancy loss, or stillbirth bear sorrows of a female. It is true that motherhood makes a female limited to her sphere temporarily within the four wall of the home and in post-natal period, she has to take charge of child rearing and who does not know that men are irresponsible and unbelievable when it comes to child care and housekeeping.  In India, a female has to bear financial loss at her work place due to her pregnancy in unorganized private sector. 

Personally I believe that all the theories made by the second and third wave Western feminists on motherhood are denying women a basic choice about their womanhood and about their lives. I have marked, in the growing trend of Feminism, the western feminist thinkers like Simone, Friedan, Greer and even Linda Hirshman have a tendency to make feminism equal to the status of patriarchal role. Patriarchal role in society is a devilish tradition implied by the masculine world and our attempts should not be to create another social milieu of exploitation and injustice.

Feminism does not aim to destroy the family structure or to attack on the emotional bondage of love and passion. The motto of feminism should to create a new world with a new perspective of equality and humanist attitude. Feminism must be a road to glorify female role with their own sensibilities. So, we can admit that being a mother is one of the most important jobs in the world, but we should also confirm that motherhood is not only the not the only 'choice' available to women. It should be confined to the ability of woman to say "yes", as well as "no", to having children. 

In South Asia, motherhood is always mingled with a religious and social goal of patriarchal society and is not subjected to a woman's wish but of man's. In Hinduism a 'son' is the must requirement for a man to achieve his personal 'moksha' after his death. So the Manu Smruti stresses upon 'putrarthe kriyate bharya', which means a wife is required to bear sons. This is the most insulting status of a woman in Hinduism and for that an infertile woman losses her status in her family as well as in society. An infertile woman is treated like a widow and is barred from any social rituals and many orthodox Hindus in rural areas still believe that encountering an infertile woman at morning is a bad sign for the whole day. So, while discussing about motherhood in South Asian perspective, we should not forget this status quo.

But still I believe, the motherhood and sexuality is so closely connected in women's experience and of women's gender identity that the idea of split between them is only false myth woven by the patriarchal society.

(The original essay was published in October 2008 issue of a print media magazine: The Indian Age.)     


More by :  Dr. Sarojini Sahoo

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