Motherhood Privilege

I wanted to entitle this piece “Privilege in Oppression Theory: Privilege in Feminism (Or: What You Want to Believe Doesn’t Exist, or is Too Complicated, is Merely Your Denying Your Actual Privilege; No, Really)”.

I’m exceedingly frustrated — as you can probably tell from the snarky, wanted-to title. But for good reason. Male privilege? Sure, feminists get that, even as they also (mostly) get that Black men are incarcerated at an absolutely unjust rate. Men have privilege merely for being male, but it isn’t always luxurious. White privilege? No problem, here, either. Whites have relative ease, and … if nothing else, think about the rate of Black incarceration. Privileging of motherhood? No way! It’s all about MY mother, or MY life — or MY wife — and how horrible the culture is to her.

No one white whines, “My dad died from job-related cancer at his factory job, SO THERE IS NO WHITE PRIVILEGE! And there’s no whining because we’ve mostly stopped saying aloud that Those Jobs, the dangerous working-class ones, should go to Black and brown men. In part, this is because those jobs, often the remaining union ones, pay a near-living wage. Now women and men alike are clamoring for them, in a culture that has produced only service-sector (burger-flipping) jobs, or otherwise-menial jobs requiring multiple degrees.

No feminist, or pro-feminist male, whines, “My brother couldn’t get a job because they kept hiring females instead!” Partly this is because when a job classification has a preponderance of females, it loses status. And for men in western culture, it’s all about status, masculinity, about being seen as ‘not like women.’

In these two areas, most people understand that privilege doesn’t mean A Life of Luxury. Privilege simply means better treatment compared with a reference group. Men are treated better than women; maleness is higher on the hierarchy than is femaleness. Whites are treated better than are people of Color; whiteness is at the top of the racial hierarchy. Privilege simply means better treatment than that other, related group — related via race, sex, etc. This holds, consistently, uniformly, and really, really well until … motherhood. And I really, really want to know why.

I suspect that part of it is that women are still seen as being ‘designed for motherhood.’ Species continuation, as if too few humans were an immediate issue. Still, no matter our politics, motherhood often just feels natural. And right. And personally important — because without motherhood WE, personally, would not be here. Our very lives have depended on motherhood. To question any of it means to question the rightness of our own, very personal, existence! I suspect another part of it is that we are, when we think of humans as a group, still quite lesbophobic. Sure, Some of Our Best Friends Are, but we still don’t think of Them as equal. Or superior! As having excellent, inherent answers to pressing cultural concerns. Like too many people, like female support for patriarchy, like maintenance of the exiting hierarchy of female subordination and all it entails — including the maintenance of femininity. Heterosexuality is complicity. Seeing that is painful, too big a reach for most hets, and too hard to grasp without turning self and beliefs inside out and upside down. Nope, no real questioning of that is going to happen for the vast majority of far-leftists, even radical feminist activists.

Well, tough shit. Some of us are brave in this area, and would like to see others catch up. I remember the feminism of the 70s, where EVERYTHING was questioned. Women were far braver then than the backlash faux-feminists of this era ever dreamed of being. Which is also tough to deal with, for some. Too many women believe the New! Improved! claims of advertising somehow apply to feminism. Coziness, comfort, navel-gazing, a belief that If It Feels Good It Can’t Be Questioned, came into politics in the 80s and settled deeply in the 90s. Single issue ‘activism’ became normalized. Women could unite, never mind worrying about the messiness of race. Fat people could come together, never mind the messiness of hierarchies of sex, sexuality and actual love, race, class, and the rest. ‘Park your differences at the door’ bled from feminism into fat activism and elsewhere, and those of us who were never single issue activists were stunned. (All three of us.) Clearly I’m still pissed. And not likely to get over it. (OK, there are more than three, but not enough more, who get it.)

Part of it, which needs saying, is that it’s cultural, sub-cultural, even racial: for minority groups, and for people of Color, women not reproducing can feel like genocide. So outgroup women and women of Color have a sacred obligation to continue their people, their race(s). Conservatives distraught at the impending white minority classification, and the rise of outgroups, certainly reinforce it, and the world sure doesn’t need more first world, entitled whites. But women as obligatory Breeders of the People is a problem, a feminist problem, a huge problem for proponents of social justice. No one can be used against their own interests for the betterment of the group without damaging the group. In fact, no one who is legitimately marginalized can be claimed as a part of a group without their permission. (Lizard Man and T-Culters don’t qualify as ‘legitimate’ within radical feminism.)

Another issue is that lesbians capitulated to the cult of motherhood in the 80s. I was one of them, a fact that deeply shames me now. But it’s done and what I can do now, all I can do, is support more-marginalized women and call out the truth as best I see it. And that truth, here, is that motherhood is decidedly and clearly privileged.

Elite-caste characteristics are privileged: maleness and whiteness are two good examples of immutable characteristics, decidedly privileged. Another is white patriarchy’s consensus on physical attractiveness, the characteristics of which are rarely amenable to any lasting change. Think weight and body shape and size, coloration, physical features, and especially the smallness, weakness, and general paleness associated with ‘feminine beauty.’

Any conformity to the power-maintenance needs and the power-reinforcing wants of the elite is also privileged. These conformities CAN be changed. They are acceptances of the status quo, demanded by white supremacist patriarchy. Institutionalized inequity in the additional forms of heterosexuality over lesbianism and gay maleness, classism (economic AND subcultural/ worldview-based), and motherhood, fit into this category.

So can we start talking about it, with the understanding that privilege means better treatment compared with a reference group? And that your mother’s awful life, or your own, aren’t the point? And that if you cannot imagine how your mother’s life would have been different had she been lesbian AND resisted the baby-making mandate, or how your own or your wife’s life would have been different, you are denying privilege. No, really.


8 thoughts on “Motherhood Privilege

  1. Thank you, for this brave and brilliant piece. I hope all women read it, and especially those supporting the mother cult in believing privilege is oppression.

    I had forgotten that of course when men add Lesbians to “LGBT” against our will, including us with our oppressors, and every other time they appropriate us, of course they are thinking they are being benevolent since they know how superior they are.

    Also a brilliant description of how feminism was dluted into almost nothing. Well said! xoxoxo

  2. I’m at the point where I just view these type of privilege deniers as the liars that they are. I wouldn’t give time to someone denying other types of privilege and I won’t bother with these type either. It is frustrating though because it is such a big part of the lives of women – being defined as mother or other – if other VERY wrong for it.

  3. Because I’ve heard the same questioning from sincere feminists, I will begin the dialog myself (though nuclearnight’s view is probably more appropriate).

    If we start “with the understanding that privilege means better treatment compared with a reference group,” it’s necessary to name that reference group. Let’s call them non-mothers, or non-breeders, or childfree women (or the unduped). Because as a former lesbian breeder, a mother for several decades now, and fully patriarchally owned in this one, I see how readily I was duped.

    Just taking my own experiences, it started when the looks in others’ eyes changed at work. I was now esteemed, steered into conformity beyond their expectations; even “implanted” in the best body-snatchers meaning is not too strong a term. And pregnancy was a lot like alien possession from within. Two things occurred to me: no being should ever be forced to support the life of another with her body, not ever, and there is no way, without heaps of praise, that any being would choose this so readily, if it were truly unpressured.

    People who hadn’t spoken to me when I was That Uppity Lesbian were now similingly inquiring as to my health, meaning the spawn’s vitality. Enthusiastic white male strangers asked to touch my belly, or just touched, without the asking. Approval was everywhere. And I think I was a bit stunned when it declined, after spawn one’s birth. The praise was lavished, the encouragement profuse, but only during the carrying of the spawn of patriarchy.

    Pregnancy becomes enforced docility for the even-somewhat class privileged. Docility in women is rewarded.

    Motherhood is still favored over not reproducing patriarchy’s cannon fodder, and their sex-service supplies, human females. Like any other single privileging, it is not absolute. Patriarchy is pimpish: once you’re in, the best treatment ends and the basic treatment begins. And basic treatment for women under patriarchy is not good. And it’s still better within motherhood than outside of it.

    I understand that it’s going to be different for different women. The commonality is that it will be better to be understood to be a conformist, a mother, than it will to be seen as a renegade, a non-breeder. A woman not within the control of a single man, husband especially or father, is understood to be the domain of all that culture’s men: the rape of lesbians is an example of this, and I was, in fact, threatened with rape at work when I defended myself from harassment as a lesbian.

    The stories are out there if we listen for them. I know of a woman who kept having babies to receive the kind of fawning that her family offered to her only then, pregnant and later with a newborn. White woman, middle class, in case you were edging toward the stereotype of the Black Welfare Queen. I know of a woman who considered breeding once more, which meant offering up yet another child for wealthy folks to adopt, who insisted she was “a better person” when she was pregnant. White, again. I know of a lot of women who conformed, got societal approval, and when it waned, went back for more. And I know I was one of them.

    When we talk of white privilege, the better treatment is clear: jobs, housing, not being killed immediately by cops, college entry access especially if one’s father attended, and better treatment within all of the culture’s institutions — over those with brown or Black skin. Ditto for male privilege. It’s not as immediately clear for those privileges of choice. Motherhood is, for most women who would consider reading this, a choice. Abortion was a reality long before industrial civilization, and if risky, it was survivable for many. Choosing to partner with or be sexual with men is a choice which some women have ALWAYS resisted.

    Part of the problem with heterosexual and motherhood privileging, and they are intertwined, is that the oppressed in these cases are expected to live directly with (and under control of) their oppressors. A portion of the problem here is that feminism has encouraged women to look at their oppression, focus on it, and not on their relative privilege. Liberal feminism especially has given women an easy out — but we’re better than that, and we truly want ALL women to have access to feminism, even the women we oppress. Especially the women we oppress.

  4. That’s an incredible reply!!! Brilliantly said. I’ve been writing about this issue for years as we are increasingly bombarded with way more boys than girls in Lesbian communities, but you add so many more ideas than I’ve ever heard of. Should be required reading for all little girls constantly pressured to reproduce. A friend saw a little girl who was barely old enough to walk who was pushing a toy baby stroller. And pretend feminists deny there is pressure or privilege? But hey, some of these women are now supporting men who insist they are women and Lesbians, so all is ultimately revealed in terms of finding out the truth about the trolls who betray real Radical Feminists to the worst form of MRAs.

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