This piece was directly inspired by an essay by Arwyn at Raising My Boychick: My Parenting Style Did Not Make My Motherhood a Prison, My Society Did. I strongly encourage you to go read the whole thing.
Motherhood by Heather Keith Freeman
9.5″x13″, pen and ink on watercolor paper
The experience of motherhood in this culture can feel very much like a prison. You are walled in by countless layers of conflicting, judgemental statements and criticized for almost any choice you make; much like the experience of being a woman, but with the added pressure of your child’s welfare at stake. Lack of societal support for mothers isolates us within our own homes or a narrow subset of public places, always with eyes upon us less our children act like, you know, children. The least expression of unhappiness or attempt to have a life separate from the child is widely framed as selfishness and irreparably damaging to the child. And yet if we dare speak out about the dehumanization of this experience, we are flooded with guilt trips and still more judgement, because, you know, we chose to have children, so should rejoice in every single aspect of anything associated with it, right?
I call bullshit.
Just as a woman’s body is not public property, neither is her motherhood. The choice to have a child (if, indeed, she had that choice; far too many women do not) does not give free license to criticize, judge, berate, expose, and pick apart every aspect of her experience or every decision she makes regarding it. Provide information and support if you want to, but not judgement.
As is common with my text/figure pieces (such as NOT YOURS and A Thousand Cuts, the existence of a given statement within it does not necessarily mean that I agree or disagree with it, or even that it is never (or always) appropriate to make such a statement. In this piece, each statement contributes to the overall oppressive environment, but is not necessarily in itself problematic. With regards to direct action, this piece calls for more thoughtfulness when it comes to statements like these, which we often make or think without much analysis of the biases or privilege behind them.
Artwork description and transcript:
A woman stands holding a baby, a fearful look on her face. Behind her is a wall of judgemental, conflicting statements about motherhood.
The wall reads:
The world is more dangerous today than it was when we were children.
You can’t keep them dependent on you forever.
Aren’t you worried about him?
How could you go back to work so soon?
I don’t know how you stay sane at home with her all day.
You should take some time for yourself.
A good mother sacrifices everything for her children.
Co-sleeping is so dangerous.
Babies need to sleep with their mothers.
You’re letting him walk all over you.
A child needs security.
It’s not healthy to be so entwined with your child.
Aren’t you worried that she’s not crawling yet?
You should get that checked out.
My friend’s kid crawled late, and it turned out he had autism.
Aren’t you concerned she might inherit your mental issues?
It’s selfish to have children if you’re not completely stable.
Are you watching your diet?
Have you taken infant CPR?
My parents let me do that and I turned out okay.
He has to learn to soothe himself.
Making her cry it out is cruel.
A child just needs to know he’s loved.
She needs consistency and firm boundaries.
Don’t let him see you get upset.
You are still breastfeeding, right?
How can you still be breastfeeding?
Formula is just as good.
Formula kills babies.
Can’t you keep her quiet?
Just get a babysitter.
How come we never see you anymore?
You chose to have children.
You should be grateful; some people can’t have kids.
Do you know all the chemicals they put in that?
Don’t you know that company is evil?
My cousin’s kid had that vaccine and got really sick.
What do you mean he’s not vaccinated?
You just need to relax.
You worry too much.
You’re projecting your issues on to your kids.
Are you saving for her college yet?
He’s got to learn someday.
Words like these, not my child, make motherhood a prison.
Date: December 2, 2010