Rethinking Men

What masculinity means in the 21st century.

Mothers

Happy Mother's Day, belatedly, to mothers everywhere.

Happy Mother's Day, belatedly, to mothers everywhere. It's time to celebrate such magnificent achievements. Mothers and fathers and gender generally have been much in the news these days. Newsweek celebrated International Women's Day with portraits of "150 Women who Shake the World" (14 March); it followed this with news of "The Beached White Male" (25 April) and Time magazine followed with "The World's Most Influential People" (2 May), including a far higher proportion of women than in its end of century round-up.


So it is appropriate to consider changing motherhood and changing gender roles. On changing motherhood: there are now so many mothers, including the new Tiger Mom, the old Soccer mum, the Single mother (often now by choice), the Welfare mother, the increasingly mobile Working/career mum - sometimes known disrespectfully in Germany as the Rabensmutter, the raven mother, (who is the bad mother who deserts her children; Google it for interesting details). Then there is Supermom, who is perhaps now being replaced by the Good-enough mum, who is not sacrificing absolutely everything for her dearly beloved offspring, or her husband, and cares also for her own needs, interests, growth and life. The Helicopter mom is sometimes criticized for hovering and micro-managing her children's lives, like Tiger mom. Again, the Sandwich mothers and fathers now care not only for their children but also for their parents, who once cared for them. The love and caring go up and down the generations, as does the stress. And surely there are the proverbial Earth mothers, who nurture all and sundry with big hearts, and would include the Surrogate mothers, the Foster mothers and the Adoptive mothers.

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The "mummy wars" are being fought out there as to what is best, waged within the "battle of the sexes" and this in turn is fought within the broader "culture wars." Such militarism! We really should resist this hyperbole and moral panic. People disagree about things is all.


Certainly motherhood has changed dramatically in the last 50 years, most notably because of the pill and the women's movement. More women have chosen not to be mothers or to have fewer children, and the fertility rate has dropped like a stone in much of the world, even below replacement levels; and as we have seen, there are more options for mothers in terms of styles; furthermore the rights of mothers have expanded in terms of family allowances, paid maternity leaves - unknown in my mother's day, and new and improved day care centres, (and perhaps subsidized, as in Quebec). Fathers are playing bigger roles than in the past, and some dads are taking paternity leaves, and a new type of stay-at-home dad is emerging to help look after the fewer children, and more and more men are single fathers. In so many ways, motherhood is not what it was; though the joys and pains of love must still be very similar.


Still, I guess we have to look at the downside as well as the bright side, at home and abroad. At home there is the "mommy penalty:" employers are far less likely to hire mothers than child-free (an evocative and emotive phrase, replacing childless) women, and consider them less committed to their jobs, and offer them lower wages (Anderssen, Globe and Mail, 7 May). And abroad: Nicholas Kristof notes that 350,000 women die in childbirth every year. Many of these deaths are due in part to lack of access to contraceptives. What particularly galls him is that Republicans in Congress are cutting family planning programs, both at home and abroad, thus contributing to thousands of unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and deaths. Yet one Republican initiative for contraception passed on a voice vote: for wild horses in the west (New York Times 7 May). Fine for horses, and Republicans; but for women...?


My own mum was mostly a stay-at-home mum with three sons; she was also a sailor, a champion swimmer, a crack shot, though she did not hunt with us, and she spied for the Chinese against the Japanese in the 30s when my Royal Navy dad was stationed in China, then she became a long-distance truck driver in WW2, from Edinburgh to London and back, when my dad was based at Scapa Flow in N.E. Scotland. One of her sisters was in Special Forces (U.K.) with her parachutists' wings; another was a senior officer in the WRNS. And my two daughters-in-law have two sons each. All amazing mothers.


So this is to recognize the many types of mothers, the options, the bravery, the changes, the new roles of fathers and, despite the rapidity of social and technological change, the persistence of mother love.


Happy Mothers Day one and all!

Anthony Synnott, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology at Concordia University in Montreal.

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