The New Faces of Feminism

Written by NPN Guest on March 8th, 2012

Activism, Feminism
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Suffragist Florence Jaffray "Daisy" Harriman (1870-1967) holding a banner with the words "Failure Is Impossible. Susan B. Anthony. Votes for Women." Part of the George Grantham Bain Collection in the Library of Congress. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2009)

Feminism and the US women’s liberation movement, as we know it, began in the mid-19th Century. One might say it began in Seneca Falls, NY on July 19-20, 1948 when the world’s first women’s rights convention was held and an agenda for the movement was set. Or, perhaps, it really began when the first sparks of desire for a different life alighted within a girl (or a woman) and she eventually found that she was not alone.

The official timeline for women’s liberation is filled with laws, amendments, protests, and firsts of many kinds. It is also filled with many amazing, courageous women. Women that began as daughters, raised in a home that either encouraged that spark of hope and desire or tried to stifle it, only to make it grow brighter. The work that women have done in women’s liberation thus far has made fast progress when we consider the centuries of human history as a whole. Our daughters today have a world of opportunity only accessible in the imaginations and dreams of those first women liberators.

In modern day America, the landscape of women’s rights give rise to the questions: should a girl grow up to work, or should she grow up and stay at home with children? Should she try — as so many of us do now — to do both?

Many of you may agree that quite suddenly in our history of women’s lib, after the rush to get women into the workplace, we have come to the point in recent years where it has nearly become unconventional to not work. Dare I say, a new face of Feminism has become choosing to stay at home. And now, as staying at home has become a movement of its own, it has given rise to many other new faces of Feminism, all of which (as I see it) have a common thread: reclaiming and preserving motherhood. We can see this and participate in movements such as Lactivism, Intactivism, and vaccination education.

Concurrent to women’s liberation, another sort of movement began — an ideology referred to by historian Rima D. Apple as “scientific motherhood.” She defines it as “the insistence that women require expert scientific and medical advice to raise their children healthfully.”1 Toward the end of the 19th century and continuing through our present time, natural parenting as it was known — following the examples of generations of mothers within the family and a mother’s own intuition — was gradually abolished.

In the beginning, advertisements and other publications encouraged mothers to educate themselves and “to be actively involved in decision making about the health of their families.” However, as scientific motherhood progressed through the twentieth century, mothers were told they were to not only learn from the experts about the health of their child, but to follow the directions of the experts. Advertisements, journal articles and books all moved from informing mothers of health and wellness to outright devaluing their intuition and the advice of their mothers. As industrialization, modern technology, and a convenience-driven economy made head-way in the twentieth century, so too did the “experts’” advice.

While Apple’s article does not cover the relationship between women’s liberation and scientific motherhood, I think the correlation is easily made. Historian Molly Ladd-Taylor writes in her article “When the Birds Have Flown the Nest, the Mother-Work May Still Go On” about the role of the National Mother’s Congress (later known as the Parent-Teacher Association) through the twentieth century. The National Mothers’ Congress was very involved in parent education of the science of child development and frequently began programs asserting this agenda and passed out publications for it. Their grassroots movements began from a traditional point of view, where women belonged at home with children, and thus, intended to “professionalize motherhood by bringing science and education into child rearing.”2 Ladd-Taylor asserts that they simply wanted women to be more content to stay at home. The National Mothers’ Congress later progressed into a more liberal role with an active stance in women’s right to work outside the home.

I bring in this bit of information, however, to illustrate how Feminism became an unintentional player in the devaluing of motherhood. After all, our fight for liberation was to broaden our freedom and to prove our capability beyond the realm of motherhood, not to crush motherhood. It was to give ourselves a choice. Now, over a century and a half into both movements, as women have moved into the workplace and have struggled with the balance of work and home life, we have lost the link to a mother’s traditional knowledge of how to be a mother. Our separation from the traditional home life coupled with the need for guidance somewhere has left a large portion of mothers to become solely reliant upon the medical experts and, sadly, upon the manufacturing companies and their advertisers who sell the products we rely on to make working outside of the home possible.

I am not asserting that we have made the wrong decision in women’s liberation. I am not asserting that any woman is making a wrong decision in working outside the home. I chose to stay at home, but next year when my family moves to a new state and my husband begins his doctorate program, I will join the millions of mothers who work.

I am calling us, however, to continue with these new faces of Feminism. I am calling to all mothers — staying at home, working at home, or working outside of home — to reclaim motherhood. We had the incredible power to shift the traditions of centuries within 150 years of active protest and work. We harness the power to reclaim and preserve the maternal instinct that exists within all of us. The instinct that knows when medical advice may work and when it’s just not right for our children. The instinct that can find a balance between expert knowledge and trusting ourselves.

Choose to continue Feminism. Give our daughters and granddaughters a true choice of motherhood. Find an aspect (one of the many practices of traditional, natural parenting) that is important to you, educate yourself, learn about a movement if one exists, and connect with others that share your feelings. Reclaim your mothering instinct through these practices: trust it and follow it!

_________________________

Acacia is a stay at home mama playing through life one moment at a time with her husband and two young sons. She is a natural parenting, cloth diapering, gentle disciplining, home schooling, wholesome foods eating, spiritually centered steward to this great Mother Earth.

  1. Rima D. Apple, Constructing Mothers: Scientific in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Mothers & Motherhood: readings in American History, ed. Rima D. Apple and Janet Golden, Ohio State University Press, 1997. P. 90
  2. Molly Ladd-Taylor, When the Birds Have Flown the Nest, the Mother-Work May Still Go On: Sentimental Maternalism and the National Congress of Mothers. Mothers & Motherhood: Readings in American History, ed. Rima D. Apple and Janet Golden, Ohio State University Press, 1997. P. 446

7 Responses to The New Faces of Feminism

  1. Jenn @ Monkey Butt Junction  

    I love this very timely post. Right now we as women fighting a war on all kinds of fronts. As mothers and as women our value is being challenged and questioned in ways that we as a nation haven’t seen in decades. In my own state, for example, we’ve recently been stripped of the right to seek remedy in the court for unequal pay even though women in this state are still paid 75 cents for every dollar paid to a man. We have so much work to do, and the idea that we can do it while choosing to be mothers, mothers who rely on their instincts, their own wisdom and their natural intuitions, is so darn crazy that it just might work.

    • Acacia

      Thank you for your words. It is amazing what a long journey we still have here in the US and still further around the world. I can’t imagine being able to do it without a little bit of crazy and a strong connection to the heart, in which lies our instincts.

  2. Liz

    I loved your article. It is a beautiful desire to want to love our children more. I do think, however, that the idea that instinct can be re-learned is counter intuitive, since instinct comes with a species and is pretty much defined as unlearned behavior. I do, however, very, very much appreciate all your efforts in creating this post. I get what you are saying. I, however, am certain that instinct runs so deep within me regarding especially my children that my greatest of grandchildren will still have it. There are so many types of feminism. I think you have just created another. Thank you, this woman appreciates you.

    • Acacia

      Thank you for your praise :) I agree completely- intuition is natural, not learned, and it runs deeply through generations. What I am trying to express through my article, though perhaps not so clearly, is that we can become and (many) have become disconnected from our intuition. Not that we don’t have it anymore, but that mothers can lose touch with it. We have become very much a scientific society. From preparing for our babies before birth to where they will begin kindergarten, so many of our decisions are either carefully researched and planned by ourselves or by the “experts” that we turn to. We have developed the habit of parenting from the Head, when being consistently connected with our Intuition requires parenting from the Heart. I am simply encouraging us to find a way to reconnect with the intuition that still lives deeply within.

  3. Mia

    I love the article, Acacia. So timely and so true. So many of our predecessors have fought for many of the rights we take for granted now. We need to remember to continue the fight by using our voices to continue some and regain other choices we want in our lives. Thank you for your bright spirit!

  4. LAni @ Boobie Time Blog

    this article is amazing! so necessary! thank you

  5. Rebekah  

    Beautiful article. Breastfeeding, pregnancy, birthing, parenting – it’s all part of feminism as much as anything else. Thank you.

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