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August 16, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Karen Rinaldi’s major failing is her belief that sacrifice can never be done willingly, even joyfully. Her mother told her that motherhood is “all sacrifice,” which of course is utter nonsense, otherwise, why would so many women do it and with such enthusiasm? I have the sneaking suspicion that, had it been anyone in the world other than her mother, we wouldn’t be burdened by Rinaldi’s article. That her own mother sees motherhood as all sacrifice must have touched a nerve in her daughter. Why wouldn’t it? Her statement comes perilously close to a bitter regret about her decision to have kids. That, I suspect, is what sent Rinaldi scurrying to her gender feminism that, in her case, looks a lot like a security blanket.

Whatever the case, Rinaldi plunges straight into the resentful narrative that portrays children and their care as, in some never explained way, not only not part of a woman’s identity, but actually antithetical to it. Only a person who believes that a woman’s highest calling, indeed her only calling, is the world of paid work, however tedious and thankless. All other mothers tend strongly to see motherhood as one of the best things they’ve ever done, fulfilling and very much part of their identity. (BTW, fathers do too.)

So it’s no surprise that Rinaldi, since she can’t tell the difference between sacrifice willingly made and lambs to the slaughter, rejects the notion of motherhood as sacrifice. After all, she compares the notion to the female characters in The Handmaid’s Tale. That motherhood might consist in part of sacrifice and in part of pleasure, fulfillment, joy, the realization of a dream, i.e. the way the vast majority of mothers experience it, never occurs to Rinaldi. No, for her, it has to be one or the other, either all drudgery or “privilege.”

Motherhood is not a sacrifice, but a privilege — one that many of us choose selfishly…On a personal level, when we bring into the world a being that is of us, someone we will protect and love and for whom we will do everything we can to help thrive and flourish, it begets the question, How is this selfless?  

Simple. It’s selfless because Mom has to get up at 3AM when little Andy or Jenny needs her. Again, motherhood isn’t all selfless, nor is it all selfish; it’s some of both. And again, the vast majority of parents understand this. But, for Rinaldi, the situation must be one thing or the other, either all black or all white. Reality of course is more complicated than that, but Rinaldi doesn’t grasp the concept of nuance.

That brings us to why Rinaldi says we should care about whether we call motherhood sacrifice or privilege. No one should be surprised at her explanation.

By reframing motherhood as a privilege, we redirect agency back to the mother, empowering her, celebrating her autonomy instead of her sacrifice… [B]y owning our roles as mothers and refusing the false accolades of martyrdom, we do more to empower all women.

She never explains how. How is taking advantage of one’s ‘privilege’ more “empowering” than making the autonomous decision to make sacrifices for one’s children? After all, the work of motherhood won’t change regardless of what moniker we slap on it. The kids will have to be fed, bathed, doctored, educated, etc., If Rinaldi wants to try to convince tired stressed women that waking up in the wee hours to change a dirty diaper on a screaming infant is a “privilege,” it’s OK with me. But that woman is neither more nor less autonomous than the one who views doing so as a sacrifice.

[W]hile many women derive their deepest fulfillment as mothers, it doesn’t preclude their ambition or fly in the face of leaning in or out or sideways.

No, actually it does exactly that. Oh, I suppose “preclude” may be too strong a word, but the simple fact is that women by the million cut back on their careers when the first child comes along. And, among Rinaldi’s set of affluent, well-educated women, they’re highly likely to stay out of the workforce altogether or go back only part-time once little Andy or Jenny goes off to school. Far too many datasets demonstrate the fact for there to be any doubt. Rinaldi doesn’t like the fact (it smacks too much of “sacrifice”), so she figures a bald assertion to the contrary is sufficient to disprove it.

Now, no New York Times piece on motherhood would be complete without a demand for greater governmental benefits for mothers. Rinaldi does her duty.

That doesn’t mean we don’t want support — paid parental leave, more flexible working hours, publicly funded day care. But the cultural shift has to happen for the policies to follow. Martyrs, after all, don’t need or expect public services.

True, but is the public champing at the bit to provide those services to the “privileged?” Somehow I doubt it. And yet that’s what Rinaldi’s calling for – that we think of motherhood as a privilege. Frankly, Rinaldi’s lost her way. She’s contradicted her own thesis, thin and uninspiring though it is.

But self-contradiction isn’t the worst of it.

Calling motherhood a woman’s “job” only serves to keep a woman in her place.

Well, if motherhood isn’t for women, who is it for? I understand that Rinaldi bridles at calling motherhood a “job,” but call it anything you like, women will always be the ones doing it, certain loony notions about the “fluidity” of sex notwithstanding.

And how does “calling motherhood a ‘job,’” as opposed to some other word, serve to “keep a woman in her place?” Rinaldi doesn’t explain. And what is “her place?” No word on that either.

Because she’s a gender feminist, Rinaldi’s faced with the tough task of fitting easy-to-understand concepts into an impossible-to-explain narrative. It’s a narrative that at once sees motherhood as a privilege that empowers women and as victimizing the women who do it. Of course it’s neither. Contrary to gender feminism, women become mothers because they want to. They view motherhood as more important and more engaging of their most-deeply-lived selves than the corporate grind could ever be. They fully understand that the task comes with a lot of sacrifice, but, autonomous individuals that they are, they choose to do it anyway.

This is not sinister. It doesn’t enslave women. Women are adults who make their own choices. In their non-stop drive to find something –anything - wrong with women, gender feminists like Rinaldi never accept that simplest and most basic of truths.

 

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