I find it interesting to think about what should be strange to us, but isn’t. The relationship between motherhood and womens’ rights is one such topic.
I think the simplest explanation for women being treated unfairly in society is that they are mothers.
We’ve basically smuggled a series of traps into the lives of women worldwide:
- When they have a child, their own life is forfeit for the next 20 or so years. They don’t get to focus on their books, or their experiments, or their research, or their art, or their music. The reason this is the dominion of men is because it’s the dominion of non-mothers. By the time they’re done raising children they’re into their 40’s, and basically learning how to live for the first time or simply preparing for retirement and death.
- When a woman gets married she is encouraged by all of her friends, family, and society, to dress like a princess. Dressed all in white she’s treated like a helpless, dainty, and beautiful object that is to be prized and protected by her husband. That’s the role-play for millions upon millions of weddings, repeatedly, across most of human civilization. If you were creating female inequality on purpose, it’d be hard to match this.
- Women paint their faces in order to be not just sexually attractive to males, but to be generally acceptable to both men and women. A woman who doesn’t paint her face in a way that we now understand to exaggerate the signals of youth and fertility is mostly ignored by men and shunned by women. It’s the male equivalent of moving to the woods, building a shack, and refusing to pay taxes.
Think about these three things for a moment. Women are encouraged to think of themselves as princesses, to retard their adult life until their 40’s, and to keep their faces painted so they’ll be respected by society. And somehow we’re confused as to why women seem like second-class citizens.
It’s because that’s exactly how we treat them. It’s how men treat them. It’s how women treat each other. And it’s how women treat themselves.
When you sign up for 1) motherhood, 2) a traditional wedding, and 3) painting your face for maximum fertility signaling, you’re essentially signing an inferiority contract.
To see this, let’s contrast it with men.
Men are told to be individuals from the start. Be yourself. Have a brand. Focus on your work. Be known for your work. Create. Design. Produce. And so that’s what they do.
When men are fathers they are fathers 20-40% of the time. The rest of their lives 60-80% is spent being themselves. Being human.
That’s not what women are. They’re not humans in our society. They’re women.
And it really does start with motherhood. It’s a switch that’s on or off. You either dedicate your life 110% to this other soul (or collection of souls including the husband in most of the world), or you are a failure as a woman.
Let’s not be delicate here: that’s slavery. It might be a slavery that’s embraced, or that sometimes brings great feelings of joy and contentment to those experiencing it, but it’s still slavery.
Why use such a harsh word? Here are three main reasons I think it applies:
- You must sacrifice every waking moment to it, or be considered a failure
- It goes on until you’re in your 40’s, so much of your life is then behind you
- You have essentially zero ability to exit the contract once you’ve entered it
There is no path to female equality that doesn’t start with the end of Default Motherhood.
As I wrote about here, motherhood is a forfeit of one’s own life in order to nurture other people. Despite what society and the marketing insists on telling you—it means that you don’t get to focus making an impact yourself. There’s simply no time for 99% of women if you’re fully invested at being a mother.
You can either make an impact by producing yourself, or you can help someone else do the same. But these are very much opposed to each other, and as long as we require women to be nurturers instead of producers we will continue to see them in a secondary role throughout society.
True equality will require equality in raising children, or some sort of community option for doing so.
- To be clear, this says nothing about whether millions of women want to willingly engage in this behavior. They clearly do at this point. But I’d argue that many of them might not have all the information. Just like most of us, we’ve been tricked into seeing something very strange as the epitome of normal.
- I’m also not thinking about what’s best for society, or for the kids. First I haven’t thought about that yet, and second, it’s a hard problem that will take generations to solve—even with a solution.
- There are exceptions to the nurturer/producer dichotomy for those who make enough to hire nannies while they are out focusing on their own work and careers, but very few people in the world can do that because of cost.
- I talk in other posts about long-term solutions for this, which involve people being 90% producers (both men and women), and then being selected for nurturing. It’s just a thought experiment, but I think it could get us closer to equality.