For as far as I can remember, I have known my mother to feel guilty about enjoying things in life. That behaviour also applies to my father, but he does manage a social life owing to a job. My mother on the other hand made her children her entire world, great for her methinks, we are an excellent bunch. Growing up I always wanted to be her, but it is only when I dove into heavy feminist literature that I truly saw the sacrifice in her life and how unnecessary and toxic it is. Slowly, it shone out of almost every woman’s face around me.
There are entire campaigns banking on this “mother’s sacrifice”.
While raising a child is usually a two person game, the society we live in today has very conveniently shoved the harder bits into the arms of confused mothers. What’s worse? They’ve been made to believe that that is what they are meant to do. Aristotle reminds us of this, when he says “mothers love their children more than fathers do: birth involves a greater effort on the mother’s part, and she knows more clearly that the child is hers.”
At this point I offer my humblest apologies to Aristotle, but I sincerely and passionately beg to differ. The point of the matter is that the patriarchal world sees a woman as a root for the final product - a child. Women are subconsciously made to believe that their worth lies in their path towards motherhood, and eventually raising a well behaved child.
It shouldn’t be surprising then that women who cannot have children are called insulting names and made to feel incomplete. Obviously she is deemed selfish, reminded of her inescapable loneliness and purposelessness. All of this is made possible because women have been made to believe in the purity of maternal sacrifice. The glorification of “giving” is presented as the most rational choice, and this is done by positively acknowledging the exchange.
We all assume that a mother wants what is best for her child. It is almost like saying that the selflessness of a mother isn’t anything but selfishness. A woman finds purpose through a child, and by giving up her personal dreams she gets to build on one that may potentially come true. In finding happiness for her children, a woman is made to believe that she will find herself.
The maternal myth is infused and ingrained in everything around us, even symbolically we are constantly reminded of the ever-ready sacrificial lamb our mothers become for us. From Virgin Mary to Bharat Mata, we are constantly reminded to ask and take from our mothers, no questions asked, a right we are born with.
So what happens then? While men “help out” their children, mothers do a duty. While mothers feed their children, fathers exclaim “I’ll cook today!” Unfortunately, this doesn’t begin with motherhood. The song of sacrifice is sung into young girls ears early in their lives. As sisters, they give in to their brothers. As wives, to their husbands. Women are taught to take the men around them like life-projects. At any given day, a girl knows the word “compromise”.
While that might not sound toxic, what it does is further dig into a gaping hole of inequality and disparity. Women of authority in jobs are easily deemed “bitchy”, have to fight harder for equal pay, have to give employers a promise to be able to juggle personal and professional lives. Even big corporations understand and acknowledge that. So let’s change that, or try to.
There are enough people in the world who live to bring women down, let’s not be that for our mothers. Every time your mother decides she’s not hungry when there’s one less slice of pizza, or refuses to go out and watch a movie because “bachchon ke bina kahan jau”, or forgets that she loves to paint and sing, remind her. She’s given enough, teach her to be selfish. Encourage her to be unapologetic in her choices. Have her understand that she doesn’t live to make the world happy.
There are folks out there waiting to hate on women. They’ll find a reason, no matter what you do.
So let her live her life anyway.