Friday, August 31, 2012

Motherhood and gender equality

Hmmm, motherhood and gender equality...kind of a heavy title don't ya think?  The whole issue has been on my mind quite a bit lately for several reasons, the most obvious being the impending birth of our daughter of course.  And of course there's the annoying reality that while my husband certainly wants to be compassionate and understanding and certainly anticipates baby girl's arrival eagerly, there is just no way he can be quite as "constantly aware" of our child and her arrival as I am.  She's kicking me in the stomach after all, not him, lol.  And that injustice irks me.

But it goes beyond that, all the way to current public debate.  I don't know if you've noticed that abortion has become a front and center issue this election season.  Of course it's always an issue on some level, but the debate has risen to new heights with the help of Todd Akin and his astute (ahem...sarcasm) remarks on the subject.  Whether one is liberal or conservative, it cannot be denied that the issue of abortion, motherhood, and gender equality are intimately intertwined.  Now, don't out freak out on me and assume that because I raise this issue that I am more concerned about women's rights than babies' rights or something absurd like that.  I am concerned about human rights.  The fired up abortion debate and the (in my opinion) indefensible position of many who would prohibit abortion under any and all circumstances has caused me to ponder and reflect upon the undercurrents of gender equality that rage beneath the surface of this debate and what that means when it comes to parenthood.  Many of those who would ban abortion even under the most dire of circumstances (potential death or major injury of mother, rape, incest, etc.) would balk at equally stringent laws placed upon the fathers of those unborn children, like mandatory medical procedures (snip, snip anyone?), mandatory prison time and felony status for those who abandon their children, serious wage garnishments regardless of whether or not the man has rights to the child or not, etc.  But, no.  The woman is called upon to bear the entire burden of what may (or may not) have been her choice.  My proposed solution is not to kill babies, but to demand (and enforce) complete male accountability and participation in the life and care of his offspring.

Now what in the world does that have to do with my impending delivery?  You, dear reader, may or may not understand this, but there is twinge of fear in my heart as I approach motherhood, because for whatever reason I feel the weight of these same issues, albeit in different forms.  I feel the responsibility  for this child in such an intense way, in a way that Tommy cannot yet feel.  And I feel it distinctively as a woman, as the source of sustenance for this little one both now and when she arrives (yes, I'm nursing).  Tommy's role as a daddy (a role in which I have no doubt he will excel) will be categorically different than my role as a mommy.  And that makes me uncomfortable.  I can see your digital eyebrows raise even as I type.

Why the concern about "differences" you may ask?  Can women and men not differ and still be equal?  (keep in mind we're not talking about physical differences, but primarily differences in roles, job/vocation, cultural expectations, parenting, etc.). Of course, one might say.  Of course we can be different (in essential ways) and maintain egalitarian relationships and marriages!  Why not!  Well, to my ears "different but equal" sounds alarmingly similar to "separate but equal" and I know we've all seen that picture of that runty, dirty little "colored" drinking fountain next to that big, porcelain "whites" drinking fountain.  We sigh and shake our heads at the foolhardiness, at the absurdity of the suggestion that anything can be separate but equal when one group gets the primary voice.  And yet, how often that same argument is used to preserve male-centered hierarchical structures and social systems to the detriment of women (and their basic rights and dignity).  Beneath the facade of the "celebration" of women and traditional female roles lurks the unspoken social more: we'll celebrate this as a society as long as you surrender your voice, your rights, and ultimately your personhood to the greater good while we men do the real work.  

So as a mommy-to-be, a role I plan to embrace and embody to the uttermost, how do I embrace the unique nature of motherhood and the precious gift it is without surrendering my personhood, my identity, my vocation, and ultimately my voice, in both the private and public domain?   How do I reconcile the distinct differences between the genders without denying the unique nature of each one of us, male and female?  What part might the followers of Christ have to play in reframing society's (and perhaps even more so, the church's) hierarchical view of gender, however implicit, and the unique nature of both male and female?  But perhaps the most pertinent question of all is, as Tommy and I are both transformed into mother and father how do we navigate these waters of essential gender differences, and not drive each other mad in the process?? :-) My prayer remains to be that God will transform us both into the image of the Son Jesus that we might embody the culture of the Kingdom of God, where true equality shall be the order of the day for all eternity.  

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