I was on another site today, with my fellow step moms, and the discussion of "unwed" mothers came up. I was so struck by the phrase, and all it has encompassed throughout recent history, that I just had to put my thoughts into words.
I just keep thinking about the way the term "unwed mothers" has been used to put women down. They are statistics, or spoken of in hushed tones. When my mother was a girl, they went off to homes in the middle of the night, until their babies were born. Now there are daycares in high schools. It's old fashioned to focus on a mother's marital status, because so many women are choosing not to wed if they are pregnant. Or, if they reach a certain age and have no committed relationship in site, and they want to have a baby, they have one anyway. I must say that I have always thought and continue to think that is an admirable journey. That is empowerment. However, with every positive there seems to be a price. And now that I am a little older, wiser, and the parent of teenagers, I am starting to see it more clearly.
I saw one woman on Oprah a while back who went a little too far and had embryos implanted when she couldn't conceive. Guess what? She had four babies. Her family is very upset with her because she can't take care of all of them by herself and they have had to help her substantially, both with time and money since she can't work anymore. That was quite an interesting show, as I never thought about that particular outcome happening before.
In high school, we had to carry an egg around for a week. We had to keep an hourly journal for activities for our egg, and who was watching it when we were busy. If we didn't break it we passed as parents. If we did we failed. It was an interesting experiment. However with an egg you can leave it in your room and barring a sibling trying to sabotage you, it will be fine when you return hours or days later.
Not so with a real kid.
There's a new show coming on this summer called The Baby Borrowers, where the producers have given teens and young adults a few toddlers and infants to care for during a certain period of time. From what I've seen in the previews, the kids are very confidant in their ability to "parent." And, according to the commercials I've seen, the kids are very disillusioned by the end of the show. I am watching this with my kids. Hell, I might even sign them up to be on it! I think perhaps community centers and high schools should have this as a mandatory class.
I have seen so many young women try this experiment for real, meeting men, getting pregnant, over and over. Never marrying at all, let alone first, a sort of serial maternity. I believe that sadly, many young women are insecure and see babies as a source of unconditional love, or an instant emancipation into adulthood. I don't believe those who do so understand their motives because I'm not sure they give pregnancy or parenting very much rational thought. Both on television and in conversations with my kids' friends, I have at times heard teens talk about having babies as "sounding like fun." It sends shivers up my spine. Fun? They have no idea.
Now that I am a stepmom of a 13 year old, I am I suppose paying more attention than I was a few years ago. I now am privy to conversations and observations of 13 year old girls, that I wasn't before. I am alarmed with all the self-objectifying behavior, focusing so heavily on name brands, hairstyles, make-up, tight clothes, push-up bras, all to attract young boys or young men. Ironically, in our youth based society there is an obsession among young girls to look older, a preoccupation on how, when and with whom they will lose their virginity, as though it's something to check off a list. There is something sad about adolescent and young women these days. They appear to be lost.
For some reason, women in their 30's and older seem to be the last generation that as a whole tend to think through life's lessons, making changes in behavior after successfully navigating difficult challenges. I think it's no coincidence that we are the last who remember a time before MTV, internet, unlimited credit, and 24 hour cable. Many of us also recall the ERA campaign, burning bras, and Charlie commercials.
Now, I have to say that for most of my 40 years on earth, I never considered myself a feminist. I was a child of the seventies and I understood and witnessed some of the issues the feminists fought for. However, as a young woman I felt overwhelmed with the concept that we were not only allowed to seek degrees and careers, but were expected to. The problem was that many of us had mothers who stayed home, and therefore we had no real role model for the "new and improved standard" of of superwomanhood. On top of which we were also expected to be supermoms, able to leap to the top of tall corporate buildings while giving birth and returning to the boardrooms in a single bound. Oh- and we were never to use our sexuality as a method of achieving anything, though we had to be prepared for the inevitable accusation of it when we reached success.
I often dreamed of a balance, where femininity could be celebrated as well as intelligence and drive. I was a little put off by feminists, most recently when "Mommy Wars" were proclaimed. I posted on this very blog my angry response to feminist authors declaring that I shouldn't have been "given" a degree if I then planned to stay home and raise children. If I did this I was slapping my feminist foresisters in the proverbial face. While in my senior year of college, I wrote a provocative essay about how I hesitated to align myself with a group who would label me, or corner me in any way. After all, what good was a feminist movement that told me that I owed them for my freedom to choose my vocation and the pay back was I could choose any vocation save staying at home to raise my children? What was the point of fighting for us if women went from no choices, to all choices, and back to no choices again?
Well...then I became a mother of a 13 year old girl. I now find myself understanding why the feminists are upset with us, as well as why we need to have a feminist renaissance. We have had our needs met. We can own property and vote. We can buy whatever we want and live wherever we wish. We can go to any college in the US, and pursue any degree our hearts desire. In essence, we now have it so good we have become smug. Each generation removed from the fight has, through our own apathy for the cause, taught our own daughters to trample on the freedoms that prior generations of women fought so hard for. The youngest generations are turning their noses up at the very rights that were won. They think that sex is empowering- a tool to get where you want to go. Materialistic bliss in an entitlement, and they may do as they please, consequences be damned.
Recently, my personal concerns for Adrienne's attitudes toward life led me to search for an advocacy group to get each of my kids involved with, but her in particular. I discovered there's a group of young feminists in Cincinnati. "Perfect!" I thought. However, it's a bit of a commute, and unfortunately, nothing like it exists within a reasonable distance of home. But I'm not giving up. If I have to start my own chapter and group I will do it. Someone has to. If the current trend continues, we'll be back in the fifties, with our daughters wearing dresses and pearls while ironing or cooking dinner, combing their kids hair and putting ribbons in their own to ready themselves for their husbands return from his rough day at the office.