: women’s essence is maternal; to be fulfilled, a woman must be a mother and spend her life mothering. Which not only is ludicrous but dangerous to the life, liberty and freedom of all women to live their lives fully in any way they choose and to develop their talents, intelligence, capacities in any and every area of human endeavour, not just the one of raising children.
This is not to deny the importance of having and raising children! Nothing could be more important for us as a species. But that one half of the human race should be limited to this role is essentialistic. As if it is her unchanging, eternal role…
That thought system has not only been challenged but overthrown in the Western world, surely. After half a century of feminism aren't we are well past it? Does it keep cropping up in various forms because to have clearly defined roles for people makes the workings of a society easier?
The latest incarnation is in the field of neuroscience. Did you know that “from pregnancy on, female mammals are brighter, bolder and better able to cope with life than their childless counterparts”? That “[t]hese brain improvements are permanent, lasting from childbearing years into senescence”? Basically it all seems to boil down to some hormones that increase the ability to bond and the capacity to love: cortisol (which is usually associated with depression but which appears in elevated levels during the first week post-partum and appears to be involved in initial mother-child bonding), the endorphins, oxytocin and vasopressin, or “love hormones.” And increased neuronal pathways in the hippocampus, the hypothalamus (a region claimed to "strongly" affect "maternal behaviour"), the amygdala (which is claimed to regulate "maternal love"). Much of the evidence for the necessity of maternalizing the woman because it makes her smarter is based on the fact that women can distinguish their own baby’s cry out of a multitude, or their own baby’s smell in blind smell tests. Oh, and mommy rats could do mazes faster than non-mommy rats. It’s all a dubious application of fascinating scientific research and leaves me palpitating with worry. Maternal neurotransmitters just sounds like jargon for yet another hydra-head of essentialism.
The deeper message of this research, it seems to me, is that falling in love itself increases intelligence, curiosity, daring, and the beautiful nurturing behaviour that follows naturally surely sends those “love hormones” skyrocketing.
If you can lay down the inherent essentialism of the article, the research is utterly fascinating.
Article in question, and from which I quoted: Giving Birth to Supermom
, by William Illsay Atkinson.