the mother, 1949

“there has been an enormous amount of talk about the sacred rights of women, but being a mother is not how women gained the right to vote; the unwed mother is still scorned; it is only in marriage that the mother is glorified- in other words, as long as she is subordinate to the husband. As long as he is the economic head of the family, even though it is she who cares for the children, they depend far more on him than on her. This is why, as has been seen, the mother’s relationship with her children is deeply influenced by the one she maintains with her husband. So conjugal relations, homemaking and motherhood form a whole in which all the parts are determinant; tenderly united to her husband, the wife (mother) can cheerfully carry out the duties of the home; happy with her children, she will be understanding of her husband. But this harmony is not easy to attain, for the different functions assigned to the wife(mother) conflict with each other. Women magazines amply advise the housewife on the art of maintaining her sexual attraction while doing the dishes, of remaining elegant throughout pregnancy, of reconciling flirtation, motherhood and economy; but if she conscientiously follows their advice, she will soon be overwhelmed and disfigured by care; it is very difficult to remain desirable with chapped hands and a body deformed by pregnancies; this is why women in love often feel resentment of the children who ruin her seduction and deprive her of her husbands caresses; if she is, by contrast, deeply maternal, she is jealous of the man who also claims the children as his. But then, the perfect homemaker, as has been seen, contradicts the movement of life: The child is the enemy of waxed floors. Maternal love is often lost  in the reprimands and outbursts that underlie the concern for a well-kept home. It is not surprising that the woman torn between these contradictions often spends her day in a state of nervousness and bitterness; she always loses on some level, and her gains are precarious, they do not count as any sure success. She can never save herself by her work alone; it keeps her occupied, but does not constitute her justification: her justification rests on outside freedoms. The wife (mother) shut up in her home cannot establish her existence on her own; she does not have the means to affirm herself in her singularity: and this singularity is consequently not acknowledged.”

Simone de Beauvoir, the Second Sex 1949

 

 

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2 thoughts on “the mother, 1949

  1. Classic analysis – as relevant today as it was in 1949. Have you read Beauvoir’s autobiography? I have read it several times, although not for years. My lasting impression is of a woman whose life was characterised by the same contradictions that she wrote about. Being part of the intellectual elite was still not enough to overcome the sexual politics enmeshed in everyday life.

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    • I have a much loved copy of The Prime of Life. It sits beside my bed having been read and re read too many times to recall now. Im pondering once again now, with A Room of Ones own and it’s frightening to me how much relevance it contains with my own life. I sympathise deeply with these women and their inner turmoils of the inequality of this world, and really are astounded that these same predicaments are still so very present.

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