A Mother: To Be or Not to Be that is the Question, by Sara Hope Group B

Moran

Caitlin Moran is one of my favourite writers’ on any subject ever thought of. Her first non-fiction book, How to be a Woman, is part hilarious memoir and part feminist manifesto. She makes the topic of feminism funny, thus making it accessible to a wider audience of people – especially younger readers who wonder whether they can call themselves feminists and are then put off the idea by some of the weightier tomes written on the subject.

Her treatment of motherhood is no different, and she offers a light-hearted view of a subject that is a source of equal parts joy and misery to many women.

Her first chapter, ‘Why You Should Have Children’, begins rather terrifyingly by describing horrors of the birthing process such as blood transfusions, cervix dilation and ants. Moran goes into graphic detail about the two day labour she suffered with her own first child which all seems rather incongruous when considering the chapter title.  She turns it around however, saying that the pain she went through giving birth was actually a helpful, though not enjoyable experience. She notes that, ‘a furious, 24-hour dose of wildly intolerable pain sorts out many of the more fretful, dolorous aspects of modern life.’[1]

Rosemary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the most part, fiction tends to two extremes with regards to giving birth. Films show a woman’s waters break and her speedy progress into the delivery room, and then the next image you see is of a beaming father holding their new bundle of joy in his arms, having had a convenient ‘fade-to-black’ moment during the hard bit. Then you have the opposite end of the spectrum with stories like ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ where a woman literally gives birth to the devil in all it’s painful, horrific glory. Moran is refreshing in that aspect as she presents the good with the bad noting that, ‘a dose of pain that intense turns you from a girl into a woman.’[2] Aside from the birthing process, motherhood for Moran is all about love, and love is wonderful. She likens it to being ‘mugged by Cupid.’[3]

I chose this text primarily because Moran presents a balanced argument with regards to motherhood, as shown in the second chapter ‘Why You Shouldn’t Have Children.’ In this Moran engages with something that is the bane of every woman’s life if they reach a certain age and have yet to procreate – the question “When are you going to have children?” Not ‘Are’ … ‘When.’ As if it is a given that you want to create little versions of yourself to smear chocolate on the walls and pull the cat’s tail.

Babies

The modern world seems consistently pre-occupied with when a woman is going to have children in a way that it isn’t with men. Women are the ones who are expected to plan when they want a baby; a man can just fall into the idea as if he has been asked if he wants jam on his toast. This is reflected in children’s toys, with baby dolls exclusively marketed towards little girls as if we are telling our daughters that they must think about having babies of their own whilst still being babies themselves.

Moran acknowledges this, saying ‘You never get asked to ask Marilyn Manson if he’s been hanging around in JoJo Maman Bébé, touching tiny booties and crying.’[4] She also reflects on the idea that choosing not to have children somehow makes a woman’s life incomplete, as if ‘their narrative has ground to a halt in their thirties if they don’t ‘finish things’ properly, and have children.’

Overall Moran shows us that as society stands now, motherhood is a vital part of any woman’s life – even the one’s without children – and that needs to change. A woman’s life is not about the potential of the thing we might produce, but about her own potential. As Moran puts it, there needs to be an end to ‘baby angst’ because whilst motherhood is lovely, there are other things to be getting on with.


[1]  Moran, Caitlin, ‘Why You Should Have Children’, in How To Be A Woman, 2nd edn (London: Random House, 2012), p. 224,

[2]  p.225

[3] P.227

[4] P. 239

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Caitlin Moran’s hilarious rendition of childbirth and the joys of motherhood had me in hysterics. I do agree with Moran, there is not a single instruction manual out there which can fully prepare a woman for childbirth or motherhood. When we do finally pluck up the courage to ask our own mothers, they can often leave us feeling scared by providing us with horrific accounts of our laborious and excruciatingly painful birth. If we use our imaginations we can almost compare our birth to a scene out of the film Alien, violently tearing our way out of our embryonic sack. However, it is quite funny how details leading up to the moment of enlightenment are often short and sweet. In order to know what motherhood feels like, one has to experience it, but it quite scary to think that you are totally ‘unprepared’ for what is to come. As Moran explains the more you put- off the idea of being a mother the more you fret about time and fertility. It is not fair that women feel pressurized into settling down and having kids at early stages of their life. Just because a woman wants to focus on her career first does not make her a bad person. It is nobody’s business to interfere with HER life maybe it is not that these women do not wish to ever have children, but maybe in fact they are scared and do not know what to expect.

    Reply

  2. Caitlin Moran’s hilarious rendition of childbirth and the joys of motherhood had me in hysterics. I do agree with Moran, there is not a single instruction manual out there which can fully prepare a woman for childbirth or motherhood. When we do finally pluck up the courage to ask our own mothers, they can often leave us feeling scared by providing us with horrific accounts of our laborious and excruciatingly painful birth. If we use our imaginations we can almost compare our birth to a scene out of the film Alien, violently tearing our way out of our embryonic sack. However, it is quite funny how details leading up to the moment of enlightenment are often short and sweet. In order to know what motherhood feels like, one has to experience it, but it quite scary to think that you are totally ‘unprepared’ for what is to come. As Moran explains the more you put- off the idea of being a mother the more you fret about time and fertility. It is not fair that women feel pressurized into settling down and having kids at early stages of their life. Just because a woman wants to focus on her career first does not make her a bad person. It is nobody’s business to interfere with HER life maybe it is not that these women do not wish to ever have children, but maybe in fact they are scared and do not know what to expect.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Lilly on November 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    As I am pretty sure everyone agrees on the wit and talent of Caitlin Moran, I am going to play devil’s advocate: Is she taking the easy way out? Is she trying to ‘have it all’ by committing to neither side of the argument; by turning Feminism – one of the most blazingly political movements of our time – into funny and inoffensive anecdotes? There is no doubt about the merit of her writing: any woman who is able to write confidently, wittily and honestly about personal experience is a valuable addition to our society. But I can’t help thinking that many militant second-wave feminists might frown at the idea of How to be a Woman being a ‘feminist manifesto’. Moran writes that ‘[m]en and women alike have convinced themselves of a dragging belief: […] [t]hat there are lessons that motherhood can teach you that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere – and every other attempt at this wisdom and self-realisation is a poor and shoddy second.’ This sentence, however, follows a chapter which I think comes pretty close to saying, in so many words, just that. When my mother was my age, being a feminist seemed a lot more clear cut: break the norm, fight tradition, reject the trappings of patriarchy, including bras and babies. Have we reached a point where it is okay to sit on the fence, pick and mix our feminist beliefs and new-found liberties?

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  4. Posted by sabbahrauf on November 18, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this, so thanks Sara! I respect Moran’s approach to the topic of motherhood as she does not try influencing other women with her choice. I think what the author tries to do is bridge the gap between the two choices. Adding a grey area to feminism to allow room for understanding between the two equally viable choices, Moran shows the argument of both sides to help those who wish to be mothers in understanding the decision of those who choose other pathways in life, and vice versa. To answer Lily I say we should be allowed to pick and choose any liberties feminism offers us to whatever extent we feel is right for us. If we do not allow this choice we are simply creating new rules for women to abide by, and categories to fall into. With the view of having to make a final choice, we are forcing ourselves to choose in a black and white fashion between the patriarchal influenced role of the home-maker, and dutiful mother, and the strongly feminist expectation to refrain from having children and devote ones life to fighting for women’s rights. The categorisation of women is what I take issue with, and I think Moran addresses this in a witty accessible way to take a step towards liberating women by showing both sides of the argument irrespective of being a mother herself.

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  5. I really enjoyed reading this piece of work by Caitlin Moran. I think by using humour Moran really got her point across to the reader. She does not try and sugar coat the fact that pregnancy is a scary and fearful process nor does she deny the fact that it can be a joyful process which enables you to grow up massively, leaving the insignificant fears you once had behind. She focuses closely on the expectations that society still have towards women and pregnancy, commenting on the fact that society often pressures women into having children when they feel they are not ready. However, I believe that these expectations will never go away. Women’s bodies are biologically designed to carry children and regardless of factors that may discourage them from wanting children, women will always feel like it is their duty to have children in order to have a fulfilled life. I see no reason why women can not have both a successful career and a family of their own. Although their career and family may not be equally balanced, I feel it is unfair to place women in to an either/or category (Either they have a career or they have children.) Just because you choose to have children it does not mean that you have succumbed to societies demands and have become a helpless, insignificant woman.

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  6. Posted by Khadija Azfar on November 18, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    I loved reading this! Such a great read! I think Moran touches on a really good topic here, that women are expected to have children and raise them, but they do not know what to expect and this may be putting them off from having children. Although there may be books and people to help women raise children, it is something that can only ever be done with experience and with a willingness to want to do it. By pressuring women into having children before they are reading, we are in a way, oppressing them; forcing them to endure months of pregnancy and a lifetime of having to look after and raise a child they weren’t ready for. Of course, having a child is a wonderful thing and there’s nothing else like it, but the decision to have a child is a big one and should be made by the woman alone, not by people telling her she’s getting old and she should hurry up and have a baby. Furthermore, if women are being subjected to this kind of pressure, then surely men should be too. Women alone cannot be held solely responsible for having children – it takes two and so men should be expected to put in just as much effort as women.

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