If Feminists Are About Choice, Why Do So Many Bash Young Mothers?

Mother’s Day is a day where we’re supposed to celebrate our mothers and the women in our lives who are mothers. New York Times journalist Elizabeth Bruenig took the day to share her experience of becoming a mother at 25, and the radical feminist wing of Twitter was not pleased.

By Meghan Dillon4 min read
If Feminists Are About Choice, Why Do They Bash Young Mothers

Feminism is supposed to be about equality. It’s what I hear all of the time when I say that I believe in equal rights, but I’m not a feminist. We’ve all heard the “if you believe in equal rights, then you’re a feminist” argument before, but this ignores so many of the problems in the modern feminist movement. Elizabeth Bruenig’s situation is proof enough because if feminism were truly about equality — and not just equality between the sexes, but supporting women’s choices equally — then why are they bashing young mothers on Twitter? 

Though feminism was originally a movement for equal rights (think the suffragettes) and women’s empowerment, why doesn't it seem to actually be about empowering all women anymore? What changed in the feminist movement to switch their goal from empowering women’s choices to shaming women who don’t agree with them?

Elizabeth Bruenig Attacked for Being a Young Mother

If you read the Twitter responses to journalist Elizabeth Bruenig’s New York Times op-ed on her experience with motherhood, you would have thought she wrote about something incredibly controversial. You’d have thought she did something evil like kick a puppy or defend a serial killer, but she just wrote about her experience of becoming a mother in her twenties.

As a twenty-something woman who wants to become a mother someday, I enjoyed Bruenig’s piece. Some of her story made me excited at the notion of having children someday, like when she wrote, “What I didn’t understand — couldn’t have, at the time — was that deserting yourself for another person really is a relief. My days began to unfold according to her schedule, that weird rhythm of newborns, and the worries I entertained were better than the ones that came before: more concrete, more vital, less tethered to the claustrophobic confines of my own skull. For this member of a generation famously beset by anxiety, it was a welcome liberation.”

Bruenig didn’t shame women who didn’t want to be mothers or who waited longer than she did. 

It’s important to note that in her op-ed Bruenig didn’t shame women who didn’t want to be mothers or who waited longer than she did. In fact, she went out of her way to point out statistics as to why Millennial women are having kids later or choosing to opt-out for economic and social reasons. 

But that didn’t stop radical feminist critics from going after Bruenig. Salon politics writer Amanda Marcotte tweeted, “I would like to thank this headline/byline combo for helping me set a record for the quickest ‘gross, pass’ I've ever uttered in my life. The funniest part is framing 25 like it's some daringly young age. The average age of first childbirth is 26.” 

She took the matter even further in a follow-up tweet, where she called the article “naked pandering to the fantasies of pathetic men” which I think just proves that Marcotte didn’t even read the article.

If you thought Marcotte’s response was rude and uncalled for, writer Jude Ellison S. Doyle’s was more malicious. He tweeted, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing this woman it was a tremendous personal achievement to be repeatedly knocked up by an Internet troll she met in high school.”

This goes beyond being snarky to just being vicious. Bruenig married her high school sweetheart and now has two beautiful children with him. What's wrong with that? I don’t understand the vitriol against Bruenig, since like Marcotte and Doyle, she appears to be left-leaning when it comes to political and social issues. The only reasons I could guess are because Bruenig is Christian and devoted to motherhood and because her life experience disrupts the feminist status quo. This is particularly strange because feminists haven’t always shamed women for becoming mothers.

Older Generations of Feminists Embraced Motherhood, So What Changed?

Feminists bashing women who want to be mothers is a relatively new phenomenon. Some First Wave feminists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone embraced their roles as mothers. Some leaders in the Second Wave of feminism still considered motherhood a good. In her world-famous book, The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan wrote, “Chosen motherhood is the real liberation. The choice to have a child makes the whole experience of motherhood different, and the choice to be generative in other ways can at last be made, and is being made by many women now, without guilt.”

But as feminism progressed, it became much less accepting of biological motherhood in any circumstance.  

Amy Westervelt of The Guardian writes, “Feminism and motherhood have a complicated relationship. Radical feminist Shulamith Firestone [also a Second Wave feminist] articulated this most starkly in her argument that women would never truly be free of patriarchy until they were freed from the yoke of reproduction. She imagined wistfully a day when babies could be created in mechanical uteruses, freeing women from the physical subjugation of childbirth.”

First Wave feminists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Lucy Stone embraced motherhood.

Firestone’s views on motherhood are extreme and were seen as controversial in her day, but that hasn’t stopped modern feminists from embracing her ideas. Victoria Margree of The Conversation and author of Neglected or Misunderstood: The Radical Feminism of Shulamith Firestone is one of these feminists. She writes, “But today, her manifesto is nonetheless being returned to by feminists such as me. This is partly because her work resonates with the principles of the reproductive justice movement, which demands the right not only to end an unwanted pregnancy but also to parent under conditions that allow both children and parents to flourish.”

Firestone’s ideas are embraced by other modern-day feminists like Sophie Lewis, who takes bashing motherhood to another level by advocating for abolishing the family. The popularization of these radical views could be why feminists like Marcotte and Doyle are so anti-motherhood that they bash Bruenig for writing about her positive experience of being a mother. I thought long and hard about what could have caused this shift from encouraging women to do what they want to bashing motherhood, and the answer is surprisingly simple.

Radical feminists view motherhood and the nuclear family as tools of the patriarchy and a form of oppression. 

These radical feminists who are anti-motherhood aren’t actually concerned about the original goals of feminism — gender equality and women’s empowerment. Their goal is to abolish the patriarchy and restructure society from the ground up. They view motherhood and the nuclear family as tools of the patriarchy and a form of oppression, not taking a second to consider that some women might actually want to be mothers. Modern-day feminism is less concerned about empowering women and supporting their choices equally than it is about destroying the patriarchy by any means necessary. First step? Shame women who seem to be participating in it through motherhood. 

Closing Thoughts

The feminist movement is supposed to be about women’s empowerment, and it was for a few decades. Unfortunately, the goals of First Wave feminism have been usurped by a desire to disrupt any perceived "power structure", even if it means dismantling marriage and nuclear families.

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