by Alex Olson
Why motherhood shouldn't be pushed onto girls
|It was a sweltering day in McCall, Idaho at the Girl Scout camp where I worked this summer. We were hosting a “Girl’s Weekend” camp for girls not ready for a full session and a female guardian. It was my group’s turn to swim at the docks so I changed into my swimsuit, grabbed my towel, and headed down to the lakefront where a few of the moms and daughters had already gathered. As I walked down the slope leading to the beach I called out “Who’s ready to go swimming? I know I am, it’s so hot out here!” The moms nodded emphatically and the girls cheered.
As counselors we were encouraged to join in the girls’ fun as much as possible so I splashed in the deep end with the rest of the campers. “You’re the nanny dolphin and we’re the babies!” “Except I’m a turtle.” “Yeah and I’m a person and I’m trying to catch you!” “Let’s have a dolphin race! Ready, set, go!” We swam around laughing, playing, and making new rules as we went along until we heard a whistle from the lifeguard signaling it was time get out of the water. After rescuing the last pool noodle and setting the girls to work picking up the toys, I heard a voice from behind me. “Sissy?” a mom walking along the dock towards me said. “I just wanted to thank you for playing with the girls. You know, you’re going to make such a great mother.” I had heard this last sentiment almost weekly from parents picking up their campers — and every time it made me pause.
Women are often lauded on their domestic and homemaking skills from girlhood, particularly childcare, being told that they will one day make great mothers. Notice how definitive this “compliment” is. You will make a great mother, not could or might, but will. It literally tells girls they are expected to have children and raise a family. Similarly, “When you have your own kids” or “As soon as you’re married” preface many discussions of a girl’s future. I find this very frustrating because getting married and having kids are not a part of my goals and presenting such an anachronistic and patriarchal view of gender roles to young girls does nothing but restrict them. Obviously, motherhood is a rewarding and valid option for many, but there are plenty of other rewarding and valid options such as having a successful career or traveling the world. These options can even go hand in hand and yet we only encourage girls to stick to their biological purpose.
Providing such a singular outlook on the role of women is like stating the sun’s only job is to provide light. Yes, that may be one of its purposes but it has countless others as well. The sun heats the earth, allowing life; female doctors save lives. The sun marks time in days and years; women organize and run large scale companies. The sun holds the solar system in a continuous orbit; girls paint, dance, write, and bring beauty and meaning to the world. Insisting that the sun should do nothing but light the world is preposterous because it has so many other uses that make the world a better place.
Some say women need to have children to sustain the population. While this is true, encouraging girls to consider other aspects of their future does not require discouraging them from having children. Even though they are not constantly told that they “will make such a great father,” men continue to have children and families.Men are pushed to be successful in a career and make money — and yet there are somehow still children being born everyday. Men are not condemned and questioned for declining to have children, but women are. Women too should be given the opportunity to not be a mother if they so choose. Restricting a woman's future to motherhood is just as unfair as telling a man he can’t have children because he is expected to pursue a career. From personal experience, I can attest that having the assumption of motherhood thrown in your face on a regular basis is extremely uncomfortable. Girls with additional aspirations can feel as though they are not living up to society’s expectations of them and may even feel guilty about something that is their fundamental right to choose.
“Of course! I had fun too,” I replied. “But why do you say that?” The words were out of my mouth before I could think about biting my tongue. Her smile faltered in surprise.
“Because you’re so good with the girls, of course!” she said. “I mean, you are going to have children of course?”
I stammered through a statement of uncertainty and the woman smiled knowingly.
“You’ll understand when you’re older. You’ll see.”
“Okay” I said, trying to escape the conversation. “Thank you so much for the compliment!”
I wasn’t yet comfortable standing up for my right to choose my own future, but the next time I am confronted by this ignorant assumption, I will not let it breeze by me on its way to affect other girls who may not realize its dangerous implications. The next time this happens, which it unfortunately will, I am going to make a point to help others see that women should be allowed to shine like the sun.