More On Women’s Spirituality: The Religious Mommy Wars
When I started this blog, I vowed I would NEVER devote space to perpetuating the ‘mommy wars’. For those of you that have somehow missed this debate, it consists of a seemingly endless parade of psychologists, feminists, social scientists, religious leaders and the like writing books and doing media interviews on the subject of whether it is ‘better’ for women to stay home with their children or work outside the home. According to the media (which has made A LOT of money on interviews, book plugs and the like related to this topic), we mothers are practically at each others throats daily about this issue. (For more background on this issue, go to this post, or check out the Amazon.com reviews for Mommy Wars by Leslie Morgan Steiner or The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts – not to be confused with The FeminIST mistake.)
I vowed never to cover this because my own experience is that in real life mothers are much more understanding of each others decisions than the media lets on, and because the delineation between the two camps is really not so clear (many moms, like myself, work from home or have side business endeavors.) Also, the main result of so much coverage of this issue seems to be massive GUILT trips for both sides. Stay at home moms are made to feel guilty for not using their educations, not contributing to the GDP, not setting a progressive example for their children, and not furthering feminist aims. Working mothers are made to feel guilty for neglecting their children, furthering their own ‘selfish’ career aims, causing developmental problems in their children, and destroying the traditional nuclear family.
I changed my mind, and decided to post about this issue because recently I have been doing a lot of research on motherhood and how it is viewed by different religions, and I ended up finding yet another version of the mommy wars – a religious one. Everywhere I looked, I found statements along the lines of ‘motherhood is God’s special work for women.’ Now in and of itself this idea doesn’t seem so bad, and in fact I started this blog partly because I believe there is a powerful spiritual component to motherhood. The problem lies in the way this view is used to limit women’s participation in other spiritual practice and study, or to exclude them as religious leaders.
The argument is usually phrased along the lines of ‘women don’t need to meditate/study scripture/understand theology etc. to find God, because they have a special connection to creation through their children…all they have to do is raise their children well.’ Although seemingly benign, this argument has been used for thousands of years within every major religion to exclude women from higher teachings and practices. What surprised me was finding it in so many contemporary teachings, including many ‘liberal’ ones with a focus on women’s spirituality (I talked a bit about this in a prior post.) By positing ‘goddess’ religions, in which women’s ‘natural’ nurturing and care-taking aspects are exalted as superior, women end up being defined just as narrowly, and their relationship with God is once again tied to motherhood, or at least ‘mothering’ energies.
The real cost to women is that they are receiving yet ANOTHER message about what they are ‘supposed’ to be like or want, and this time the price is their soul. A woman who doesn’t feel particularly nurturing or maternal, doesn’t have children, or has them but doesn’t center her life around them is made to feel at best unspiritual, and at worst, against God. And of course there is no gender parity here, as no one is saying that men who don’t feel paternal or don’t have kids are against God, or that when they do have kids that precludes them from studying scripture or becoming religious leaders (except among celibate clergy of course.)
To me, spirituality is a journey of self-discovery, and then of God-discovery, as the boundaries between self and God gradually merge. This process has been, and is, the same for mystics of any gender, within any religion, as has been demonstrated by the most famous mystics (male and female) from all traditions throughout history. When rules are laid down for how that ‘self’ is supposed to feel and act, self-discovery is stopped in its tracks, and instead of a spiritual journey you just have obedience, or GUILT when you can’t comply.
So let’s stop defining what women and mothers ‘should’ be in any form, and instead focus on discovering ourselves.