Dear Serena Williams, childbirth will NOT make you a real woman

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Dear Ms. Williams,

I was shocked to read that you — a feminist icon — have fallen prey to sexism.

Speaking about the impending birth of your first child, you told Herald Sun’s Stellar:

I am about to be a real woman now, you know? It’s going to be something incredibly impressive to go through.

Of course, the backlash has been swift and predictable, pointing out that many women don’t want or can’t have children and they are real women, too.

Sadly, you are promoting the sexist view that women are only “real” and valuable if they are using their reproductive organs.

I suspect that you know that and never meant to imply otherwise, but the real problem with your statement is not that it is disrespectful to childless women (though it is). The real problem is that it is deeply retrograde and anti-feminist.

For most of human history, women were reduced to their reproductive organs — breasts, uterus and vagina. Their brains, their talents and the contents of their characters were deemed irrelevant or worse: unwomanly. Women were expected to seek fulfillment in mothering; until that day they were expected to keep themselves busy with “womanly arts” like needlework. Intellectual efforts, artistic endeavors and, obviously, physical competition in athletic pursuits weren’t merely off limits; they were considered “mannish.”

By implying that you aren’t yet a real woman, despite being a powerful, talented, brilliant and obviously womanly woman, you are reverting to the sexist view that women are only “real” and valuable if they are using their reproductive organs. It is an insidious form of sexism, but one that has become increasingly popular since the advent of the legal, political and economic emancipation of women. It is insisidous because it dresses up sexism as praise; but it is no less sexist than judging women by the size of their breasts instead of the size of their accomplishments.

As someone who has given birth to four children and raised them to adulthood I feel qualified to tell you what giving birth will and won’t do for you.

Childbirth WILL make you a mother.

Here’s a few other things childbirth will make you:

A woman with a torn vagina, leaking from just about every orifice, in pain and hoping that none of the changes are permanent. No glamor here!

It is no more impressive than being able to breathe, digest food or walk; pretty much any woman can do it. In contrast, no one can play tennis like you can.

It’s not empowering. Here’s a little tip: If it doesn’t empower a 15 year old Afghan girl giving birth in a hut in agony and at high risk of death due to lack of medical care, it’s not going to empower you.

It’s a process, not an outcome and it is the outcome of childbirth — a new, unique human being — that will change your life in ways that you haven’t even dreamed about.

Until you have a child, you have no idea what the love of a mother for her child really means. You think you are fierce now; wait until someone poses a threat to your child; you’d battle a wild animal with your bare hands and no hesitation.

Until you have a child, you have no idea what the fear of a mother for her child’s wellbeing really means. I guarantee you will obsessively check your sleeping child to be sure that he or she is still breathing. Even the idea of losing that child will be shattering and unfathomable.

Until you have a child, you have no idea what mothers are willing to sacrifice to improve their children’s lives; you have no idea how much more painful your child’s disappointments will be than yours ever were or how sweet your children’s smallest accomplishments will be even compared to your greatest accomplishments.

Until you have a child, you have no idea what unselfish love means. Finding out will be one of the greatest joys of your life.

Being a woman makes it possible to have children, but it’s hardly the only way. Don’t imagine that mothers who adopt are lesser women because they didn’t give birth. Honestly, one thing has nothing to do with another beyond basic biology and even then you have it exactly backwards; being a woman makes it possible to give birth; giving birth doesn’t make it possible to be a woman.

In truth, childbirth will make you something you have never been before, a mother; but you’ve been a real woman all along.

  • Platos_Redhaired_Stepchild

    I’m going to play devils advocate here: Ms Williams has had to endure a raft of crap for being 1.) black in what a bunch of snobby, racist white people consider their sport AND 2.) being a woman in a sport a bunch of snobby, sexist white males consider their sport. AND 3.) A black woman from a shabby neighborhood who has the audacity to be one of the best athletes in the world & being better than any man (black or white). Millions of racists, sexists, & class snobs have slung all manner of racist & sexist insults at her constantly for decades, on and off the court. They have called her gorilla, butch, ugly, a man etc etc etc and gossiped that she didn’t really deserve success. Saying “I am a real woman now” is like saying “suck it haters, I’m the best damn tennis player /female athlete alive, I’m filthy rich, popular, famous, AND I have a happy family too!”

    • sabelmouse

      yup!

  • Diet dee

    Isn’t femenism about doing whatever you want to do. If she feels that having a child is empowering, how is she wrong?

    • sabelmouse

      indeed!

  • DelphiniumFalcon

    I hate this stuff. I’m just now going into trying to start a family and my husband and I had to have a rather serious talk about if I’d be okay if it turns out I can’t have kids and if I’d blame him for waiting too long. It would be a blow because it’s something I want but I don’t think it would destroy me or my marriage.

    But I still hate this. It’s so heavily programmed in. I had to walk away from an IM conversation one day when a person I was talking to said her fertility was all she had to offer the world and not so subtly implied that extended to all women. Even though she knew I’d be facing the very real possibility of infertility. It felt like a slap in the face. She already had an oops kid and refused to get long acting birth control when she couldn’t tolerate the pill because of her belief it would “ruin” her fertility. Even though she didn’t want another kid right now. It just didn’t feel fair. But life isn’t fair. It really isn’t.

  • indigosky

    I hate the be the person to post my flounce, but I will. I have been a devoted reader for years. I have found your posts intelligent, hard hitting, and I know have helped many women. But this Grade A bullshit you posted today is something I expect from weak willed Mommy Bloggers. I sure as shit don’t want my daughters to read this tripe. From what was a steller start to this blog turned into gag worthy simpering. Its just sad to see such an intelligent woman turn into one of them. Are you going to start posting as Wife. Mother. OB. now?

  • Amy Holloway

    I’m a real woman regardless. I don’t want children, and guess what? I’m still a woman. A real woman. I’m real because I’m my own person. I don’t follow what others think I should do.

  • Isilzha

    Women also choose to not have children, some women want kids and can’t have them, and I think it’s shitty to tell them that they don’t know what Real Love is without procreating.

    • AnnaPDE

      I agree that it should be perfectly fine for anyone to choose to not have children. And no one should be saying you can’t experience “Real Love” that way.
      It’s most parents’ first hand experience though that the kind of love you feel for your kid is different to the kinds you’ve known up to that point. No value metric there – just a new, different, very strong and usually enjoyable experience. That doesn’t mean it’s something everyone has to want, or that people who don’t get it will miss out and end up miserable. (Kind of like bungee jumping…) There’s lots of different forms of Real Love ™ and all of them are great.

      • briar

        No shit that a love for a child is going to be different than a love for a spouse, parent, or friend. We’re not stupid. But to claim that to be the only Real Love(tm) that someone will ever feel like so many do makes me stabby. And that is what people say to the childless and childfree ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

        • AnnaPDE

          So did Dr Amy say that in this post? No, she pointed out the parts of mother-to-kid love that are “no shit” in theory but still surprising and new in practice,even if you expected them. I don’t see anywhere where she called that the one amd only “real love”.

          • Sara Lin Wilde

            Nah, she literally said that someone without children has no idea what unselfish love means. She didn’t use the word “real” to describe it, but unless you believe real love is selfish, it’s pretty well implied.

            And that pisses me off as a childless woman who hears this crap on the regular, but as a survivor (so far) of parental abuse, I’m livid. Parental love can be plenty selfish, I assure you. And conversely, it’s probably possible for someone to unselfishly love somebody who is not their offspring.

          • AnnaPDE

            Not sure why my reply from last night isn’t showing… anyway, here goes again:

            The unselfish aspect of that love is the new and surprising thing. Sure, you’ve heard it so often before, you’ve felt unselfish lots of times before, these already-parents think they know so much and keep going on about stuff that’s obvious… and then BAM, in practice it’s a shock how it hits you that you love that kid regardless of what they did/will do, and whether they deserve it or appreciate it or not, and you can’t help it. It’s not just for birth parents, works quite well for adoptive parents too.
            (I couldn’t find a good spot to address your abuse remark: You’re right, it doesn’t kick in for all parents. But for most it does. And unfortunately people can be horrible to people they love, too.)

            Now please don’t confuse this descriptor of “unconditional” with “real” or “pure” or “best”. I don’t mean to imply any value judgement. Actually I’m quite pissed off at how “unconditional love” is held up as the best and greatest and purest love ever… I think that’s deeply wrong and problematic, e.g. if the loved person turns out to be genuinely horrible abuser. But even then, lots of parents can’t help but keep loving their child.

            And it’s not like it’s impossible to live a full and happy life without this experience, that’s total BS. Once it’s there, it’d be horrible to lose it. But before I had my kid (and I mean up until half of the first day of holding him in my arms) I didn’t feel like anything like his feeling even existed, let alone missing. Because it wasn’t missing, it was just a nice bunch of new brain functionality activated by hormone releases.
            I too hate how people are trying to push kids as a “you’ll miss out otherwise” on women who are perfectly happy without.

  • In my years working with women in fertility treatment, I have encountered a significant number, usually highly educated and holding very responsible positions in corporations and/or the professions, who are pushing 40 — and who suddenly fear the biologic clock is about to expire, and who “need” a baby. Many do not even have a partner. It’s as if giving birth is an accomplishment to add to their CVs. (A very successful lawyer once told me that she’d made arrangements for a live-in nanny “as I haven’t got the time to raise a child”)

    It’s sad, when a woman thinks giving birth turns her into a “real” woman.

    • amk

      Why do we always question a woman’s motive for having a child if she refuses to conform to gender stereotypes?
      Isn’t that what most fathers do? Have somebody else take care of their child? I’ve never heard a man accused of having a child only to check a box or for CV reasons, but there are statistics that having a child helps your career if you’re a man. Most fathers are praised for spending a couple of hours of “quality time” with their kids on the weekend – but you clearly are a bad mother who had kids for the wrong reasons if you do the same.
      Fathers in Germany have the right to take up to twelve months of paid paternity leave and the media celebrates the fact that one in three choses to take the minimum two months (and ignores the other two in three who don’t take a single day). Nobody ever questions whether they should have had children in the first place.

      • AnnaPDE

        So how many men are going to great lengths to have a child without a partner, and at the same time don’t just want help in raising them but plan to delegate the task altogether?
        There’s a lot to criticise about how men in general prioritise work and family life, but at least having a kid is not a measure of being a real ™ man for them.

    • Jet Kin

      Sounds to me like your judging these women (and I am one of them BTW) for their life choices (patriarchy anyone?) without knowing the full story…

      Perhaps a highly educated, professional woman pushing 40 such as myself feels the “need” for a baby because they’ve always hoped it would happen the old-fashioned way, i.e. meet Mr. Right, date, get married, house, picket fence, kids… But now we’re 40, still single or single again, and we realize that there’s no more time to put it on a shelf. If we want kids, the time is now or never.

      Perhaps your lawyer client needs a live-in nanny because, as a single parent, she wants her child to have a stable caregiver that she can trust rather than a rotating cast of daycares. Would you feel differently if her mother were to provide childcare? Or should she give up her high-powered career and go on welfare so she can be a stay-at-home mom? Is she less of a mom because she has to work to provide for her family?

      It very much sounds to me like you’re judging those single women who want to become moms. “Many DO NOT EVEN have a partner” (emphasis mine). Oh my gawd!! How terrible!! You sound exactly like my former family doc who refused to refer me to the fertility clinic because “don’t you think your child deserves to have a father”?

      Perhaps you could refrain from judging your clients without knowing more about their true motivations. Maybe this isn’t about being a Real(TM) woman at all. Maybe it’s simply about realizing a dream we’ve had for a long time and having the courage to go it alone.

      • fiftyfifty1

        Yes, what you have written exactly describes my close friend who decided to have a baby alone at 42 with donor sperm and fertility treatments. Some did tsk tsk, but she has turned out to be an excellent mother and her child is thriving…and her career continues to thrive too.

        • Jet Kin

          Good to hear that it worked out. I am still trying…

          It’s a financial and emotional roller-coaster and some of us are on it for years. I’m very lucky that nobody in my life has tsk’ed at me at all (except the doc, who has since been replaced by a cutie with an Aussie accent so I can’t complain too much!). Most of my friends are excited about me having a baby someday and my mom would be over the moon with another grandkid.

          • Lilly de Lure

            Ouch I know that feeling well – I now have a 10 month old who was conceived after multiple failed rounds of ivf, no one tells you just how gruelling a ride it is until you’re in the middle of it do they. Best of luck!

      • AnnaPDE

        It might be a subtlety of wording, but not having the time to raise a child ALONE – that’s different from not having the time to raise a kid, full stop. One is about the amount of work involved and splitting that, the other about having any involvement in the task. Kids are people, not trophies. They do deserve parents who do prioritise them enough to at least take part in raising them. And that goes for parents of any sex.

        • FallsAngel

          We don’t know what the client really said to Antigonos CNM.

          • AnnaPDE

            That, and because I’ve seen enough of Antigonos CNM’s posts, is why I trust her to get this subtlety of wording right. But of course you do have a point there and it all rests very much on initial assumptions.

    • briar

      Don’t be all judgy. I know several of these women. They had been holding out hoping to find a spouse to be able to reproduce the ‘normal’ way. But when you have society screaming at you that you lose fertility exponentially starting at 35 (based off data from France in the 1700s where women were done birthing by 35 as they had already had 12 kids by then), they are going to start freaking out that if they don’t do this now, it will never happen.

      Or society tells them that no child means they have accomplished nothing. A good female friend of mine is a CFO at a Fortune 500 company. She has 2 PhDs, is an elected official in her city, a pretty high ranking officer in the Air National Guard, etc. But she is repeatedly that since she is married with no kids, her accomplishments mean nothing. So she has been looking into adoption because of that even though she has no wish to be a mother nor has time to be one.

      So blame society, not these women.

      • AnnaPDE

        Yeah ok, that’s pretty selfish, sorry. Yes society is mean, boo hoo.
        Society also told her all kinds of nonsense about women being unfit to lead, to do numbers, to do science etc and she managed to defy those ideas and do what she wanted to. Now there’s also a piece of collateral damage involved – a an actual person, for whose well-being it’s quite important to have loving parent(s) that want them – so she could just keep doing what she actually wants, regardless of society’s expectations. Having a kid you don’t want is a great way of making two people miserable for at least 18 years.

      • Heidi_storage

        I really hope your friend does not adopt unless she actually wants to be a mother. If she’s highly accomplished, she should own her decisions and not be pressured into assuming responsibility for a child, who has very limited agency and depends on parents/guardians for love, sustenance, protection, and education.

        • swbarnes2

          I would say rather that there is a difference between wanting to “be a mother” and wanting to parent a child. The first is ticking off a box, the second is a whole lot of work and money and time and effort.

    • Diet dee

      All in the eye of the beholder

  • Lyla

    Then what am I? I was born with no uterus. So I can’t have a baby or menstruate. Am I not a real woman Serena?

    • Isilzha

      Well, according to Dr. Amy if you don’t become a parent you can’t know real love.

      • Lyla

        Guess not. Born a cisgender woman but at 15 after my doctor wondered why I hadn’t gotten my period did a scan and found I was missing my uterus. Not interested in adopting, my job is too strenuous for trying to foster and no interest in shelling out $50K for an infant or international adoption and both are ethical issues to me. The first feels like buying a baby, the second I know there has been a ton of corruption where adopted children have been taken from tricked parents. So unless I marry a guy with kids, none for me.

        Guess I’ll never know real love. Oh well.

        • AnnaPDE

          I don’t mean to come across as harsh, but the love for older kids with another mum in the picture is different to when you’re the mum (biological or adopted). I do both and it’s equally wonderful, but there are clear differences in the implementation.

    • Diet dee

      Some women might feel inadequate based on THier upbringing

  • The Computer Ate My Nym

    Dear Ms Williams: You are already a real woman and have been since you turned 18. I’m sorry that there are people out there with nothing better to do than to make you feel otherwise. Ignore them. They’re ridiculous haters. Motherhood is incredible, terrifying, and fun, but it won’t make you any more a woman than you already are. Enjoy your baby when they arrive and don’t try to please everyone. It’s not possible and not necessary.

  • attitude devant

    I adore Serena. If she was quoted correctly I’m cringing for her. She’s such an amazing woman, and she couldn’t be more woman than she is already.

    • sdsures

      I haven’t got a clue who Serena Williams is. Who is she, and why are we meant to be impressed?

      • attitude devant

        Google is usually helpful in these situations…..

        • sdsures

          Obviously…but finding out still doesn’t make me impressed by her.

          • attitude devant

            That’s ok. She probably hasn’t paid much attention to your knitting either.

          • sdsures

            I wouldn’t expect her to, at all. :-/

      • briar

        Seriously? An incredibly talented and successful tennis player and star athelete who is also a successful businesswoman. So if she was make she would already see herself as a real man. But since she’s a woman, she can’t be one without pushing crotchgoblins through her vag.

        • sdsures

          The only sports I watch do not include tennis. How would I know? It doesn’t mean I’m legally required to be impressed by her.

  • fiftyfifty1

    “you have no idea how…[…]… sweet your children’s smallest accomplishments will be even compared to your greatest accomplishments.”

    LOL. Can you imagine a man saying this? “I just won the Nobel prize in Medicine? Who cares! My little munchkins just used the potty! That’s MUCH more interesting to me!”

    The things we women are trained to say (and pressure other women to say) are seriously pathetic.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      I’m sorry that you think this is demeaning to women. I don’t.

      I have a slew of fancy degrees and accomplishments and honestly my children’s accomplishments were sweeter to me than any of mine. My husband says the exact same thing. This isn’t about being a woman; it’s about being a parent.

      • fiftyfifty1

        If this isn’t about being a woman but rather about being a parent, how come you never catch a man saying it in public? Saying this is cliche among rich women who are in a position to give up high powered careers to stay at home, but men are never quoted as saying this. (Black women don’t say it either, but that a whole other can of worms.)

        • AnnaPDE

          Weird. I’ve heard statements like these from many of the quite successful men I know when the topic turned to someone expecting a kid. Including the eyes glazing over just like the women’s.

          • Azuran

            Whenever we go out with the baby, every single time we have any kind of interaction with anyone (even a small sideways glance), my SO proudly put her up in the person’s face and declares ‘My baby is beautiful!!!’

            He also fawns over basically everything she does.

          • Amazed

            My dad is the same with Amazing Niece. He went on for two full days of how he put her down after a feeding because she looked uninterested anymore and she spun straight back and tried to climb back in his lap, screaming “Hu-ny!” (Well, it was hilarious. She immediately got that as far as he was concerned, the feeding was over but as far as she was, there was still food to be had!) He only shut up because he left to work on a ship. Honestly, it was a miracle since they want younger men here.

            I don’t think that to him, her antics, as adorable as he finds them, can measure with having a well-paid job for three months, at least, especially when he didn’t truly expect he’d be able to find it.

        • Life Tip

          I’ve heard this expressed by both men and women (black women included). Many parents (moms and dads) get excited about every little thing their kid does. Get together with a group of parents of any demographic, and you will likely hear all about whatever little junior is doing.

          I’m proud of my own accomplishments and my husband is proud of his…but we would both say that our children’s accomplishments are sweeter. There’s something so delightful in watching these small humans we love go out and learn/do things.

        • Jet Kin

          I work in a male-dominated field and I never hear them bragging about their kids. If they do talk about them, it’s usually to complain about how they had to clean up puke on the floor or were up all night because the baby isn’t sleeping. So really, it’s about them, not the kid. The only people I know who fawn over their kid’s every little accomplishment are two of my women friends who gave up their careers to be SAHMs. It’s almost like, since they no longer accomplish anything of their own, they need to take ownership of their kids’ accomplishments to augment their sense of worth.

          I’m pretty sure if I asked my mom what she’s most proud of in her life, it wouldn’t be me. It would be how she came to Canada and started over, making a success of herself as a Dr while being a single mom.

          • AnnaPDE

            My mum’s big promotion interview ended with the question of what achievement she is most proud of. She said my sister and me, without missing a beat, and explained it, too. (She got the promotion and this answer was mentioned as an indicator of clear priorities and the courage to name them.) Several men I know have acted similarly in high stakes interviews, not to make an impression, but because they’re honest about what counts most for them.
            It’s not about not having other successes. It’s about your outlook in life, and for many parents, their kids simply dwarf work stuff. Even though having a kid is not necessarily more difficult than completing a PhD.

          • indigosky

            You’d never hear that bullshit come out of my mouth. I speak about my degrees and my military service. In no way is being a mother my greatest accomplishment nor would I lie about it. This is why society is fucked up, people think they need to put motherhood first and formost instead of real accomplishments. Almost any woman can get knocked up or adopt, not every woman can be an ace laywer or businesswoman or military superstar.

            And if anyone refuses to give me a promotion because I don’t call motherhood my greatest accomplishment will get a forced enema of my two week notice.

          • AnnaPDE

            Oh how I love this kind of reply. A perfect mix of deliberately misunderstanding and trying to put down. Try harder next time.

            Do you really think I think it’s a lesser achievement to do a maths PhD, publish papers, and optimise logistics problems on the $100m+ scale than to pop out a kid who can by now run and string two words together? Still, every time when that kid asks for the potty, we run for it and he manages to hold it in until he sits down, it fills me with a kind of warm, fuzzy “YES!” pride that a graduation ceremony, accepted article or successful project never came close to.
            Just like my parents both know that fewer people can do maths research and lead large-scale IT projects than have two kids who managed to grow up reasonably smart, and will still name the second one as what they’re most proud of. (My dad just never had it come up in a promotion interview.)

            Pride is not just about what’s difficult to accomplish, but also heavily weighted by what you consider important for yourself — “your outlook in life”, and it’s entirely. So you can stop calling others’ priorities bullshit, and just stand by your own. In fact this attitude you just showed — that anyone valuing family stuff over their professional achievements is talking bullshit and by implication unsuitable for senior professional roles — is an important factor holding women back professionally and many men from being properly involved with their families. It’s time to stop perpetuating it.

      • Isilzha

        Cause only a parent can know True Love? LOLOLOL

    • indigosky

      100% agree. I went through one of the toughest colleges in the US, got a Masters, went through boot camp, and climbed the ranks both in military service and government service. My kiddos have done nothing remotely close, sorry kiddos.

  • fiftyfifty1

    Barf.

    You rip Serena for not toeing the feminist party line about what it means to be female, but then you respond with a whole dump-load of stereotypes yourself, for example:
    “Until you have a child, you have no idea what unselfish love means.”

    Give me a fucking break. How many times do we have to hear that women without kids are self-absorbed people who just can’t understand?

    You are perpetuating the exact same stereotypes that you accuse Serena of: Females are immature/selfish/wimpy until Motherhood turns them into a creature they were destined to be:mature/selfless/fierce mama bears.

    Just ish.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Sorry, but you read much more into it than I put into. I did not say, nor do I think that women without kids are self-absorbed people. But I do think that the love a parent has for a child is different than any other kind of love.

      • fiftyfifty1

        “You have no idea what unselfish love means”

        Reading too much into it? What else can this be except a rip on childless women? Do you seriously believe your own words? That childless women only understand selfish love? That they can have “no idea” of what an unselfish love is? What about the woman who gives up a kidney for her sister? Or the immigrant daughter who gives up her dreams of schooling to go to work so her sibs can finish their educations? Or the many female scientists and doctors who sacrificed their dreams of a family to pursue their intellectual passions back when women couldn’t have both? Or the female soldiers that give up their lives for love of their countries?

        You may not have meant to be offensive, but your words are. Listen to yourself.

        • Amy Tuteur, MD

          I didn’t say that it is impossible to make unselfish choices. And I didn’t say it is impossible to have great love for anyone other than a child. I love my husband more than life itself; I’d willingly die for him. But that doesn’t change the fact that, by its very nature, it’s a reciprocal relationship. I expect something from him.

          The love most parents have for a child does not expect or require anything. You love your children fiercely before they have any consciousness of who you are and whether they ever develop any sense of what you need as a person. It’s not a reciprocal relationship; it might be one eventually, but that isn’t required. And therefore, the love a parent has for a child is unselfish in the way that other forms of love are not.

          • o_O

            I think this is a noble view of parenting. Many parents do not love in this way.

          • Amazed

            You said we’re incapable of unselfish love, full stop. And I notice that you just double down on it. Because of course, we childless people have no other relationships, just the partners we love selfishly.

            By the same token, I could say that the love of a mother is the most selfish thing – the love of an owner. I have seen enough mothers who react to anyone – family, whatever – going near their baby with body language that can be interpreted as nothing else than, “Don’t touch! This is MY baby!” But I won’t.

            You claim to know the motives behind every unselfish choice each one of us have ever made for someone else. You claim to know that we expect something from every love we have ever experienced. You might have meant it as “parental love is something different” but what you wrote is “no one knows unselfish love until they become a parent”. Not “a different kind of love”. And I find it offensive. Then again, I am just a childless woman who is selfish enough to think it’s about childless women. Me. Because you kind of wrote it this way, basically accused fiftyfifty in reading too much in your exact words, and then repeated them by other words. You made a statement about us and our lives, not the love of a parent that I believe is different AND greater than almost anything else.

            You know, in fact I don’t think you meant any offence. I just wonder if you truly think we’re less than you in department of unselfishness, or you just won’t say “sorry” because you won’t admit being wrong.

          • StephanieJR

            Low key high five from a fellow child free woman.

          • Lilly de Lure

            And from this be-childed one.

          • Amazed

            Blush *I have missed this bit! Congrats! Good luck with… well, everything and may the god of boring takes you under his wing.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            Why is it so difficult for women who don’t have children to acknowledge the relationship between a parent and child is different from other relationships?

          • Amazed

            It isn’t. Difficult, I mean. I even mentioned it specifically in my reply. You were claiming that it was the only real unselfish love. And when you got called out on it, you said it was different BECAUSE it was the only real unselfish one.

            My SIL doesn’t meet your high criteria of motherhood, though. She likes it when after spending a few days apart, Amazing Niece squeals with joy upon seeing her. She’s just selfish this way. Not that she would have loved her any less if she did not but she gets a selfish joy out if it. And I think it’s great and natural.

            Why is it so difficult for you to admit that you’re behaving like a breastfeeding advocate here? Let’s see…

            BA: Breastfeeding means love!
            Dr Amy: You mean formula feeding mothers don’t love their children as much?
            BA: Breastfeeding is the natural way of feeding children, that’s why it means love! why is it so hard for formula feeding mothers to accept that it’s different? I have not offended them!
            Dr Amy: You have formula feeding moms here, they TELL you that they are offended!

            Now…
            Dr Amy: You will never know unselfish love until you have a baby!
            Childless women: So, we’re all incapable of unselfish love?
            Dr Amy: I have never said that childless people are uncapable of unselfish CHOICES (emphasise mine). The love of a parent for a child is different because it’s the only true unselfish love.
            Childless women: So, we’re all uncapable of unselfish LOVE (emphasise mine) after all.
            Dr Amy: Why is it so difficult for women who don’t have children t acknowledge that the relationship between a parent and a child is different than other relationship?
            Childless women (or childfree, or whatever the term is in English. Here, we don’t really have a word for childfree. I guess we don’t want to make women even more selfish by making them feel free. Seriously. It’s all patriarchal here.): Nice strawman. This isn’t what we’re saying. We TELL you we are offended.
            Dr Amy (next post, I expect): I didn’t make you feel bad but I am sorry you feel this way. I have not offended you.

            Really, is it so hard for you to fathom that when criticising someone for not being feminist enough, you should take some care with your words, so you won’t sound like a sanctimommy? Because the funny thing is, I think you really understand what we mean and if you could have written the post now, you would have written it differently, like “different, more self-sacrificing, whatnot” love.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            If an person who was orphaned as a child said there is no grief like the grief of being orphaned, would you complain that person had demeaned you and your relationships?

            If an adopted person told you there was no feeling of loss like the feeling of being given up for adoption, would you insist that person had insulted you and your losses?

            If a woman whose spouse had cheated on her declared that there is no betrayal as devastating as the betrayal of a spouse, would you claim that she was therefore discounting the value of your friendships?

            Wouldn’t you acknowledge that you couldn’t know what they felt if you hadn’t been in those situations? Why is parenthood different?

          • Jet Kin

            You didn’t say “there is no love like the love of a parent for a child”. You said “you have no idea what unselfish love means”.

            If an orphan told me: “You have no idea what grief means”, I would be offended. How dare you minimize my experience of grief?

            Of course I can acknowledge that I don’t know how an orphan would feel. But neither can they know how I feel about my own personal experience with grief.

            I don’t know how love as a parent feels. I can’t even know what love feels like for anyone else but myself. Nor can you know anything about other people’s experience with love. And it’s demeaning to say that a woman’s experience with love cannot be selfless if she’s never had a child.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            Seriously?

          • Jet Kin

            If an orphan says that to:
            – a child who was sexually abused by a parent
            – a child whose brother committed suicide in front of them
            – a child who was neglected and deprived of love by parents
            – a child who was beaten by a parent
            – a child who was abducted?

            Yes seriously. You cannot “know” another person’s experience and it’s demeaning to state that their experience with a given emotion is somehow lesser than yours simply because you pushed 4 babies out of your vagina. You are committing the exact same sin you are accusing Serena of.

            It’s not a competition of who loves more or best. Don’t make it one or you sound like just another sanctimommy.

          • Amazed

            If an orphan had told this to my mom when she was waiting for my brother to die because that was what doctors told her would happen and his reference values were so high that they did not dare write them down (we only found about this later when he was released, miraculously alive?) I would have slapped them right across their obnoxious mouth.

            I wouldn ‘t be offended, though. Just enraged. As to my mom, I doubt she would have even paid notice since at the time, all she was doing was worrying and yes, grieving.

          • Amazed

            Since this isn’t what you were saying, I find the questions meaningless. You weren’t making comparisons “nothing… like.” You were saying that no one who has not had children, including me, knew what unselfish love meant. And then you doubled down on it. But then, I’ve already written twice that it isn’t about comparing (or not) different kinds of love and you’ve chosen to ignore it.

            I dunno, I don’t delude myself that I love the damned teen who is busy making everyone’s life harder more than her mother (whom I have known since we were five and lived on the same floor for many years, so she’s the closest thing to a sister that I have.) But according to your logic, I am being selfish when I try to talk to her sensibly because currently, I am the only one she tolerates somewhat among the horde of horrid, old adults who don’t love her and can”t understand her. Let me tell you, being the designated conversationalist with someone who throws abuse and tricks at you is no fun. Last time, I had to change the locks of my damned doors because kid had pilfered my keys and I did not fancy going back home to a wild party or something. Not fun. And to think that she was such a delight before she hit her teens…

            She isn’t even a blood relative. Do I love her as if she were mine? Of course not since she isn’t. Like her mother loves her? Don’t make me laugh. But I DO love her and I can say it’s selfless on my part.

            What you’re doing is equating the strenght of love with its selflessness. Do I love my mentally ill aunt the way I love my mom? No. But I’d love to show her to you and ask you what do you think I expect of a person brought to this state in exchange of my love for them. Health system here likes to pretend that mentally ill people doesn’t exist.

            If I translate your words “You will not know selfless love until you have a child” as “there is no love like this of a parent for a child,” I’ll be opening myself for being brought to court for falseful translation. AND speaking for myself, your first words are offensive. The second ones aren’t.

          • Isilzha

            Well, I don’t think tragedy is a competition. I don’t know exactly what a starving orphaned child with AIDS in africa is feeling/experiences but I don’t tell people that their own problems are meaningless because they are not the person who’s suffering the most. It’s not a competition.

            I also try not to use the phrase “I know what you’re going through” since my own experience, even if similar, doesn’t really matter because I still can’t know what it’s like for them. I’m not going to tell someone who found out her husband is cheating on her that it’s a great thing (since my Ex’s affair turned out to be the best thing to happen to me). Not that I won’t share my perspective, but I’m certainly not going to claim they shouldn’t feel devastated about a spouse cheating.

            Just like women aren’t monolithic, mothers and motherhood aren’t either. I’m sure there are people who don’t feel like being a parent bestowed this deep, unselfish love in them. I guess they’re even more broken than the selfish childless people who can never know the Real meaning of love, lol.

          • If I’d suffered a deep and painful loss, and someone else insisted that their loss was worse, then yeah I’d be really insulted. I might not be able to feel their loss not having been in their situation, but they also haven’t felt mine. As Isilzha said, it’s not a competition. When you say one type of love is more pure, unselfish, or better than other types of love, you are demeaning all other types of love.

          • Jet Kin

            Why do women with children get so defensive on this subject?
            I do think the parent-child relationship is different. What I think you need to see is the way you worded it in your article is offensive to non-mothers. You said “you have no idea what unselfish love means”. You are implying that we, as non-mothers, are somehow less capable of unselfish love. Seems completely contrary to the point you were trying to make. So we can be women, but we can’t be “complete” women who know how to love unselfishly until we have kids? Bullshit.
            I feel sorry for you and the people in your life if you truly believe that your love for them is transactional.

          • Amazed

            Dr Amy did not imply it. She said it outright. By omission. Fiftyfifty was talking of women without children being capable of unselfish love. Dr Amy assured her that she didn’t think us uncapable of unselfish CHOICES and GREAT love. Nowhere did she put the words UNSELFISH and LOVE together.

            She made me think of times long gone, though. At the university, the man I was in love with was married. And of course, I had no business telling him how I felt, especially with him being HAPPILY married. I don’t flatter myself that my love was unselfish but I did not expect anything of him either.

            Was it love, be it selfish or not, I wonder? Because it definitely felt like it. It was terrible.

          • Jet Kin

            Seems like Dr Amy is making the exact point that she berates Serena for: We can’t be Real(TM) women until we have kids because we can’t experience Real(TM) love.

          • sdsures

            Are men not Real(TM) men if they don’t have a partner and/or children because only by having children can they experience Real(TM) love? That sounds a lot like like what Dr Amy is saying.

          • fiftyfifty1

            “So we can be women, but we can’t be “complete” women who know how to love unselfishly until we have kids? Bullshit.”
            This exactly. Some people say you have to have a baby transit your vagina to be a fully actualized woman. Dr. Tuteur rejects that, but only by one step–as long as you are a mother (vaginal, CS, adopted) then you are a fully actualized woman.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            Where did I use complete? Where did I imply that being a real woman had ANYTHING to do with having children? Where did I say that loving children is better or more real than any other kind of love. You are reading things into my piece that reflect your preoccupations and have nothing to do with what I wrote.

          • Jet Kin

            You know I’ve been reading your blog for a good while now and while you spend an inordinate amount of time criticizing other women for their choices, you seem completely incapable of accepting any kind of criticism whatsoever.
            Very feminist of you

          • fiftyfifty1

            “You are reading things into my piece that reflect your preoccupations and have nothing to do with what I wrote.”
            Ah, so she’s just buttsore because she doesn’t have kids. “Preoccupied” you know. Like one step down from a Freudian neurotic woman. Keep digging.

          • Isilzha

            You know these are insults that people often throw at the childless/childfree, right? I’m just shocked it’s coming from you this time. I’m disappointed.

          • fiftyfifty1

            “Why is it so difficult for women who don’t have children to acknowledge the relationship between a parent and child is different from other relationships?”

            But I do have children. And what you said is offensive. I HAD experienced unselfish love before I had kids. I did NOT magically become less selfish, or more fierce, or mesmerized by my offsprings’ smallest accomplishments, or any of the other tired stereotypes you trotted out, once I reproduced.

          • Amy Tuteur, MD

            That’s your view of what I wrote, not mine. I’m sorry you’re offended but I don’t apologize for what I wrote because I meant it.

          • fiftyfifty1

            It didn’t offend ME. In your opinion I’m a fully actualized woman. But just because it isn’t directed at me, doesn’t mean it isn’t offensive. And what does it matter whether you meant it or not? The Google dude who just wrote the manifesto saying that women weren’t biologically suited to be engineers meant it too.

          • Jet Kin

            Ah the classic not-pology: I’m sorry if YOU’RE offended. Gee… thanks! I’m sorry you’re offensive. Feel better now?

          • StephanieJR

            Can I give you a hug for being awesome? Because I would very much like to.

          • Jet Kin

            So love is a transaction? You only love your husband because you get something from him?
            Maybe the problem here is selfishness… not lack of ability to love on our parts….

          • Azuran

            Well, I don’t think it’s a transaction. I don’t measure everything my SO does for me and love him accordingly.
            BUT, if he stopped working and mooched off my money, refused to do anything in the house and expected me to make all his food and do all the chores and stopped being kind to me and acted like a selfish dick. Then yea, my love for him would dwindle and I would eventually kick him out of the house.

            By comparison, it is ‘generally’ expected that a parent would love their children no matter how horrible they turn out to be. (But in reality, I really doubt that is always the case)

            But I think the ‘maternal love’ thing is way overblown. People who don’t have children can have love that is just as strong and selfless for other people and other things. And parents can be absolute shit that abuse their children. But in general, I think it’s true that love for a child tend to be ‘stronger’. It’s much harder to get over losing a child than it is getting over losing your parents, your siblings, your lover or your pet. But that doesn’t mean that those without children are less able to love.
            Overall it seems love is a very complicated and irrational clusterfuck and it’s impossible to try and make sense of it. I don’t think anything malicious was being implied, it’s true that love for a child is a unique kind of love. But then again, so it the love your have for your parents, your siblings, your friends etc. You can’t compare the different kind of love and declare that one kind is better and having one over the other doesn’t make you better.

          • Jet Kin

            What if he was in an accident, became a quadriplegic and couldn’t do anything for himself… I think the first part of your sentence is a red herring. The important part is “stopped being kind to me and acted like a selfish dick”.

            I have a male relative who is generally considered to be a mooch. He’s always asking for money and guilt-tripping us when we don’t give in. He calls any woman who is successful “a bitch”, including his own mother. He is a jerk and the worst son ever.

            I think his mother still loves him, or at least tries to love him. But is that just because society expects it? I do know the situation makes her very unhappy. And there’s nothing she can do about it. At least with her ex-husband, who was very similar, she could (and did) throw him out and never spoke to him again the last 20 years of his life.
            You’re expected to try and forgive anything your kid does because it’s your kid. Your husband, well you can toss him out if you like.

          • Azuran

            Honestly, I can’t say what I would do if he became quadriplegic. Some people stay with them until the end, other stay but start seeing others, other stay for a while but eventually leave, others leave right away. That doesn’t mean the first one loves him most.
            That’s kinda my point. Generally speaking, we have ‘some’ expectation of getting something out of a relationship. So we don’t really ‘selflessly’ love others. Except with our child. Is it out of infinite selfless love or expectation of society? I don’t know, probably a mix of both and different for some people.

          • Jet Kin

            There’s a difference between loving him and wanting to care for him for the rest of your life. I love some of my exes still, the ones with whom things ended well. The one who was an abusive jerk, I don’t love anymore.
            If your kid is an abusive jerk, it would be very hard to continue loving him for the long haul. And I’ve seen what it can do to a person. You get all the guilt for thinking you made them the way they are along with the guilt for not really loving them. It’s a raw deal.

          • Azuran

            Yea, that’s why I say I think the whole ‘motherly love’ is overblown by society. I don’t think that a mother’s love is 100% selfless 100% of the time no matter what, nor that it really makes any sense for it to be.
            Sure, we generally accept much more crap from our children than we accept from other family members and friends. But at some point, generally around adulthood, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have some expectations of getting something positive (or at the very least, not destructive and abusive) out of the relationship.

    • briar

      Thank you! I guess I don’t know what unselfish love is since I don’t have kids. Excuse me while I get my eyes unrolled. I don’t need kids to be a tough defender, everyone knows that if you fuck with my friends, this childfree badass is going to hand your ass to you. And if they had a tragedy, I am going to drop everything I am doing and rush over to be there for them.

    • Mel

      I taught for years before I had kids.

      I taught my students an active defense of the classroom in case of an armed intruder that I called “Plan B”. Plan A was obviously hiding until the intruder left. Plan B involved me attacking the intruder using my handy-dandy fire-extinguisher while the students armed themselves with various heavy metal items and escaped through the windows.

      I was well aware that Plan B would most likely end up with me severely wounded or dead.

      I was more than willing to give up an arm or internal organ for my son when he was an ill preemie.

      I was equally willing to give up an arm, internal organ or my life to save all or some of my students.

      It’s not a mom thing; it’s a love thing.

      • Empress of the Iguana People

        In loco parentis (sp?)

    • Isilzha

      Thank you. As someone who’s childfree I hate those tropes.

      • StephanieJR

        You and me both.

    • Valerie

      I usually just skim over the smarm (it’s not what I come here for), but this is a cruel thing to say to people who do not or cannot have children. Thanks for pointing it out!

  • The Bofa on the Sofa

    OK, the argument being, I presume, that giving birth is something that only a woman can do, and therefore by doing it, it demonstrates her “womanness.” And, admittedly, Serena is able to do those things that are generally considered “mannish” (elite athletics) so doing something uniquely woman is significant.

    But this is just narrative. I mean, menstruation is also unique to women, and is something that men don’t do. So when it comes to biological essentialism, why is giving birth any more the sign of a “real woman” than menstruation?

    • Zornorph

      Actually, lots of people do say that when you first menstruate, that’s when you ‘become a woman’.

      • LaMont

        A self-identified Democrat/liberal lawyer with an Ivy degree once quoted to me, with a straight face, that “girls become women by getting older, boys become men by accomplishing something.” The fact that “man” means “person with worth” while “woman” is this smaller, gendered concept, is incredible.

        Puberty is when you sexually mature, physically. That’s it.

        Something I’m recalling: the film “Looper” literally wrote into its SCI-FI FUTURE, WITH ALMOST NO WOMEN, that self-ownership and accomplishment were male needs, while every woman in that film either f*cked the male protagonist or was a muse for him. The film also used a “woman is important b/c she birthed the foreseen important person” storyline. The point is, this sh*t is powerful, even among people who should damn well know better.

        • Zornorph

          I guess back in the day, they had all those ‘rites of passage’ for boys – either going out in the wild and killing something or having some ceremony whereas for girls the onset of their period was the only thing to mark the difference between being a child and an adult. I think there’s actually a whole movement to bring some of those rites of passage for boys back – there was a book called ‘Iron John’ that was big back in the 90’s about it, I think.
          There’s really never been a female equivalent though, unless you count the thing for Jewish girls (Bat Mitzva?). But it’s true that most ‘coming of age’ stories with boys in the lead are usually about adventures (Stand By Me is a perfect example) but the ones for girls tend to have them falling for a boy for the first time.

          • BeatriceC

            “There’s really never been a female equivalent though”

            That’s not entirely true. 18th and 19th century England marked womanhood in the upper classes by the introduction of the girl/woman into high society during her first social season. A girl’s first season was an enormous deal. The US high society debutante ball and the hispanic quinceanera are similar coming of age ceremonies. Granted these ceremonies are pretty sexist in and of themselves, but so are the rites of passage for boys from eras past.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            The “Sweet 16” party? Lame, for sure.

          • Zornorph

            When my older sister turned 16, my brother and I referred to her as being ‘sour 16′ ’cause she was one really moody teenager.

        • And that is why I really like the Daughter of the Forest series. Well, one reason. In the third book, we (the audience) all know that the ‘chosen one’ is the female character, not the male one, but it comes as a shock to everyone in the story.

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            I like those books. Good strong females all over the place, Have you read the Blackthorn series?

          • I have not. Same author?

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            yep. I think she sets it in the same world, but a later date, judging by some references.

      • StephanieJR

        My mother got a lot a more excited by that than I did…

        • Zornorph

          My ex-wife told me she was quite put off by it while my mother-in-law was over the moon.

      • Valerie

        That expression grosses me out. A 10 year old child who menstruates is not a woman. She’s still a kid.

    • Gæst

      Well, and the problem is also that there are men who menstruate and give birth, specifically some transmen.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Yeah, that was even predicated on the argument being that giving birth is something only a woman can do. As you note, that doesn’t even hold up as an argument.

  • Zornorph

    I remember back in the day when Murphy Brown gave birth on her TV show and they played the song ‘You make me feel like a natural woman’ as she held her newborn, somebody making the same point.
    I will say, becoming a father is the best thing I ever did, but I never thought that it ‘made me a man’ or anything like that.

    • LaMont

      Duh, becoming a man is about doing something with your man-brain – tho having working sperm does help 😉

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Well, obviously not. Parenting is women’s work! You become a man by fighting a war or hunting large animals or having sex with a lot of women or something.

      • Roadstergal

        It seems to be very connected to body hair. Which I can’t stand in men. Ah well.

        • Gæst

          Put me down as pro-manscaping.

        • Petticoat Philosopher

          I’m a fan, personally. 😛

        • Charybdis

          I’m with you on that.

    • Sarah

      That’s because you didn’t induce lactation.

      • Zornorph

        I was afraid Boy-O would get hairballs if I did that.

        • The Bofa on the Sofa

          Wax, dude

          • Zornorph

            No, I come from the school that thinks a hairy chest is manly. Though I’m not going to get all Kenny Rogers about it.

          • Charybdis

            Well, there’s hairy chests and there’s HAIRY chests. When it looks as if your chest could do with a good shampoo, conditioning treatment and a blowout, it might be time to think about some manscaping (or topiary).
            However, if YOU (general you) like the look/feel of it and any partner you have doesn’t care, knock yourself out. Personal preferences, different strokes and all that.

          • MaineJen

            Owwwwwwwww KellyClarkson

          • Petticoat Philosopher

            Nipple fuck! Como se llama!

          • The Bofa on the Sofa

            I’ll admit to having no clue. Does Kelly Clarkson wax her nipples or something?

          • KQ Not Signed In

            This will explain everything….

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSXx_A5bhXA

          • MaineJen

            Steve Carell, 40 Year Old Virgin. Funniest chest-waxing scene ever.

        • Sarah

          That’s not an excuse. Breast is best.

          • Zornorph

            Moobs rule?

    • Allie

      My hubs got in a big fight with his parents once and they told him he wasn’t a real man because he didn’t have kids (his culture is very family-oriented). Unfortunately, unbeknownst to them, I’d had a miscarriage earlier that very day. We’ve never told them.

  • mabelcruet

    I don’t think she can win either way-she has faced a lot of criticism and spitefulness about her strength and power, and being called mannish, masculine, or butch. Maybe she’s just thinking that childbirth is a way of proving her feminity to her critics but worded it poorly? Whatever her reasons for saying what she did, she’s a superb athlete, a great role model and I hope her pregnancy goes smoothly.

    • LaMont

      I just hope she’s really a fully *nonpracticing* Jehovah’s Witness, because that faith is a particularly good way to kill women in childbirth…

      • Zornorph

        Well, I know they refuse blood transfusions, but I was unaware of any other JW quirks that made it dangerous. I also had NO idea she was a JW.

        • Roadstergal

          Me neither. Wow. But athletics are ripe for woo…

        • LaMont

          Oh just the transfusions, really. Seems like needless risk, and you do see stories of women leaving their children motherless and then being held up as these beautiful devout people to be emulated. Cringeworthy.

        • MaineJen

          Fun fact: Jehovah’s Witnesses will accept an organ transplant, but not a transfusion. Riddle me that.

    • swbarnes2

      Yeah. Black women get a lot of flack about being not feminine enough, and her being a world famous athlete makes it a lot worse. In that light, her comment is regrettable, but understandable.

    • Sarah

      Yes. If she was quoted correctly, her statements are unfortunate, but you can’t divorce that from the wider societal context here, the racism, sexism and misogynoir.