Natural mothering makes women agents of their own subjugation

Shocked small business woman under boss pressure

The best selling non-fiction book of 1974 was Maribel Morgan’s Total Woman.

The Total Woman is a self-help book for married women by Marabel Morgan published in 1973… Overall, it sold more than ten million copies… [I]t taught that “A Total Woman caters to her man’s special quirks, whether it be in salads, sex or sports,” and is perhaps best remembered for instructing wives to greet their man at the front door wearing sexy outfits; suggestions included “a cowgirl or a showgirl.” “It’s only when a woman surrenders her life to her husband, reveres and worships him and is willing to serve him, that she becomes really beautiful to him,” Morgan wrote.

The book grew out of an “insight” from Morgan’s own marriage: She could have a happy husband and conflict free marriage only if she knuckled under to her husband’s every whim.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]It is no longer fashionable for women to imagine themselves as chattel of the patriarchy. Instead, they are taught to imagine themselves as the slaves and doormats of their children.[/pullquote]

The Total Woman embraced four basic principles:

…ignoring the mistakes of the husband and focusing on his virtues, admiring him physically, appreciating him, and adapting to the idea that the husband was the king …

For example:

For both Marabel and her followers, sex is a vital part of the TW treatment: …[wives] are told to be ready and willing for love-making at any hour … (Marabel herself reveals that she has seduced Charlie under the dining-room table by candlelight (“A very creative girl,” he brags) and sent sexy notes to his office.

Other homework assignments include greeting husbands in provocative costumes. One woman stripped to the buff and wound herself in Saran Wrap and a big red ribbon. An NFL player, whose wife had taken the Total Woman course, decided to reverse the game plan and met her at the door wearing only a hair ribbon, an apron and galoshes.

The difference between a Total Woman and any other wife was not what she was willing to do, however, but why she was willing to do it. It’s the difference between being turned on by dressing in a sexy maid’s costume and being humiliated by being forced to dress in a sexy maid’s costume; it’s the difference between welcoming sex and submitting to unwelcome sex.

In order to ensure a successful marriage and a happy husband, a Total Woman must turn herself into her husband’s doormat, servant, and always willing sex slave. The Total Woman understood husbands had needs that must take precedence over anything a wife could possibly want.

The philosophy of the Total Women didn’t merely subjugate women; it made women the agents of their own subjugation.

From our vantage point in 2019, it’s easy to understand that The Total Woman was a backlash to the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Led by activists like Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and the lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg, women were asserting the right to make decisions for themselves based on their own needs and desires. They would no longer accept that their role was limited to being chattel of the patriarchy.

It’s less obvious that the “Total Mother” (aka the “natural” mother) is the contemporary iteration of knuckling under to the patriarchy. In most circles, particularly on the Left, it is no longer fashionable for women to imagine themselves as chattel of the patriarchy. Instead, they are taught to imagine themselves as the slaves and doormats of their children.

As Joan Wolf has written:

…Total motherhood is a moral code in which mothers are exhorted to optimize every dimension of children’s lives, beginning with the womb, and its practice is frequently cast as a trade-off between what mothers might like and what babies and children must have. When mothers have wants, such as a sense of bodily, emotional, and psychological autonomy, but children have needs, such as an environment in which anything less than optimal is framed as perilous, good mothering is construed as behavior that reduces even minuscule or poorly understood risks to offspring, regardless of potential cost to the mother.

The underlying assumption of Total Motherhood is that in order to have happy children, a mother must surrender herself to the agony of childbirth (even going so far as to pretend that it is isn’t painful; it’s pleasurable), surrender her body to extended, exclusive breastfeeding for years at a time, and surrender her entire life to continuous proximity to her child whether awake (baby wearing) or asleep (family bed).


…[W]omen’s needs — to work, control their bodies, or sustain an identity independent of their children — become “weaknesses in individual maternal character, to be corrected through educational messages”. This kind of reasoning, which implies that either ignorance, cowardice, or selfishness is behind a mother’s decision not to do what is best for her baby, rests firmly on assumptions about total motherhood …

The difference between a Total Mother and any other mother is not what she is willing to do, however, but why she is willing to do it. It’s the difference between not wanting an epidural and being denied (or denying oneself) an epidural; it’s the difference between breastfeeding because you want to and breastfeeding because you feel you must; it’s the difference between choosing to give up job or career to stay home with your children and being forced (or forcing oneself) to give them up because that’s what “good mothers” are supposed to do.

It is not an accident that philosophy of natural childbirth was created by a misogynist (Grantly Dick-Read) who wanted to force women out of public life and back into the home. It is not an accident that La Leche League was created by traditionalist religious women who thought convincing women to breastfeed would force them out of public life and back into the home. It is not an accident that attachment parenting was promulgated by Bill and Martha Sears who insist that “wives should submit to their husbands in everything…”

The best part from the point of view of the patriarchy? The philosophy of the Total Mother doesn’t merely subjugate women; it makes women the agents of their own and other women’s subjugation.

Although natural childbirth advocates, including midwives like Sheena Byrom and Hannah Dahlen imagine themselves as empowering women, they are subjugating them by normalizing childbirth agony.

Although lactivists like Amy Brown pretend to themselves that they are empowering women, they are subjugating them by normalizing suffering and exhaustion.

Although activists like Jennifer Block and Alisa Alpert whom I wrote about yesterday believe they are empowering women by pretending that postpartum depression is a metaphysical conundrum instead of a medical illness, they are subjugating them. They wish to offer “support” and services whose only purpose is to allow women to ignore their own needs and desires and focus on those of their children.

The Total Woman taught that women could find true happiness only by submitting to their husbands. The philosophy of the Natural Mother teaches that women can find true happiness by submitting to their children’s every need or desire, no matter how trivial. Although they may seem very different, they are fundamentally united: both are predicated on the belief that women’s role in the world is to serve others, never themselves.