Natural mothering is a reactionary effort to restore female powerlessness

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I’m reading a fascinating book about the history of conservativism, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump by Corey Robin.

It’s offers an illuminating view of contemporary politics, but what has struck me most forcibly is something the author never intended. It’s an amazing explication of the political forces behind the contemporary natural mothering movement. And make no mistake, natural mothering is a political movement whose aim is to control women.

Submission is women’s primary duty, and natural mothering teaches them to submit to pain, exhaustion, and social isolation.

Natural mothering, though often touted by liberals, is a conservative movement and Robin describes conservativism as:

the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.

Men traditionally arrogated power over women to themselves; the legal and economic emancipation of white women in industrialized countries threatened men’s power, and the ideology of natural mothering is a subversive attempt to win that power back.

Robin writes:

Despite the very real differences between them, workers in a factory are like secretaries in an office, peasants on a manor, slaves on a plantation —even wives in a marriage— in that they live and labor in conditions of unequal power. They submit and obey, heeding the demands of their managers and masters, husbands and lords. They are disciplined and punished.

Sometimes they freely choose the relationship, as is often the case in modern marriages, but they don’t choose its entailment.

…[M]arriage contracts have been interpreted by judges, themselves friendly to the interests of … husbands, to contain all sorts of unwritten and unwanted provisions of servitude to which wives … tacitly consent, even when they have no knowledge of such provisions or wish to stipulate otherwise.

He offers the powerful example of marital rape:

Until 1980, for example, it was legal in every state in the union for a husband to rape his wife. The justification for this dates back to a 1736 treatise by English jurist Matthew Hale. When a woman marries, Hale argued, she implicitly agrees to give “up herself in this kind [sexually] unto her husband.” Hers is a tacit, if unknowing, consent “which she cannot retract” for the duration of their union. Having once said yes, she can never say no. As late as 1957—during the era of the Warren Court—a standard legal treatise could state, “A man does not commit rape by having sexual intercourse with his lawful wife, even if he does so by force and against her will.” … Implicit consent was a structural feature of the contract that neither party could alter.

In the 20th Century, women began to acquire rights traditionally reserved to men. That irritated and angered men whose power was threatened.

More than the reforms themselves, it is this assertion of agency by the subject class — the appearance of an insistent and independent voice of demand — that vexes their superiors.

To paraphrase Robin:

Natural (aka intensive) mothering is the theoretical voice of this animus against the agency of women. It provides the most consistent and profound argument as to why women should not be allowed to exercise their independent will, why they should not be allowed to govern themselves or the polity. Submission is their first duty, and agency the prerogative men.

On the political right, the backlash to women’s emancipation has been met with the rise of religious fundamentalism. According to this view, God wants women to stay home with children and give up other ambitions. That option was not available to the political left. They came up with natural mothering instead; according to this view, Nature wants women to stay home with children and give up other ambitions.

One of Robin’s central insights is that the private is political.

If women … are provided with the economic resources to make independent choices, they will be free not to obey their husbands …

So they must be prevented from obtaining independent economic resources. This is the private life of power:

Politicians and parties talk of constitution and amendment, natural rights and inherited privileges. But the real subject of their deliberations is the private life of power. “Here is the secret of the opposition to woman’s equality in the state,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote. “Men are not ready to recognize it in the home.”

Behind the riot in the street or the debate in Congress is the wife refusing to submit to her husband.

When the conservative looks upon a democratic movement from below, this (and the exercise of agency) is what he sees: a terrible disturbance in the private life of power.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, when Grantly Dick-Read looked upon white women of the “better classes,” he saw a terrible disturbance in the private life of power. Given the ability to exercise political and economic rights, women were “failing” in their primary duty to reproduce.

In the 1950’s, when the traditionalist Catholic women who founded La Leche League looked upon the small but growing phenomenon of mothers working, they saw a terrible disturbance in the private life of power. Allowed the ability to work, women were “failing” in their primary duty to nurture children. The founders reasoned that if they could convince women to breastfeed, they would be forced to abandon jobs and careers.

In the 1970’s, when Dr. Bill Sears, a fundamentalist Christian, looked upon the political and economic emancipation of women, he saw a terrible disturbance in the private life of power. He did not hide what he was trying to restore. As he wrote in the 1997 book, The Complete Book of Christian Parenting and Childcare:

The type of parenting we believe is God’s design for the father-mother-child relationship is a style we call “attachment parenting.” Our intent in recommending this style of parenting to you is so strong that we have spent more hours in prayerful thought on this topic than on any other topic in this book… We have a deep personal conviction that this is the way God wants His children parented.

What else does God purportedly expect from parents?

From husbands:

God has given the husband the prime responsibility for making the marriage relationship work, which is as it should be since he has been made the head…

From wives:

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything…

Robin quotes the French monarchist Louis de Bonald:

In order to keep the state out of the hands of the people, it is necessary to keep the family out of the hands of women and children

Natural mothering is fundamentally a conservative philosophy:

The priority of conservative political argument has been the maintenance of private regimes of power …

The philosophy of natural mothering — natural childbirth, lactivism, attachment parenting — is reactionary in the truest sense of the word. It is a reaction to the political and economic emancipation of women with the goal of returning to the private regime of male power.

  • Children who have been nurtured with attachment parenting do not grow up to be bullies like Dr. Amy. In fact Dr. Sears made the startling claim that he had never met a child nurtured this way who bullied other kids. Just the opposite, they try to help and care for children who are hurt.

    I put my career on hold for 25 years to nurture my five children. They are so loving and friendly, especially to each other. It is the love that gets lost in Dr. T’s never ending list of scientific studies and breathless indignation about a group of mothers refusing to raise our kids on the big pharma plantation.

    Did you hear? Birth and the Dialog of Love is being republished!!!

    https://jennyhatch.com/2019/10/07/new-edition-of-birth-and-the-dialog-of-love-by-marilyn-moran-jennyhatch/

    Please review Marilyns classic treatise on Husband and Wife Birth. It would give me a laugh to hear your take on it.

    I read and reviewed your book…

    https://naturalfamilyblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/23/book-review-push-back-by-dr-amy-a-few-thoughts-from-birth-activist-jenny-hatch/

    It is the least you can do.

    Jenny Hatch
    http://www.JennyHatch.com

    • MaineJen

      Hahahahahaha

      Oh…you’re serious.

      You actually expect us to take seriously a claim like “…Dr. Sears made the startling claim that he had never met a child nurtured this way who bullied other kids. Just the opposite, they try to help and care for children who are hurt.” Besides being ridiculous on its face, and demonstrably untrue, Dr. Sears is no doubt desperate to sell his own books to the gullible. Just like you!

      Please go hawk your book elsewhere.

    • StephanieJR

      The fuck?

  • fiftyfifty1

    The Natural Mothering movement really is the perfect strategy to keep women powerless, especially because the various steps build on each other. Goal #1 is to have an unmedicated birth. You succeeded? Good, then lord it over other women, and don’t lose your favored status by screwing up subsequent goals. You failed and had an epidural or CS? Well what an unnatural woman you are! Better prove your worth and love of your baby by doubling down on the next goal. Goal # 2 is exclusive breastfeeding on demand 24/7. You succeeded? Good, then lord it over other women, and don’t lose your favored status by screwing up subsequent goals. You failed and supplemented? Well what an unnatural woman you are! Better prove your worth and love of your baby by doubling down on the next goal..etc ad nauseum..

    Unmedicated birth, 100% breastfeeding, attachment parenting, homeschooling…before you know it it’s been 20 years you’ve been out of the workforce. Or at a minimum you’ve spent many years where your professional advancement has been limited by anxiety and self loathing. Genius.