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Against the mystique of motherhood: some reflections on Mother's Day

To be or not to be mothers, the eternal battle over our bodies and the right to say: it's none of your business

By Francesca Parravicini

In the dystopian universe of The Handmaid's Tale, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood paints a nightmarish future in which North America is dominated by the Gilead regime, where women are deprived of their freedom and divided according to their ability to be able to procreate: in short, if you are fertile you turn into a child-making machine, otherwise you are a non-woman who lives on the margins of society.

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Un post condiviso da The Handmaid's Tale (@handmaidsonhulu)

This is a fantasy scenario of course, but it has its roots in the reality that even today, issues related to motherhood and fertility should be the prerogative of women but instead are often considered public affairs on which everyone can express opinions, often unwanted. A theme that is more relevant than ever before Mother's Day.

There is an almost mystical halo around the figure of the "mother", like the luminous layers of a sphere, which envelop it in a glow that is however artificial and difficult to melt.

In this sense it is interesting to observe how Mother's Day was born in its contemporary version: its origins are very ancient, in the Greek-Roman world, and can be traced back to the feasts for female divinities linked to fertility; in the 19th century it was carried out by various American activists with a series of political initiatives, including the one of Anna Jarvis, who helped to create an official date for the event in 1914.

It arrived in Italy in 1933, under the fascist regime, where it was exploited for propaganda purposes, to encourage women to have children for the homeland (yikes) and in the 1950s it was divided into two events: a more commercial one organized by a group of florists from Liguria and a religious one, organized in Assisi, for celebrate the Christian value of motherhood.

Now I don't know about you, but I find it a bit sad (but not surprising) to connect the celebration of motherhood to propaganda, religion or trivially to the simple need to sell floral bouquets: other layers that are added, it seems that everyone talk about being mothers except mothers.

Because this is what it is: being a mother is a radical choice in a certain sense, which changes  our bodies, our lives, upsets the balance and it’s strictly personal.

In Italy there is this funny mystique for which even today, in the semi-demonic year 2021, the mother is a reassuring figure, always smiling, who never struggles, who maybe, a small admission, has to navigate between children, work and chores, but it almost seems that this is part of her nature, mothers are naturally multitasking heroines, how many quotes for Mother's Day do they play on this theme?

Yet the reality is vaguely grayer: the mystical figure of the mother is exalted but the mother as a physical person is a woman who is often left to herself, as if carrying out this task was imprinted in her DNA, without help and without subsidies by the state, discouraged and poorly supported by work employers (just to mention a recent case, the one of volleyball player Lara Lugli, fired from her team after announcing she was pregnant).

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Un post condiviso da Acrimònia Magazine (@acrimoniamagazine)

It’s not surprising that in this situation many girls decide not to have children. Also, our society has changed radically: once the only possible social achievement for women was to become mothers. There were alternative routes certainly, but more difficult to follow, sometimes just dreams. Today these dreams can become a reality and many women choose to take different paths.

The priorities are different, but also the values are different, there are those who want a family and those who build their lives on different, less traditional perspectives: it’s the fluid nature of our generation, which has grown between the greater solidity of parents. and the uncertainty of the future, a generation that lives in a state of greater freedom but at the same time greater uncertainty, with volatile and precarious economic and working conditions, where the prospect of creating a family is not ideal but sometimes not even desired.

The statistics on the lowering of the birth rate are sad maybe, but not surprising.

Some serious stuff, that is mysteriously forgotten by that average person that we all know and who at least once asked us THAT question, the typical question that more or less all women hear when they reach adulthood and they are in couple: but when are you going to have children?

Because even today, and there it is, that remnant of the past in which our generation is still partly immersed, it seems that it is necessary to have a child to have a complete life. A child is a living creature that requires care, attention, love. It’s not simply a status symbol to show off with friends and family. And in addition to the difficulties we have mentioned, there are some that are silent but serious. Often there is a desire to have children, to build a family, but situations such as infertility arise, which in Italy affects 15% of couples.

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Un post condiviso da PAOLA TURANI (@paolaturani)

Little is said about these themes yet they are real problems, which affect many couples and are experienced as insurmountable shortcomings and defects. Again, this is the mystical aura of motherhood, but this presumed perfection in reality does not exist.

The reality is much more brutal and perhaps talking about it more, slowly removing the layers, can help many women to understand themselves and understand each other, to realize that they are not alone and there is no right and "healthy" way to be or not to be mothers.

Because this is the reality. We can choose to be or not to be mothers and there is no good or bad way: the world changes, the world can stay the same, but our mystique should only be made up of our individual values, which we build on the basis of our inner universe. We can fulfill ourselves in family, at work, or both, but we have to make sure that the decision is ours alone.