Not long after her return to the public scene with her hit song “Hello,” Adele was quoted telling Vogue that having a baby brought purpose to her life.
“When I became a parent, I felt like I was truly living. I had a purpose, where before I didn’t.”
Then just last week, news came out that Beyoncé too feels that giving birth to her child was one of the greatest things she’s ever done. “Out of everything I’ve accomplished,” she said in an interview for Garage Magazine, “my proudest moment hands down was when I gave birth to my daughter Blue.”
What is a modern feminist to think when successful women are coming forward saying that motherhood fulfills them more than their work and outside accomplishments?
Slate’s Elissa Strauss summed up the conflicted responses at the time: “Adele, ADELE, didn’t feel like she was truly living before she became a mom?! She, the universally adored force of nature behind, at the time, one of the bestselling albums of all time, felt like she didn’t have a purpose?” Next we have Beyoncé, Queen Bey, saying her previous accomplishments hardly matched up to the feat of childbirth? This would be, to quote the original Ghostbusters, “dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!”
It reminded me of five years ago at the Oscars, when Natalie Portman accepted her award for best actress in Black Swan. After Portman thanked all those who helped her in her career followed by a thankful shout out her "beautiful love" for giving her “the most important role of my life," some like Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon felt the comment was bad for feminism. "The comment jarred me," she wrote, "as it does every time anyone refers to motherhood as the most important thing a woman can possibly do.... Is reproduction automatically the greatest thing Natalie Portman will do with her life?"
The truth is, the life-enriched mommy vibes that Natalie Portman expressed those years ago, and which Adele and Beyoncé exclaimed in their interviews more recently, ring true to many women. I'm happy to see that today, from the pieces I've read covering Adele and Beyonce's comments, we seem to be evolving to be more understanding of all the thing women do, rather than prescribing a certain course of get-thee-to-an-office-job action. As Clarissa Joan put in Madame Noire, "Beyoncé is worth half a billion dollars, and she has a social media following of over 62 million people....She is indeed the most powerful female musician and probably the most powerful musician alive male or female. Yet, she proclaims her greatest power move to be the process by which women give and nurture life, motherhood. What’s wrong with that? Why do we, as women, undermine and devalue the greatest power on earth that happens to reside within our inner being?"
I have to say, this turn in the cultural narrative is refreshing to see. Because from my view, it's awesome to see women—who are undoubtedly doing a LOT out of the home—being honest about how they feel on this. From my view, it shows there are some things that are innate about women—our relationship to our children for one. Being true to that part of us doesn't necessarily stifle us, it has great potential to expand us—to stretch us past that which we thought we were capable, to become even better versions of ourselves—dare I say, even more accomplished as well.
It doesn't always have to be an either-or with career and children. Not anymore at least. And thank God.
We’re living in a different age than that viewed by Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. We’re living in modern America where dogs and cats can, indeed, live peacefully together. We’re living in a day when feminists can pursue both career and motherhood and be all the better for it. Rather than rush to build fences between the two, we should celebrate this development, foster it, and try to learn from it. After all, we wouldn’t want to hold women back from the things that bring many of us fulfillment and joy, would we? As Strauss concluded her story on Adele at Slate, "Just because motherhood was for so long a constraint on women doesn’t mean we can't also find it deeply meaningful and fulfilling. How lovely it is, then, to see someone like Adele appear so utterly unconflicted about the joys of becoming a parent, to be so high on motherhood without fearing that she might lose herself in it."
The way I see it, motherhood and womanhood have been closely entwined for all time. Even for those women who don’t have biological children, maternal qualities are often the ones they find most fulfilling. That women are granted equal opportunities as men to pursue education and career in life is amazing and essential. This is because I believe in a feminism that adds to women’s opportunities and options, not one that limits her options to one or another. I don’t believe in a feminism that suggests women have to take a certain route to be in the club, or that she must lead by a certain narrow example. I don’t believe in a feminism that pits her future against that of her children. To the extent that women feel they must choose between these two is the extent to which, I believe, we have our work cut out for ourselves to make the world a truly fairer place.
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