First published in Tribe de Mama Magazine Vol. 10 FEMINA (Fall 2016)
I am not going to lie. Motherhood does not always feel natural to me. At least lately, I have grappled with the concepts of identity and boundaries when it comes to organizing my life as a mother, a woman, and someone who actually loves to work.
Without a doubt, both my children were planned, impatiently awaited, and loved from the very beginning. And I think I did a fairly good job with the whole attachment parenting program. I mean, I home-birthed, I nursed far beyond the recommended age, I carried them around in slings, and wraps, and carriers, and I will never forget the sensation of freedom when I realized that I could have both my arms and hands back and do anything if I just put baby on my back. I encouraged baby-led weaning and stayed on top of the ever changing nutritional advice for 6-12-months-olds. And I (almost) never bought processed baby food. Oh, and co-sleeping. I definitely did that, too. What nobody tells you about co-sleeping is that it is perfect and blissful until it becomes excruciatingly draining when said baby, now a toddler, continues to wake like a newborn because her or she is used to the next snack being within reach at all times. Long story short, I fully embraced and immersed myself in these parenting ideals. And I loved that chapter, to the extent that some dear friends back home began to express concern. “is this not too close?” they asked, and “Are you still taking care of yourself?” My best friend was literally relieved when I first complained about motherhood. I will never forget her words: “It is refreshing to hear that not everything is always perfect.” At the same time, I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this phase of my life.
But now that my youngest is about to turn three years old, and now that I am done with diapering, and nursing, and baby wearing, now that basically real life kicks back in, I feel less willing to put myself on the back burner. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love my kids any less, it’s just that I feel less willing to compromise. And I am realizing that in order to truly feel fulfilled, I need me in my life. And me is more than “just” mama.
me had a vibrant social life prior to kids with an eclectic mix of friends and acquaintances. me also went to graduate school to get a Master’s and a PhD, by the way. me used to pull all-nighters to finish academic projects or simply to listen to music and write. me used to be someone who refused to talk in the morning before the first cup of coffee, someone who never said no to the next challenge or adventure or impromptu travel. me actually detests routine and predictability. me prefers happy hour over arts-and-craft-meetups, and work meetings over bake sales. In fact, me would be thrilled right now to pack her bags and explore the world.
The question then becomes: How can me also be a mother? Or more importantly: Can me be a good mother?
Now, my vision of “a good mother” is most likely skewed. I grew up in West Germany where the remnants of National Socialism to this day praise and reward mothers who, fully dedicated and committed, stay home for the first few years of their kid’s life. And my own mother – she was a single mom and worked full-time once I turned two-, spent every non-working minute watching over me. As thankful as I am for her dedication, commitment, and sense of responsibility, as a mother myself, I am genuinely wondering if this is what it takes? I always felt loved and secure, but would I have felt any other way if my mother had put herself a little bit higher on her list of priorities? She didn’t go out, she didn’t shop, she didn’t date. But I’m afraid that’s just not me.
There’s a type of mother that, until recently, used to compound my own feelings of inadequacy. I used to think that she represents the only way to be truly a good mother. She is the one who has three, four children hanging from and tugging on her. The one who somehow manages to hold a conversation in the middle of constant interruptions but who keeps her composure and still looks absolutely happy and satisfied. The one who used to have a career but has become the default parent. The one who reminisces about her adventurous life but has happily put it ad acta. But I’m afraid that’s just not me.
What I’ve come to realize in recent months as I have pondered these questions is this: mothers come in all kinds of shapes and ways and types. Motherhood is not a fixed concept. It’s a process, a give and take, and it is bound to evolve, across generations, and across different stages in your life. In the end then, I dare to propose that what makes us good mothers is the ability to tune in to our needs, and to adjust accordingly. I am still not sure yet what precisely this will look like for me but I am starting with a solo trip to one of my favorite places, Berlin.
April 3, 2019 on Motherhood Made Me
It’s Saturday morning and I find myself in a room full of women who gathered for a group reading with a psychic medium. I was naturally skeptical but very curious when I bought my ticket. During the last hour, the medium has communicated messages from a handful of lost loved ones to women in the room. There has been a dad, a brother-in-law, a grandmother, a childhood friend. Each time “a spirit comes forward,” as the medium explains, the begins with sharing basic information such as gender and family relation as well as images that get communicated by the spirit until she has identified the living relative in the room. More detailed information and messages then get exchanged. We have time for one more spirit. “Oh dear,” she says, “this is a tough one. Can anyone identify with a little boy, 4-5 years old?” No response. “Okay, let’s try it differently. Did anyone have a miscarriage 4-5 years ago?” Silence in the room. My body electrifies, and I begin to sweat.
Every time I fill out an intake form at a doctor’s office I am reminded of my womb’s rollercoaster ride over the years. Four pregnancies, two children. How ironic that there was a time in my life I wouldn’t readily have understood that the answers to these questions weren’t automatically the same. I had an abortion in my early twenties and suffered a missed miscarriage about ten years later. In between I had my daughter, and my son joined the family the year after the miscarriage. This makes both my children so-called “rainbow babies.” Motherhood is raw.
June 2. That’s the date they had estimated. The rest of the facts I have successfully eliminated from my memories. I don’t even remember exactly how far along I was. 8 weeks? Maybe 11? It was legal up to 12 weeks. When we met with a social worker to get the official permission for the procedure, my only concern was to ask her whether the baby would feel any pain. He or she had made me a mom. He or she would now be 13 years old. I knew then that the only way I could find peace was to experience an entire pregnancy, to birth a child, to become a mother, again.
Six years later, fully supported by a loving man by my side, I was fortunate to birth a healthy girl. She was perfect. And my heart was full. So full that for several years I could not even imagine having space for a second child – in my heart, in my family life, and in my busy schedule as a Ph.D. student. How do you ever really want a second child? I kept wondering. I knew that I wanted my daughter to have a sibling but did I want a second child? To be honest, not really…
Until I held a positive pregnancy test in my hands one fall day in 2013. There it was again – the instantaneous love and connection only a mother understands. Only this time it wasn’t meant to be. I was diagnosed with a missed miscarriage. A miscarriage that my body missed for way too many weeks. It seemed to hold on to the pregnancy for dear life. Numerous lab works and ultrasound exams revealed that my pregnancy hormones kept rising and that the amniotic sac kept growing. I tried acupuncture, herbs, and homeopathy. Christmas and New Year’s turned into blurs, and I fell into a deep hole. At almost 12 weeks I gave in and opted for the surgery. That was four days before my birthday.
What remained were deep sadness and a strong desire for a healthy pregnancy and baby. My body kept mourning until the estimated due date passed. And shortly after, my second rainbow baby was on the way. Another summer child. My son has made my heart bigger and full in a way I never thought possible. I often say that he was worth waiting for.
I raise my hand, blood rushing through my head. The medium gives me the message that it wasn’t my body’s fault but a heart condition that made the pregnancy unviable. She confirmed that I had another child after I lost this pregnancy, and explained that both souls had a pact, that my unborn child had to leave to make room for my son. She asked if there are a lot of balls in my house because she is seeing the image of bouncing balls. Let’s just say that since as long as I can remember, my last born has been obsessed with all kinds of ball sports. She wraps up our session: “He’s out there, and he calls you mom. He’s watching over your son. Make sure your son knows about his guardian angel as he grows up.”
All my children had summer due dates within a few weeks apart from each other. A midwife once explained to me that in addition to monthly cycles, she strongly believes that women go through larger cycles in their hormones and fertility. The female body is so wise and complex. Four pregnancies, two children. And two angels.
Physical violence against women comes in many forms. In recent years, women’s rights researchers and advocates have raised awareness of one lesser-known expression of gender-based abuse: obstetric violence. They agree that disrespectful care in childbirth such as threats, bullying, and unconsented procedures infringe on women’s rights and potentially lead to serious health consequences. In 2014, two social media campaigns, #breakthesilence and #somostodasadelir (“We are all Adelir”), protested the forced cesarean sections performed on Rinat Dray in Staten Island and Adelir Carmen Lemos de Goés in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. It appears that concerns around maternity health and safety are increasingly resonating with women globally.
UK-based childbirth Educator Jesusa Ricoy has stood at the forefront of such initiatives that push for safer labor and childbirth experiences.
Felicitas:: Jesusa, you call yourself a “matriactivist.” Can you define this term for us and explain how it affects your stance regarding childbirth and women’s rights?
Jesusa:: I came up with this term because every time I had to tell anyone what my activism was about, it was a lengthy explanation. And probably at the same time I came to realize that the activism around birth had to go beyond just birth; it had to challenge our entire understanding of our physiology – menstruation, sexuality, menopause, and breastfeeding. “Matriactivism” is a matriarchal activism and part of feminism.
Felicitas:: You founded the International Roses Revolution campaign in 2011. What sparked this organization? Please tell me about some of your initiatives, strategies, and goals.
Jesusa:: The movement was triggered by the outrage that quite a lot of Spanish women felt when the Spanish association “El Parto Es Nuestro” (“Birth is Ours”) discovered that on the website of the Spanish Society of Gynecologists and Obstetricians they had various comic strips where they laughed at women, their bodies, their prolapsed uteruses, and birth experiences. The doctors themselves were upset that these women didn’t tolerate their sense of humor. It was such an insult to women, and women came to my Facebook page feeling so frustrated. I felt we had to do something, so I said: take a rose and write what they did to you and leave the rose in the hospital, on a square, outside the Ministry of Health building… So I organized various gatherings through Facebook, and now the rose and the movement belong to women. I feel very happy to hear that many women found strength in doing something physical and tangible with their trauma.
Felicitas:: This is such an empowering initiative! What happened to Rinat Dray and Adelir Carmen Lemos de Goés?
Jesusa:: Both women had cesareans against their will. In the case of Adelir, she was taken by police force to a hospital while she was in early labor at home, with a judge order. This is something that possibly happened also in Spain with an induction last month, it is still unclear. There is also the horrific forced episiotomy of Kimberly which one can see on YouTube (currently on trial thanks to the organization “Improving Birth”). She was cut twelve times in her vulva, while saying no. What happened is that all these women were dealt with as if they were dangerous, irrational, and irresponsible, simply because they expressed their informed decisions and contradicted the doctors. They were punished by trigger-happy doctors blinded by power and misogyny.
Felicitas:: I read that you organized protest rallies following Adelir’s forced c-section?
Jesusa:: Yes, I did. I asked my brother who is an illustrator to create the logo for the campaign, which was very powerful – the Brazilian flag cut transversally and bleeding like in a cesarean procedure. And we went to the embassies with leaflets. There were lots of movements from different organizations around the world, and we all stood beside Adelir. The good news is that because of all the “noise” of these campaigns, the situation with the cesarean rate was brought to the public debate and it became clear that it was a national embarrassment. However, I wish Adelir would have never had to go through that in order to generate the much needed attention.
Felicitas:: What do the medical systems in the United States and Brazil, and even Spain, have in common that such incidents can occur? Could this really happen anywhere or are these cases isolated?
Jesusa:: Countries such as Brazil and the United States share various conditions that make these situations a possibility. Private health care is one as we see in many countries because when money plays a part, cesareans and unnecessary interventions tend to double in the statistics. But also those countries are a bit like mine, Spain, and others in Europe in that they have little respect for midwives, and midwifery has sadly been absorbed and transformed by the current obstetric care which is obsolete, male dominated, and heavily medicalized. In this culture, birth is a pathology that requires high levels of expertise and the latest technology. Mix that with a continuous promotion in movies and the media of women being reduced to their looks and bodies, and labor being the worst thing that happens in life, and there you have it: 85% cesareans in Brazil, and women in the U.S. on a pitocin drip as soon as they walk through the door.
As I say, in Europe we have similar problems with our own peculiarities. I think the UK, where I live, is a bit of an exception because of the strong presence of women and The Royal College of Midwives and the many years of childbirth activism. But Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Greece, just to name a few, are countries with their own problems in obstetric violence and a clear culture of the over-medicalization of birth due to machismo attitudes, religion, and the fact that 86% of the media we consume comes from the U.S., which unfortunately validates and perpetuates that way of birthing and the disempowerment of women.
So, these cases are not exceptional, I’m afraid, and that’s why, after listening to so many, we are all trying to compile the data by creating O.V.O.’s (“Observatorio de la Violencia Obstétrica”) that are like watchdogs for obstetric violence. The first one, which is the one that I belong to, was created in Spain, but now we have an Inter-O.V.O. that is a network of all the South American countries’ watchdogs and Italy’s and Germany’s too, if my memory doesn’t fail me.
Felicitas:: That is all very true and so unsettling. In my home country, Germany, midwives are being pushed out of the hospitals because they can no longer afford horrendously high insurance costs. Is this an unstoppable trend or do you think we can turn things around for the sake of women’s health and empowerment?
Jesusa:: I think, unfortunately, it is a trend benefiting from a widespread lack of understanding in society about physiological birth and the common acceptance of women as submissive recipients of care. However, there are a lot of movements and opportunities, and many amazing professionals, even Jamie Oliver, the chef, has contributed recently by saying that his kids have witnessed his wife laboring. Every gesture such as this interview counts.
Felicitas:: Absolutely! My daughter, she was almost 5 years old, witnessed the birth of her brother. It seemed like it was the most natural, and not traumatizing event for her. She was very hands-on!
I am curious to learn more about these watchdog organizations. How do they operate and what have they been able to accomplish?
Jesusa:: Well, the first one came out of the Spanish organization “El Parto Es Nuestro.” We are 5 professionals (a lawyer, a psychiatrist, a gynecologist, a midwife, and me) and a team of various women from all walks of life who support us by compiling data and other various tasks. It is in its early days and it is all volunteer work from very busy women who are also mothers, but a lot of the work so far has been to create a strategy, to organize, network, and reply to the many emails we have received since establishing ourselves. We are working towards publishing some documents hopefully by the 25th November, which was established by The Roses Revolution as a day to fight obstetric violence as part of the International Day against Gender Violence.
I feel that obstetric violence is an international issue and an accepted form of gender violence, and in the case of the unnecessary cesareans, for example, we can clearly see the acceptance by our current culture of birth since nobody seems to be asking some pertinent questions such as: when did a medical procedure, a major surgery that should be used as an emergency procedure to save lives, become a common standard way of birth, an option, an ideal, an alternative and now, as we can see, an imposed method? Why is it that informed women exerting their will over their bodies and birth experiences are so scary to the current system of health and immediately labeled as irresponsible?
Felicitas:: You are raising crucial points. The backlash a woman can experience when she tries to exert her rights to a non-invasive birth, obviously, is horrific. I personally had two home births and some friends, relatives, and colleagues challenged us a lot about our decision. And during my first pregnancy, the obstetrician, whom I abandoned at 32 weeks when I decided to have a home birth, became increasingly offensive as I educated myself about birth and my options. I am afraid that nobody would have felt alarmed if we had announced our wish to have highly-medicalized births.
What needs to happen precisely to break down this structural sexism in the medical world?
Jesusa:: We need the institutions of health to assume responsibility, we need women’s health and care to be at the top of the agenda. We also need a new major wave of feminism. We need women to question and we need men to reject privilege. We need many things but very simply we need the just treatment we still don’t have in 2016! We should be angry and taking to the streets!
Felicitas:: You are doing tremendously important work and I want to thank you for that. Your activism has made quite a difference and this is exactly what we need. I admire your strength and perseverance, and I hope that together, us women can continue to impact the system to end physical violence in labor wards. Thank you so much for your time, Jesusa.
Jesusa:: Thank you very much, Felicitas, for echoing and amplifying my words which are ultimate OUR words.
2019, for Little Years
It is my honor to talk with Wednesday Martin – anthropologist, author, and mother of two boys (18 and 11). Her memoir and #1 New York Times bestseller Primates of Park Avenue (Die Primaten von der Park Avenue) reflects on her experiences raising her kids among the ultra-rich on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In her most recent work, Untrue, she claims that nearly everything we believe about women, lust, and infidelity is wrong and that the new science can set us free.
FJ: Wednesday, you depict life on the Upper East Side as extreme – hardcore helicoptering, excessive spending on afterschool activities, competitive moms with body image issues, the pressure to look impeccable 24/7, the hunt for designer fashion before it hits the stores. This sounds exhausting!
WM: It IS exhausting! If you think money can buy these women happiness, think again. I noted there were remarkable rates of anxiety among the women I spent time mothering alongside on the UES. They live in a body display culture, so the pressure to be fit and thin is unrelenting. Calorie restriction and fasting are ways of life, and these have been known to exacerbate anxiety. Many of the women I knew hated their bodies or at least considered them the enemy and in need of lots of “work”–whether punitive exercise, calorie restriction, or treatments and “enhancements.” There was not a lot of pleasure taken in one’s beautiful body, alas. Finally most of the mommies I studied were economically dependent on their husbands owing to the woeful state of childcare in the US, and the ideology of intensive motherhood, which holds that the best mother is the one who constantly enriches her child’s life on every measure, and asserts that motherhood should be exhausting and draining. Being stressed and unhappy were ways of life among the privileged mommies I studied.
FJ: At the same time, you can draw parallels to neighborhoods in European cities, including Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. I believe that what mothers on the Upper East Side and Prenzlauer Berg have in common, even if their budgets are different, is the goal of the perfect child. Would you say that children become business projects?
WM: Back to the ideology of intensive motherhood, as discussed by the feminist sociologist Sharon Hayes…it’s not these women are consciously choosing to treat their children as business projects. It’s that the ideology of intensive motherhood and the lack of good childcare intersect to create a tremendous sense of guilt, shame, and obligation to give your children “everything.” We tend to blame mothers for this, but that’s incorrect and short sighted. Wherever we see intensive motherhood, we see lack of gender parity and mothers doing their job largely in isolation, and their mothering is at once culturally lauded and denigrated.
FJ: We at Little Years have been dedicated to discussing gender equality and equal opportunities between the mother and father. We even started a series which presented couples who share the load of childcare and household 50/50, but Isabel shares her frustrations here because it seemed nearly impossible to find more than a few parental couples that live truly equally. In addition, the concepts of “mental load” and “invisible labor” have united exhausted moms everywhere. Against this backdrop of modern parenting, it is hard to imagine that the moms in your book feel happy and fulfilled. What’s your insight?
WM: Pretty sure I answered this above ; ) I will note that over the six years of fieldwork I did on the Upper East Side, which I have described as a glittering backwater of antediluvian sex and gender politics, there was a shift. Fathers started to be more involved, arranging playdates, bringing their young children to school and picking them up after.
FJ: After years on the Upper East Side, you moved to the other side of Manhattan, the Upper West Side, where life seems more laid back. What parenting lessons did you take with you? Can life on the Upper East Side really produce the perfect child?
WM: It can produce a child who goes to the “right” schools perhaps. But anywhere with high rates of intrasexual competition between women like the Upper East Side means it’s hard to find a community for women and children alike. In the group of women I spent time with, many women basically considered other women the enemy. And other children as competition for their children. I do not miss it at all. I did not bring any parenting lessons with me across the park. The East Side schools my children attended were brimming with pathology.
FJ: No matter the income bracket, motherhood is raw, and money cannot shield you from pain. Women of all classes experience the pain that comes with losing a child. What makes such a loss even more traumatizing, in my opinion, is the stigma we as a society attach to it. And this is why, several years ago I decided that I was no longer going to keep quiet about my experiences of miscarriage and abortion for that matter. Interestingly, I have found that the more I open up, the more women come forward with their own stories. In Primates on Park Avenue you relive the loss of your daughter. Would you mind sharing with us why you decided to include this chapter of your life in your otherwise rather lighthearted narrative? Why is it still so difficult for women to be this outspoken?
WM: Well, I commend you and admire you for speaking up and helping destigmatize the types of loss that have been impacting mothers forever. Abortion is a privilege and still a right in enlightened places, thank god, though that right, like the rights of women more generally, is under assault in my coutnry. Miscarriage and stillbirth are part of the lexicon of motherhood, remarkably and tragically common. I hope more women will feel freed to speak of and normalize it.
FJ: In my own search for authenticity as a wife and mother, I have come across your book Untrue – a groundbreaking study that fills an important gap in our knowledge of female sexuality. Your work challenges our understanding of women’s sexual needs and even suggests that monogamy is a social construct rather than a natural inclination. What sparked your interest in these topics?
WM: Like a lot of us, I struggled with monogamy as a young woman. No matter how much I loved a partner, after about a year, my sexual desire for him would plummet, and I would find my eye wandering. I thought there was something wrong with me! Eventually, thanks to my background in social science, I discovered there was a lot of new data about female sexuality that the layperson didn’t have access to; there were all kinds of game-changing insights that explained the dilemmas my girlfriends and I were experiencing, but most hadn’t made it into the mainstream. While it was a relief to learn that I was perfectly normal in my troubles with monogamy, it was extremely frustrating knowing that other women who didn’t have access to the groundbreaking research that I did who felt like aberrations. My aim with all my work has always been to help women understand themselves. Sex is one part of that mission. It’s so personal, so political, and so important. Can we imagine a girl growing up to be President or Prime Minister if she is convinced there is something wrong with her sexuality or something repulsive about her desires and her body? These things are connected.
FJ: I have followed you for a while now on social media, and I have seen the raving reviews from women from all over the world. What makes Untrue so universal? What do you think resonates most with these women?
WM: Teaching women that they are not alone is a powerful force. Men have been narrating the story of women’s sexuality and desire for centuries; when a woman addresses women’s concerns with respect and—even more importantly—empathy, it can be revolutionary. It’s hard to say what resonates the most with women, there are so many myths that are accepted as conventional wisdom—that women are programmed for monogamy, that women only cheat for emotional reasons, that women are less visually stimulated than men. The list goes on and on.
FJ: Would you say that the institution of marriage as we know it is becoming obsolete?
WM: I don’t know about “obsolete,” but I think marriage is evolving. Many people are experimenting with non monogamy, or even including “thirds” in their marriages. People will probably always get married, but what we’re learning is that there’s no one way to be married. The more economic and political power women have, the more we will see marriage changing as an institution.
FJ: World-renown psychotherapist Esther Perel once said: “Women can have sex and feel absolutely nothing. They’ve done it for centuries.” What’s your reaction to such a statement?
WM:What a depressing quote! What Perel may be referring to is what I call “service sex.” Service sex goes beyond a maintenance shag every now and again. This is the sex that (generally) straight women “give” to their partners despite not being in the mood for sex—and it doesn’t feel good to give or get. Service sex is the end result of women who have grown bored with the sex they have available to them, but misinterpret that boredom as a low libido. It is a real shame, because women have the capacity for such a wide range of sexual pleasure. We know from ample data that in the aggregate women need more variety, novelty, and adventure sexually in order to not get bored than men do. Service sex happens when there isn’t enough creativity or adventure for a woman and she thinks, “Right, I’ll have sex just to please him, it’s only fair and it’s my duty.” She’s not gone off sex. She’s gone off sex with the same person in the same way over and over. There are things to do to change that. Passion and pleasure are fundamental female rights.
FJ: For your research you really immersed yourself in everything sex-related. For example, you attended conferences on polyamory as well as women’s sex parties. Were you surprised to find what’s out there?
WM: Yes! I knew from studies and data that the female libido in many species, including humans, is much stronger and more assertive than we’ve been lead to believe. And that women are often the relationship revolutionaries, pushing for creative solutions to their monogamy conundrums.For example, at an all-women’s sex party called Skirt Club I learned that while many of Skirt Club’s members identify as gay or bisexual, there were also many women who attend Skirt Club parties who consider themselves heterosexual, and are married or in long term relationships with men. These women crave sexual experiences with other women, and Skirt Club is a place for them to feel totally uninhibited or constrained by their sexual histories, stigma, and the presence of men who want a piece of the action themselves.
FJ: So much has changed since our grandmothers’ generation, or has it? It seems that for many women, finding authenticity runs totally counter to societal expectations. How can women approach this dilemma? Is there a solution?
WM: Social expectations have been punitive to women and to female sexuality. For generations, women have been taught to view their sexualities through the lens of male sexuality: as products to be consumed. Women have been taught to only feel sexy when men tell them they’re sexy. I’ve been heartened, in interviewing women and hearing from them, to learn that they are beginning to prioritize their own pleasure. I have also really been encouraged by all the younger men out there who are curious about female pleasure, knowledgeable about the clitoris, and truly egalitarian. It’s like the work of the second wave of feminism is being continued. We have sex positive activists on social media to thank for that, I think.
FJ: You reference your marriage and that you were lucky to be able to reignite passion after having kids. Were you just lucky or do you have any practical advice for keeping the spark while taking care of baby?
WM: There are data suggesting that female sexual boredom sets in on average a year to four years into a long term monogamous partnership. Regardless of whether you have kids or not. But Marta Meana did an amazing survey to look at why women find monogamy so stifling, and she found that for many women, the institutionalization of roles—becoming a “wife” or a “mother”—is one of the biggest dampeners of desire. Having a baby crawl all over you can also make the idea of more touching just too much. Sleep deprivation is a terrible thing for our moods, minds, and libidos.. I would tell any woman who is thinking of becoming a mommy to take care to actively remember her bodily autonomy and that no matter “what” she is to anyone else, she’s always a woman to herself. Her body is for her pleasure, not just to service the needs of others.
FJ: Despite women’s radical evolution, at the same time, one might wonder if things move backwards. What is your reaction to the recent push in the United States to limit abortion rights?
WM: It’s really frightening to watch what’s happening in the US right now. In addition to the scaling back of abortion rights and access, we have in the highest office in the land a man who has made it abundantly clear he has zero respect for women’s bodily autonomy. But there’s hope. Women evolved as inspired social and sexual strategists, and the energy that we’re seeing among young feminist activists is really inspiring and right on the evolutionary script of cooperation. Movements like the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, which is focused on drawing attention to and rectifying the staggering problem of black maternal mortality in the US; Moms Demand Action/Everytown for Gun Safety…these movements are propelled by women who are not afraid to disturb the Greater Male Coalition. Trump is a blight on our country and we are seeing similar backlashes across the globe. We are living in the era of the Strongman, and we have to continue saying NO.
FJ: The more I have matured as a woman and connected with other women, the more I am in awe of women’s perseverance and strength. And as a mother to a daughter, I think about the lessons I need to teach her. What do you think is important for these young generations of women to understand about themselves and their place in society?
WM: That they matter, and their bodies are a sovereign state. If you don’t have autonomy over your body, what autonomy do you have, really? It’s the most basic form of independence. I like the way my friend the activist and TED scholar in residence Sue Jaye Johnson talks about the radical act of teaching her daughters to know what they like. What forms of touch, which foods, which activities bring them pleasure. We need to teach girls to feel entitled to feel good. It’s a basic building block of self worth that can change the world.
Right now, I’m really invested in helping women feel entitled to pleasure—entitled to it, deserving of it, and willing to demand it. Just as my feminist foremothers before me have strived to break the glass ceiling, I’m devoted to shattering the “pleasure ceiling.” For too long, women have thought their sexuality only as a sort of refraction of male sexuality and male desire. This has to end. While this may not seem like the conversation a mother wants to have with her daughter, the earlier we can impress upon our girls that they don’t exist merely to be consumed (visually or otherwise) by men, the better chance our future society has for true equality.
FJ: It has been my honor, Wednesday. I’m speaking for many, many women when I say thank you for your contribution to setting us free.
WM: Thanks so much for reading my books and helping me connect with your readers. This is what the Darwinian Feminist Dr. Amy Parish calls “the bonobo sisterhood”–women connecting to create a powerbase.