THE BLOG
16/05/2018 13:36 SAST | Updated 16/05/2018 13:36 SAST

Motherhood Has Evolved, While Fatherhood Lags Behind

I believe we should take a cold, hard look at what motherhood actually means in the 21st century.

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During this "Mothers' Month" of May, we are swept up by the hoopla around the importance of mothers and how our mothers are givers of life, pillars of support, providers and protectors and altogether superheroes. The collective sentiment around this time is that mothers are so valuable that they should be celebrated all year round. This idea, plus the pink and red cards, teddy bears and all manner of symbolic gifts are enough to give one goosebumps when reflecting upon our special mothers.

Sadly, the hype is just that — superficial publicity around a worthy cause but with no accompanying substantial benefits for the subject. Please pardon my somewhat contentious approach to an otherwise touchy-feely topic. I believe we should take a cold, hard look at what motherhood actually means in the 21st century. More specifically, how the face of motherhood has evolved — unfortunately with associated grief.

A historical view of motherhood shows us women — and in many cases, mere girls — being married off into full-time childrearing and household management. Based on a division of household labour in which the husband is the breadwinner, she was the homemaker. Biology, culture, religion, and other constructs reinforced this allocation of duties, and all seemed in order.

Then the industrial revolution and capitalism struck. Subsistence economy was obliterated as society urbanised. The means of production was controlled by the few, while the majority supplied labour for inadequate pay.

The organisation of labour processes saw women being drawn into the workforce for jobs specifically structured for them, while men were allocated manually heavier jobs. The effect on the household was that men became increasingly underemployed, while women were often forced into the labour market in order to ensure the family was provided for.

The erstwhile division of household labour was dealt a crippling blow. The traditional tasks of breadwinning and homemaking suffered a knock of nuclear proportions, which compromised the stability of the roles of mother and father. As generations beyond industrialisation went on to show, a protracted crisis in the home ensued.

Mothers the world over have been forced by circumstance to evolve into economically active citizens; while men have failed to evolve into corresponding domestically active fathers.

One cannot fully unpack the nature of the crisis and all its components, so in keeping with Mothers' Month, I zero in on the crisis of motherhood. I have already mentioned how mothers increasingly had to leave their domain of the home to become labourers in the machine of capitalism. While undertaking this originally male role, the job of childrearing still remained.

Given that men, in general, had not been socialised in the practical raising of their own children, they pled ignorance. If we buy their story, we are conceding that women have better acumen than men, as they were able to learn male-oriented tasks in addition to their own. That would explain the birth of the double-duty. This was the burden of women who took on full-time employment both inside and outside the home.

The dynamic of the father that has maintained the traditional breadwinner role and the contrasting mother working for self-actualisation purposes is a topic for another day. Here we are delving into the scenario of the father who works for his share of contribution to the household income — a share which is unfortunately not sufficient for him to be called the breadwinner. His wife has to supplement it.

Now let us do the maths. If the man can no longer bring 100 percent income into the home and perhaps only manages 50 percent; what happens to the outstanding 50 percent? Well, let us say the woman manages to cover the deficit. So one major task of the household is taken care of by the teamwork of the couple.

What remains is first, the major task of childrearing — feeding, bathing, dressing, supervising, monitoring and caring for the children. Secondly, the housekeeping task — cleaning, packing, fixing, laundry, ironing and cooking. Logic says that these homemaking tasks that require their own 100 percent commitment have to be allocated in much the same way that the breadwinning is. Therefore, the mother would do more or less 50 percent of the tasks and the father the remaining 50 percent or so.

Now I have arrived at the crux of my contention. Mothers the world over have been forced by circumstance to evolve into economically active citizens, while men have failed to evolve into corresponding domestically active fathers. The hegemonic conception of the man has become compromised by social realities, but the disparate attitude of superiority and governance over women and children remains.

To drive the point home, motherhood could be seen as the Homo sapiens version of human evolution, in contrast with fatherhood's Homo erectus.

In other words, men have retained the dividend of masculinity while falling short of the responsibility that justifies it. Women, on the other hand, have become a hybrid of homemaking-breadwinner which has even led to men becoming obsolete in some families, as evidenced through single motherhood.

The perpetually encumbered, exhausted and neurotic mother has become a typology of motherhood brazenly accepted by an insensitive society. In fact, should she not rise to this widely-accepted stereotype, she is considered unfit, inadequate and an embarrassment.

Furthermore, outside of working hours, a mother is under a form of house-arrest, as she is fully occupied by household duties that no one else will do. At the same time, the father still enjoys a carefree independence characterised by going out with friends or merely vegetating in front of the television.

To drive the point home, motherhood could be seen as the Homo sapiens version of human evolution, in contrast with fatherhood's Homo erectus.

In all fairness, there are some evolved fathers out there. They are equal partners in childrearing, housekeeping and financial provision. They understand the maths of contributing their share to arrive at 100 percent with their spouse. Come Fathers' Day, these men deserve a fitting tribute.

Ironically, such noble men are ridiculed and mocked by the lazy, unfair and shameless contingent of their sex.

Necessity has seen the fairer sex accept and evolve with societal change. Sadly, the unfair sex is comfortable with regression and resultant oppression of their counterparts.