Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chodorow and the Past

In The Reproduction of Mothering, Nancy Chodorow presents her argument for why specifically women mother. While mainly evidencing her feminist theory, I think she does a great job showing how the changes that occurred in the past led to a systematic structure in which women take responsibility for children and men assume public roles. This leads to a cyclical sex/gender system, where the men's location defines society itself as masculine, allowing them to create and enforce their own institutions. While I think this system is certainly manifests itself today, I think in the 30 years since she wrote it, it is more common for women to actively participate in the public sphere, and not rare to see men taking domestic positions. 

However, what I found most interesting of all was the role that the past played. Chodorow states, "Everyone interested in questions of gender and sexual inequality and how to change these today must recognize these tenacious, almost transhistorical facts." I thought this pertained to Beloved. Through the fluid transitions between the past and present, often using monologues from the past to emphasize the burdens that took place, Morrison clearly was trying to make a point on how the past carries over into the present and affects people's lives. While it was a clear theme in the book, I struggled to think of a response to that question. With an institution like slavery, how do you move past those experiences and break the structures that carry over into society today? I think these two systems relate to each other because, while women were never enslaved for being women, they've faced oppression throughout history that still persists today. 

There are a couple things I've thought about that I think could help eliminate the gender inequality system. First, it starts with the parents. In order to get rid of the traditional role of women being domestic housewives, parents shouldn't socialize their children into traditional gender roles. Additionally, I think that if the government could provide more funding for programs such as day-care, it would give women the chance to work outside the home if they so desire. While mutual recognition between men and women is vital to eliminating the "mother"role, these could also help. 

Teens need moms too!

Chodorow's argument was very well developed and she did an incredible job assessing even the common criticisms of her stance on contemporary motherhood. While I agree with several of the points that Chodorow made about the gender roles in today's society, I disagree with some of the details presented somewhat like facts. I do not agree that more modern approaches to mothering have further emphasized these gender roles, or expected behaviors associated with being a mother or father. If anything, I think that the modern family stucture has given more agency to the mother, even though there is of course room for a lot of progress.

In her conclusion, Chodorow also writes that "The development of a sense of autonomous self becomes difficult for children and leads to a mother's loss of sense of self as well." I was fortunate to have grown up with a very caring and close relationship with my mother and I do not believe that this has lessened my sense of self in any way. While parental influence in one's identity is something to consider, children that grow up without mothers do not necessarily have a stronger sense of self. Chodorow argues that the closer the relationship a child has with their mother, the more the child's needs become an "unconscious labeling of what a child ought to need," therefore diminishing both the child and the mother's sense of personal identity. However, I think that the closer a child is to their mother and the better relationship, the more accurate the mother's perception of her child's needs. Especially in teen years, for both boys and girls, a more distant relationship with the mother can lead to more problems with one's identity. Without the comfort, safety, and openness with a close relationship, many teens are likely to feel that they don't belong in their own homes or families and are more likely to isolate themselves or express their frustration outwardly because of it. Many teens who have a struggling relationship with their parents may feel that they don't have someone to turn to and can end up making not the best decisions. Chodorow throughly explains the effects of a child being overly attached to it's mother, but I think that her points are more valid in young childhood and do not necessarily apply as the relationship grows out of young childhood.

Friday, February 27, 2015


From what we read of Nancy Chodorow's book The Reproduction of  Mothering , she has discussed and argued about many of the key points in the gender roles battle our society seems to be fighting. I find a lot of what she has to say very interesting and enlightening, but I do not personally agree with all of the arguments. The main discussion of the first section of her book is about why women act the way they do about mothering, why the mothering trend continues, and what is wrong with it. It is clear that things have changed from two centuries ago. Women are no longer subdued to a man automatically, only to be used to have children, and receiving no social life or work. But her argument about women now having gall the freedoms and still not changing the mothering characteristic frustrates me. It comes off as though she is completely bashing everything about mothering. But, mothering is essential to life, I do not feel like it is a bad thing in society to create family's and live with and care for them. She identified how there are more divorces now and people are having less children, which can be viewed as women feeling there independence and wanting to express it. Also, how more children go to a daycare or nanny at an earlier age than ever before. This argument concerns me personally. I do not think it would be a good society if every woman (and man, don't forget) became independent and non-motherly. There is a very good equilibrium of mutual recognition that should be strived for, but I sometimes feel that there is an extreme amount of discussion about gender roles, similarly to race. I am not saying that there aren't problems with domestic violence and mistreatment in the house or bad relationships, but I feel like there is a message being sent that can be taken by a woman to mean never stay with a guy, never settle down, never have kids, everything is bad. I do find her point that "women come to mother because they have been mothered by women. By contrast, that men are mothered by women reduces their parenting capacities" very intriguing. It makes you think a lot about how we have been brought up and how that even though we do not realize, it can affect how we act for the rest of our lives.

Motherhood according to Chodorow

In her book The Reproduction of Motherhood Chodorow argues that mothering has become almost a completely female role in our modern society and has become more widespread than ever. In the introduction she states "the ideology of the moral mother has lost some of its Victorian Rigidty, but it has also spread throughout society. Women of all classes are now expected to nurture and support husbands in addition to providing them with food a clean house." With this she is explaining how the role of motherhood has become a little less strict over time but has spread throughout society. I do not completely agree with this. The percentage of women in the labor force has increased dramatically in the last century so I do think it is entirely accurate to say that "women of all classes are expected to nurture in support". I do however agree with the part of the argument that motherhood has become almost completely a female role in our society.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chodorow and the Real World

I thought that Chodorow's did a great job of developing her argument in her book The Reproduction of Mothering.  She went into clear explanation of the claims she made and illustrated these claims with examples.  Besides a few details I disagreed with, Chodorow's argument was pretty well-developed.  I especially appreciated her hopeful, constructive viewpoint, identifying the fatalistic fallacy that women's mothering is biological and unchangeable.  What I found glaringly inaccurate was the assumed statement that the whole book is found on explaining and changing: that women parent and men basically don't.

Now I do understand that she to an extent recognizes the generalization made in this assumption, but her argument as a whole is still shaped around explaining an idea that is fundamentally unstable.  At least in my own life, I feel that my father has parented me greatly.  While he may not cook and clean often like my mom, my dad has very intentionally nurtured me - emotionally, mentally, and morally.  The raising of myself was undoubtedly a team effort by my two parents and would be drastically different if my dad's parenting were to be removed from the picture.  And, in regards to Chodorow's assertions about the mothering trend in the past, I am sure my father would assert that he grew up in a culture where the father's role as a parent was highly valued.

While I would say that my family is unique in several ways, including some divergence from standard American gender stereotypes, I don't think that it is alone in this case.  Though I can't judge any other family without having been a part of it or a close observer, I would definitely say that I have noticed what appears to be parenting and important emotional ties between the child and the father.  Perhaps this sign of dedication to child-rearing isn't quite as prevalent as I think it is; maybe it is somewhat unique to my socioeconomic status.  Even if this were the case, however, Chodorow's societal generalizations does not allow room for such a case.  In fact, her implications of widespread absence of male parenting and unhealthy female parenting came to a glaring point in her line found towards the bottom of pg. 217 in her Afterword: "...children are better off in situations where love and relationships are not a scarce resource controlled and manipulated by one person only."  The idea that in most families love is "scarce" and "manipulated" by an apparently tyrannical and unstable mother appears to me to be rather and inaccurate - and, to be frank, insulting.

Chodorow's theory does manage apply to Toni Morrison's Beloved pretty well.  This is not because of a work-oriented, pedophobic father, however.  The problems of Denver, the younger daughter of the story, that could be explained through Chodorow's theory stem from the absolute lack of her father's presence and being isolated to only her mother and, for some of her life, her grandmother (both of which are actually unstable for unrelated, very understandable reasons).  Under these circumstances, where the absence of affection from the second parent is undeniable because he is literally not there, Chodorow's theory does perfectly.

Mothering vs. Fathering?

In Nancy Chodorow’s, The Reproduction of Mothering, she describes how the concept of “mothering” has become entirely female. She explains that women have a certain type of connection to their children, which makes their primary location in the home (as oppose to outside like the father).

Madison mentioned in a previous that there is an increased separation between men and women because of their social location; the public (or outside) is seen as more masculine, while the home is seen as more feminine. I think maybe one reason why many fathers don’t take on the role of mothering is perhaps because they are afraid of losing the sort of “masculine” qualities that their social location gives them.

Although I do agree that fathers should spend more time with their children, I also believe that there is a reason why mothers and fathers have continued to maintain their current roles. There are certain things that only a mother can give to a child, just like there are certain things that only a father can give to a child. Chodorow does make a very compelling argument, and I agree that mothering becomes a type of cycle because the concept is constantly passed down to the next generation. However, current social constructs make it difficult for mothers and fathers to break the cycle, which leaves Chodorow's "dilemma" somewhat unsolved.

The Economics of Parenthood

In The Reproduction of Motherhood, Nancy Chodorow argues that, "mothering," or nurturing children, has become a female term that perpetuates inequalities between men and women. I find her argument to be compelling and accurate. As she points out in her introduction, many of the extreme gender inequalities of modern times stem from the exclusivity of breastfeeding to women. Before the invention of breast pumps and formulas, most women truly had to remain with young infants. By binding most women to their homes, breastfeeding established gender separation, which grew into gender inequality.

I think a large part of Chodorow's theory is economic in nature. Before industrialization, families existed as individual economic units so men had a larger home presence. However, as factories drew workers away from homes, men were able to leave to home to make money while women with infants remained committed to the home. Thus, this separation established the idea of the nurturing mother and the breadwinning father. An increasingly money-oriented society favored the latter. History explains the gender roles that society has perpetuated.

As I read Chodorow's argument, I found myself considering the concept of child support. A single mother receiving child support from a child's father is an extreme example of the model of a nurturing mother and distant, money-earning father. However, this substitution of child support for a father's presence makes it seem entirely unfair to reduce the role of a father to simply the earner of money. In the same sense, it seems unfair to value a mother's capabilities of taking care of children without recognizing her ability to contribute to the family in other ways and to achieve different personal goals. Chodorow is right that assigning gendered roles to parents in a male/female relationship, particularly with regards to economic responsibilities, is detrimental to both parties.

The Role of a Mother

Chodorow's argument in the Reproduction of Mother's is that the system of mother's caring for the children in itself gives males the power. She also highlights the fact that mother's who had problems with their own mothers become overly attached to their children, daughters specifically. On the contrary, mothers who have involved and substantial lives outside of the home have healthy and beneficial relationships with their children. Chodorow's solution to this self-perpetuating patriarchy is quite simple really: equal parenting. If a child feels equal attachment to each parent, neither gender will be propelled towward the extreme sets, where males feel inadequate and females feel attached too strongly toward their children. While we have been making great bounds in progressive relationships, I feel that truly equal parenting will be difficult for people to practice. From the start of life, the mother nurses the child. A mom has maternity leave for far longer than a dad has paternity leave. That being said, it is crucial that parents try and adopt this concept of equal parenting, because as shown in Beloved, the consequences can be disastrous.

In Beloved, Sethe has mommy issues. Her mother was never around, at least in the nurturing way that Sethe needed. Consequently, Sethe never really knew how to raise children. Sure, she tried as hard as she could within the system, but she took it a bit too far. I  mean, she killed one of them in the name of safety. What I think is even more supportive of Chodorow's theory is Sethe's reaction when Beloved returns. Once Sethe discovers that Beloved is her child, all of her life outside Beloved stops. She quits her job, she never sees anyone outside the house, and she doesn't even eat. She is all consumed with appeasing Beloved and being there for her in the way she felt she had failed her before. In this over-involved relationship, Beloved regresses and becomes child-like and demanding. Neither the mother nor the daughter can escape this cycle of unhappiness, but then again, neither knows they are unhappy. While Sethe had no male counterpart to help her in raising Beloved, their relationship serves as a telling example of the dangers of over-involved mothers. Watch out, tiger moms,

The Women Father Men Mother

    Nancy Chodorow, in her book The Reproduction of Mothering, investigates the idea of women coming to mother. Originally, it was natural for women to mother children due to physical and biological reasons, but those factors are long gone and the idea of a separate home and workplace is now created. There is a sex-gender divide among men and women, where men take a masculine and dominant role in the house while women tend to be mothers to adhere to the structural formalities of the time. Now men are beginning to wish for a closer connection to their children while women look to enter the work force. In the end, Chodorow calls for an end to sexual inequality, which I feel is a strong push in the right direction, and something that is easily obtainable. We are seeing more and more couples with two working jobs in different fields while splitting parenting duties between them, and nobody makes a big deal out of them. It would've been rare to see this scenario in the recent past, but the times have changed and the roles of a separate house and workplace should and are on their way to disappearing.
   This separation of a mother and father figure is represented in Toni Morrison's novel, Beloved. In this novel, the main mother figure, Sethe, is met by the main father figure, Paul D, towards the start of the book. Immediately Paul D has no intentions of connecting with the two daughters of Sethe, Denver and Beloved, and is looking for a job in the area to support their family. Although Sethe has a job at the nearby diner, she is expected to also run the house back at home by herself, which is an impossible task. Until Beloved arrives in the family in a physical form, Denver is forced to be an individual without any real substantial connection to Sethe and goes to her Boxwood forest to find herself. Yet the mothering torch is thrown into Denver's hands once Beloved takes over all of Sethe's time, and she finds help by going to the community and asking for support at first. Yet later on, she goes out to find steady work and is only temporarily at the house, so that once Paul D arrives back home, his need to be a father figure is dissolved and he must take care of the child in this situation i the form of Sethe.

mother mother mother mother mother ma ma ma ma ma ma ma ma mom mom mom mom mom mom mum mum mum mum Lois

Some moms are the "cool" moms. Some moms are the "wannabe cool" moms. Some moms aren't trying to be cool, but just are. Some moms are murderers. It varies from person to person; and as Nancy Chodorow emphasizes in "The Reproduction of Mothering", mothers and mothering change through time. My grandmother, Rita, has a different style of mothering in comparison to my mother. My mother will have a different style of mothering than I.  Yet these forms of mothering feed off of each other. I will mother the way I saw my mother mother me. A father will father the way he saw his father father him. Fathers be good to your daughters, as daughters will learn like you do. Girls become lovers, who turn into mothers. So mothers, be good to your daughters too.

However I feel that her description of the complex hierarchy and interactions of politics and gender are far too simplistic. Ultimately the things affecting these aspects of society are very complicated, with thousands of factors dating back to evolution and natural selection. Her analysis also only applies to heterosexuals. What about homosexuals? Bisexual? Trans? Queer? Do these gender stereotypes apply? While Chodorow lacks knowledge/emphasis on these different sexual orientations of humanity, her analysis does bring important points regarding the transformation between being mothered and mothering.

Actresses Can't Act Like They are Treated Equally Any Longer

Women all over the world are held to a certain role or bound to a specific attitude that society has taught them to become.  In an excerpt form The Reproduction of Mothering Nancy Chodorow explains how and why the standards that women have today are present.  Her explanation focuses specifically on the maternal qualities that women must uphold.  But why is it that just because biologically women bear children and have lactation capacities they are automatically designated as the "mothering" caregiver? This role isn't given to women, it is more so assumed and that is where inequality enters the picture.  Of course Chodorow isn't trying to discourage mothering, mothering is important to both child development and family dynamics, however, the term "mothering" is designated solely to the woman in a marriage, with a man, who works in the industry, and comes home to a kept home, and eats the dinner that his wife cooks, while she has a baby in one arm, and his plate in another.  Recognition of these social standards are what have created femisim and other ways to make women equal to men, however Chodorow points out, "women continue to mother, and most people still marry.  Women remain discriminated against in the labor force and unequal in the family, and physical violence against women is not decreasing."  Mothering assumes a weakness in women and that assumption creates women's inequality in society.

Patricia Arquette, leading actress in the film boyhood, stood before an audience at the Oscars and proclaimed her thoughts on gender equality. She said, "To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America." Not only did her speech receive a round of applause from the audience but it also prompted standing ovations from both women and men throughout the audience, for example Meryl Streep and Ethan Hawke.  After the Sony scandal major gender pay gaps were revealed.  In the award winning film, "American Hustle," actors Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and director David O. Russell all got 9 percent of back-end profits, however, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence only received 7 percent.  Also according to an article called "Behind Arquette's Oscar Speech: Hollywood's Pay Gap Looks a Lot Like Ours"  in the Wall Street Journal, it isn't just women in Hollywood that are experiencing this pay gap.  
The chart above evaluates the percentage that women earn of males earnings that are in the same occupation.  These statistics are to me really eye opening and just reinforce the problem that is still being created for women today.  Although there have been improvements in women's roles in society there is still work that needs to be done, and both Chodorow and Arquette know where to start.

Mother Dearest

It is well known that women have been expected to mother for centuries. Mothering is a social construct that is still widely accepted in many cultures. Nancy Chodorow examines women's roles in her book, "The Reproduction of Mothering". Chodorow discusses how the women's role is centered on child care and taking care of men.

While men's social location is in the public, women's social location is domestic. This only adds to the separation between men and women, causing the public to be seem as a more masculine setting while the home is seen as feminine. The combination of the feminine household and the masculine public leads to the further separation of the genders and their roles.

Mothering is a vicious circle. The daughter grows up and learns from her mother that is the women's role to raise the children and please the husband. While the son grows up to learn from his father's lead, going out into the public and earning to support his family. The only way to break this vicious circle is to start with the children. However, because this has been a social construct for hundreds of years now, it would be nearly impossible to break this social standard.

Chodorow's Theory in Life and Beloved

Nancy Chodorow's The Reproduction of Mothering, suggests that the term "mother" and the role of the mother has become female. These ideas have persisted throughout generations and maintain gender roles. Chodorow also says that the role of mothering changed and diminished as family lost much of its educational and religious role. Women's role became centered on child care and taking care of men. While the woman's role changed so did the man's. He now spends less time taking care of children and spending time with the family. Chodorow suggests that these strict roles should loosen and men should spend more time with families and women could spend more time working in the outside world.

While I agree Chodorow's suggestion, that men should spend more time raising children, I don't quite agree with the idea that it is necessary that women get jobs outside of the home to become equal. I think this is a good idea and will help to steer mothering from being defined as strictly female, but I feel that it undermines the work that women  already do at home. I think therefore, that society needs to learn how to appreciate all the work women do both inside and outside of the home.

Chodorow argued against the ideas that women mother because of a need for emotional support and that in mother-daughter relationships, when the mother's mother is not present, she develops an ambivalent attachment with her daughter.  While I do not think this is true, after reading this I couldn't help but think of Sethe and her relationships with her daughters. Sethe never really knew her mother and has a strange relationship with Denver where she cares for her but then is not very close with her until Beloved arrives and Sethe grows closer and spends more time with both of them. Sethe is not able to separate from Beloved even when their relationship becomes parasitic.

Can Zombies Free Women From The Mothering Role?

In Nancy Chodorow's The Reproduction of Mothering, Chodorow seeks to describe how the social construction of "mothering" and the patriarchial society we live in came to be, as well as how people need to move toward less rigid gender roles.

Chodorow first seeks to give backround to how "mothering" came to be. She acknowledges that throughout history women have been confined to the home because of their biological connection to the children. As time has progressed and science has started to dispute the validity of women being the sole nurturer because of biological predispositions our patriarchal society has moved to keep women in the home by creating the idea that women must be nurturing and caring, while men seek to stay in the public sphere.

Chodorow says the to combat this social construction of gender roles people must move towards coparenting as well as attempting to escape the endless cycle of mymicing the same gender parent.

I think that presently, although not  anywhere near perfect, our society has taken steps towards gender equality. The media in America controls many people's perception of gender, and how men and women are supposed to act. Many of the mainstream TV shows advertise women as the mother and men as the provider. The Walking Dead has slowly but surely started to challenge these norms.

In the beginning of the show there were still plenty of mothers mothering, but as people started to fall victim to zombie attacks the mothering role started to erode. In the current season there are no mothers. Women are not confined to caring for the camp or the children, but have equal say in what goes. They are on the frontlines killing zombies side by side with men.

There is a baby on the show named Judith. Judith's birth mother died, and in almost every scene she is being held by a man. The man in most cases is the very strong and masculine Tyrese. Tyrese takes pride in caring for Judith and mothers her as well as any mother could during a zombie apocolypse.

These subtle changes to what most people believe to be normal are actually quite brilliant. The Walking Dead shows that women are equally as capable as men when it comes to killing and protecting themselves, and men can make great mothers.

It pains me that women can only escape the mothering role when confronted with a zombie apocolypse, but hey progress is progress.

The Woman Outside of Her Nurturing Domestic Role

Chodorow's The Reproduction of Mothering identifies the sex-gender system at play in our society. Girls are fostered from a young age to desire the nurturing persona of the mother, whereas men often consider their role in the public space. These gender-specific arenas are critical to the development of the social construct of the gender binary in which men are considered superior to women. Our Western society tends to emphasize this public domain and place a far greater value on public life than domestic life, which therefore places a greater value on those that serve the public. Since women are often confined to the home, fulfilling the "mothering" role that has been instilled in them from generations past, it is easy to understand how men have taken the dominant position over women. These gender-confining roles, I believe, are detrimental to our society because an individual's gender does not necessarily entail a certain skill set. Although women have been raised to identify with the nurturing role within the domestic realm, their roles in public can be just important. The same goes for men; who says that a male's domain must be outside of the home?

When I first read this excerpt from The Reproduction of Mothering, I thought of anecdotes from my own life that represent these ideologies. For the past couple of years, I have spent a great amount of time volunteering at several local hospitals. Since freshman year, it has been clear to me that medicine is my passion and becoming a doctor is, what I feel, I am meant to do. Yet, I have heard the same words from almost every nurse I have worked along side with, "Honestly, if you want to have a family, there is no way you'll be able to manage being a doctor, too". It seemed in ways ridiculous to me at first. I have plenty of friends and classmates whose parents are doctors, and they managed to have several children, so why couldn't I do the same. Yet, I continued to hear the same thing from many women, working in several different wards and in several different hospitals. When I spoke with one of the women doctors on the floor, who happens to be married and have kids herself, she said that although it is hard, it is definitely not impossible. I know that there will be more to manage having children while simultaneously working a demanding job, but what bothers me is that this question is not often posed to males. What profession my brother wants to pursue doesn't seem to be a problem despite his same desire to one day have a family, but because I am a woman, when I say I hope to be a doctor, people mention the sacrifice I will be making not in a way that highlights the very real difficulty of raising kids and working, but in a way that is almost meant to make women feel guilty for considering other options than solely being a stay at home mother.

This also reminds me that most of the people who have said this did not consider the possibility of a husband being the one to work more in the domestic realm, while the woman pursues a career in the public space.

Although I recognize the struggle of having a family and working in a demanding and time-consuming field, I think this reality should be pushed upon both women and men. I think if you plan to have a family, spending time raising your children should be a priority and should be considered when pursuing a job, regardless of your gender.

Caramel and Queer

In her 1978 study of gender inequality, The Reproduction of Mothering, Nancy Chodorow wrote thoughtfully about gender politics and relations.  Her explanation of the  formation of gender consciousness and gender hierarchy were well-done and persuasive.  The explanation of the former, however, may be too facile to truly capture the complexity of the biological formation of a self as informed by society without some use of valid science (she writes about using psychoanalysis, a field which is now widely considered outdated). Her description of the structure of society is indisputable even 37 years later, and I agree with her assertion that these roles negatively affect men, women, and children.

Chodorow presents a basic understanding of gender roles as they apply to heterosexuals. I am curious, however, about how her analysis would explain homosexual or otherwise queer roles (an "Other" so extreme that it is rarely acknowledged in our class room discussions of privilege). She clearly seems to be aware of the topic, qualifying many of her ideas by using the word heterosexual (even when writing about marriage in the 1970s).  Despite an increasing awareness of gender-fluidity and an increasing number of "non-traditional" families, gender roles are surprisingly rigid in most other areas of society.  Because queer communities often escape these roles, I think an analysis of queer people's formative years and life-styles would lead to an interesting insight into the possible future of gender politics.  As Ilana says in the fourth episode of Broad City, "we're headed toward an age where everybody's gonna be, like, caramel and queer."

Add Gender to the Melting Pot

In short, there are two main concepts to grasp if we are to understand why women still mother. First, babies admire and emulate their same-sex parent. So females emulate their nurturing mothers, and males emulate their distant fathers. In this way, females grow up to value and seek out nurturing, and males grow up to value and seek out impersonal affairs. This explains the dichotomy, but not the hierarchy.
Another concept is necessary to explain why men are commonly thought of as superior. As we have learned, women often psychologically value nurturing roles in society. These roles are commonly found in the private sphere of life, confined to the home. Men often psychologically value impersonal roles in society. These roles are commonly found in the public sphere of life, outside the home. In societal structures around the world, most notably Western capitalism, the public sphere dominates domestic, thus men dominate women.

With an understanding of the psychological models that promote the social perpetuation of gender roles, and an understanding of the political and societal structures that qualify the binary, it is simple to see why gender discrepancies exist today.

I believe that, while these concepts hold true in American society, the system is flawed. By this I mean that an extreme differentiation of gender roles is unhealthy for individuals for society. Women need immersion in the public sphere, and men need deep personal connection. Society needs a nurturing perspective in public policy, business affairs, war. Children need a fatherly figure and the home needs refurbishing.

So men, consider taking a sabbatical and spending time with your kids. Those workhorses staying late in the office next door may be missing out on the most important facet to their lives-- their families.

Women, consider applying for that position. Those savvy policy-writers may be overlooking the need to nurturing those in need when they next re-allocate government funds.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Are you my mother?

I don't know if anyone else read that book as a child, but Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman was a household staple for me. It details the story of a lost little duck-like bird who asks everything from cats to cows to airplanes if they are his mother. Fear not, he is eventually reunited with his actual mother, a bird, much like you would expect.

The point of bringing it up is to highlight the initial blindness the baby bird has: the extent of his definition of "mother" is the word alone. In The Reproduction of Motherhood by Nancy Chodorow, she explores how "mothering" is a female term, and has self-perpetuated from a biological statement to a social construct, making the women implicitly the primary parent. I agree that the word "mother" has expanded to mean more than merely the person who gave birth to you, but I don't believe that it discourages men from caring for their children in an intimate way. Perhaps I'm being optimistic, but I think that whether or not the socially imposed male/female parenting scheme affects the children depends on the parents themselves.

Before the hatchling bird has any idea of who his mother is, he asks around in ways humorous and somewhat bizarre. Obviously, an old car is not his mother, but if for some odd reason it declared it was and began to care for him, the hatchling would have complied. Society does, absolutely, assume that the "mothering" figure in a household will be female, but at the very beginning, children have no real preference except for strictly biological things they rapidly outgrow. Mothering is a learned construct, and I believe that with so many new household contents and developments, the male/female parenting binary will collapse as long as we maintain as open minds as the hatchling's.

Here, a lioness decided to mother a baby oryx, one of the animals she would usually eat. If animals can adopt their prey and mother them, I think as humans we need to get with the program and give up on gender-dividing parenting privileges. Chodorow makes a compelling argument for why mothering is typically female, and I think the next step from her discussion is a call to action. Our children should all be taught to mother, and what roles they choose to play in their children's lives should be independent of species--er--gender constraints.

It's a men's issue too.

In short, Chodorow focuses on the idea of "mothering" as a strictly female enterprise as a social construction in contrast to the common belief that it is more biological than societal. She begins by citing the American history that contributed to the development of the "nuclear family", being the advent of Industrialization and Capitalism in America as production outside the home became increasingly more valuable than work done within the home.  She concludes her argument by involving men in the issue by stating that eliminating the idea that "mothering" is reserved for women alone "would reduce men's needs to guard their masculinity and their control of social and cultural spheres which treat and define women as secondary and powerless." Chodorow addresses the community as a whole as she recognizes the issue of "mothering" as damaging to society for more than women alone.

The striking part of this argument for me is the date. Written in the 70s, Chodorow has had the insight it seems is just now arising in 2015. This past year, the United Nations identified girls' education as the key to decreasing third-world poverty. More and more each day, the female presence in global and national debates is increasing. It's gradual, but nonetheless progress is being made. But what seems to have been put at the wasteside is the male component of all this. Like Chodorow explicates, this issue is not only about women, it's about men too. I disagree with her statement that there is nothing inherently wrong about sexual division of labor for one's sex should not encourage or discourage them to a particular field and this idea is changing today as more women enter male-dominated fields. But what we don't see as much is men entering female-dominated fields, including nursing, teaching, etc. Just recently, men have started to stay at home rather than their wives. And still, this idea of staying at home while one's wife works is considered "emasculating." In my opinion, it is unproductive to encourage women to enter male-dominated fields without also encouraging men to enter female-dominated fields because doing so is furthering the idea of greater value on "male work" over women's work. This is why it frustrates me whenever I say I'm interested in gender studies and many say "Oh so women's issues?" Today, it's not just about your mother and your sister. It's about your father and your brother too.
Applying Chodorow's philosophy forces us to make this a non-exclusive discussion about the determination of one's individual role in the public in conjunction to one's role in private (i.e. home, family). Along with that is eliminating the varying valuation of "female work" vs. "male work" because this is where the problem arises. Chodorow would argue that each work should have comparable value, but I would go farther as to say that work itself should not be gender-specific as well. Thus, I believe using the word "mothering" as a synonym for caretaker is only further cementing the belief that caretaking is a female job; rather, "parenting" could replace it to make it more gender-neutral.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


When I was little, my parents would read my sister and I short stories at bedtime. Once in a while, my mom would read from a collection of Shel Silverstein's poems. I loved when she would do this because I got to hear so many different stories in such a short amount of time. One of my favorite Silverstein poems is Whatif. At the time, it seemed like a goofy story about a person who worries all the time. However, as I have grown up, I find that this poem is applicable to all stages of my life.

Silverstein opens the poem by providing the reader with imagery of worries climbing into his head: "Last night, while I lay thinking here,/some Whatifs crawled inside my ear/ and pranced and partied all night long/and sang their same old Whatif song." From there, he begins to rattle off a list of worries that get progressively obscure. "Whatif I'm dumb in school?/ Whatif they'd closed the swimming pool?/ Whatif I get beaten up?/ Whatif there is poison in my cup?" Finally after a long list of crazy worries, Silverstein recognizes that his thinking is irrational. Although this poem seems trivial at first, I think it is a good way to look at the upcoming transitions in our lives.

The pressure and anxiety that comes with senior year is a problem that breaks down many people. People let their minds be dominated by factors they can hardly control and its easy to get carried away. However, I think this poem is a gentle reminder that we should all stop worrying about the "Whatifs" and focus on the present and enjoy the time we have left with what is so familiar to us.

Missing the Full Picture

To be honest, I think it's silly to look only at lyrics to find the poetic "meaning" of a song.  If you could get the whole idea that the song is trying to convey solely through words, then there would be no point in writing any actual music to go along with it.  By ignoring the actual music itself in the analysis, you miss out on what makes the song great, which is how it sounds.

Personally, I love jazz, especially the kind without lyrics.  I prefer to just listen to some people jam out on their instruments, and let their music do the talking.  They don't need to write out what they're feeling when they can convey it through their vibrato or sour note.  Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" is an excellent example of how musicians can relate an experience or emotion without having to use language.  As soon as the song starts, you can feel the abject sadness Mingus felt at the early passing of jazz great Lester Young, the disappointment at losing someone that great that early, someone they'd been losing for years to alcoholism.

It's hard to describe exactly why the song makes you feel what you feel -- I could ramble on about chord qualities, style, and subtle nuances in the song, but the main point I want to make is that you don't need to be able to articulate why it makes you feel the way it makes you feel.  It is conveying Mingus' raw emotion in a way written or spoken words can't, and that's what makes it amazing.  If you're looking at just lyrics, you're missing the most important aspect of the song: the music.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

One Art

My favorite poem so far has been "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop. I think what's most attractive about the poem is the contrast between the casual tone and the unique form. It's almost deceptive because while it seems as though Bishop is simply talking to the reader, using conversational lines such as, "I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or, next to last of three beloved houses went," she is actually following a complex villanelle form. I also think that the pace is superb. The opening line, "The art of losing isn't hard to master," is an interesting statement to begin with. She's pretty much saying that we lose things all the time, and if we get used to it, it will be easy to cope with more serious losses in the future. The repeated third line of the first stanza, "but it wasn't a disaster," is Bishop's way of trying to take a step away from the pain she feels.

However, the nonchalant attitude displayed in the first stanza seems to dissolve throughout the poem. Each stanza, the losses she faces grow more and more serious. She moves from losing car keys, something minor, to her mother's watch, and finally to a person in her life who she clearly has not gotten over yet. As a result of the gradual increase in the intensity of losses, Bishop forces us to look at our own lives and the losses we have experienced.

Bishop's ability to maintain such a complicated form, while keeping a conversational tone throughout creates a really unique work.

"Travelling Through the Dark"

One of my favorite poems that we read would have to be "Travelling Through the Dark" by William E. Stafford. The poem is about a man driving on a narrow road when he comes across a dead deer. The poem gives an in-depth explanation behind the man's reasoning for pushing the pregnant deer into the river. The speaker uses simple statements in the beginning and the story becomes more complex and connects the beginning to the end when he says: “that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead” and “I thought hard for us all-my own swerving-, then pushed her over the edge into the river”. I think that the man is talking to anyone else who could be in his be in his predicament because when he says "I thought hard for us all", I assumed that he was thinking about anyone else who could have hit the deer or driven off the side of the road. He had to consider what to do for the greater good.

It isn't easy.

An Iris Soble Levy original, “It isn’t Easy.” My grandma, the most dramatic woman, but also one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever known.  Her signature poem is referenced at least once per visit to the famous “center of world” our family calls Wilkes-Barre, PA. For years, I would listen as my grandma eloquently said her poem each time. In fact, there’s someone in the room who will mouth the words to the poem as she performs it because we all know it so well. But for so long, it wasn’t more than just a annoying family tradition to me. Recently, I realized the reason she did so often wasn’t because she liked that specific poem so much, but that it was always applicable. One thing I’ve learned in high school is nothing is easy, whether it’s writing a history paper, initiating things to do with friends, or talking about the role of media in our lives. Although those examples may be more reflective of my high school experience than my classmate’s, I think we could all agree that each day comes with challenges, but also rewards and it is especially at this time in our lives that we become more conscious of them from a more mature perspective. Now that we are reaching the end of our high school and pre-college careers, I continue to reflect on all the years that came before and what has happened in order to get to this point. I think about where I came from and where I am now, and my grandma’s voice is what always gets me. It’s her saying “It isn’t easy” that I realize the purpose of these past eighteen years of our lives is to be where we are right now and do what we can right now to make the future brighter and better, but at the same time understanding that it will never be done with ease because work is hard. Work is not something we stumble upon, it’s where passion comes into play and makes a purpose of each day we spend with our peers in a community. Life is not determined by happiness although that’s what often brings us the most instant satisfaction; I believe that life is, rather, determined by the purpose we attach to it over a span of time. To find instant happiness to me is not what makes a life worth living, to me a life worth living is one in which we feel free to be ourselves to perform our best work and work with others to the best of our ability and when we can’t or we don’t, we acknowledge that (with pain sometimes), but move forward. I know this was all rambling, and I apologize if it is incoherent, but this poem has done so much more for me than I could even imagine. Even after just sitting down to write this post; as I think more and more about it, I realize that I will always approach intimidating things, but it’s through poems like my grandma’s that I understand like others that “it isn’t easy” and life isn’t about making things easier, it’s about experiencing them and taking control of ourselves and the world around us.  

Is a Poet an Artist?

Something I've found especially interesting throughout the poetry unit and in this week's blog posts is the speculation on what could actually be called poetry.  The general question of where to draw the line for things like this- poetry, art, music, etc- is asked often and is, in my opinion, unanswerable. We've been reading a variety of poems with different forms and schemes and lengths and even though we had the reading in the beginning, that is only one man's definition of poetry.

My dad hates on poetry often, calling it a lazy man's form of writing. I completely disagree. While I am neither a poet nor a writer, I feel that in order for poetry to be considered "good" by most people's standards, it has to be much more purposeful and thought out than an essay or story. Personally I find it much easier to write a descriptive couple of pages of a plot than have to convey feeling and rhythm in a few lines. Poetry might mean different things from person to person, but what I think might need to be standard is that it is purposeful. A writer can write a really stellar essay on an event but a poet brings out more than can be read in there. categorizing poetry is weird because even though it is a form of literature, couldn't we also call it art? or is it that literature is a branch off of art itself? Is a history textbook art?

I believe that it doesn't really matter. Even music- I don't think there can be good or bad music. If someone gets something out of listening to it, even if it's just the musician, then it's good. For art, I find it's also more about the feeling or reaction it gives you than the physical piece. Walking through the Art Institute, some people might look at a Monet and admire the brushstrokes and colors, and I love a good haystack myself, but does it have any feeling or purpose? You can them walk into the modern wing and look at 3 stripes of color on a canvas and you might ask yourself; what? why is this here? what does it mean? While other museum goers will stand there for 5 minutes. Unless an artist gives an explanation of their art on the side (like magicians, they usually do not) no one can really answer for sure. Same goes for poetry. It's just kind of whatever floats your boat.