When I first told my mom the title of this website, she looked at me incredulously and said,
“Why undefining? Why not redefining?”
“Because motherhood is a role that’s been defined for far too many centuries,” I say. “And often not even by mothers themselves. It’s been prescribed and defined and changed and redefined so much that I don’t understand how anyone can feel authentic in their experience of it anymore. Not to co-opt another movement that’s happening right now, but time’s up. It’s time to learn to do this authentically, not according to prescription. For years, I’ve studied the history and theory of how motherhood has been defined, prescribed, turned into an institution with a set of rules. And I’m sick of it. It’s time to put that knowledge into action.”
“It’s perfect,” she replied.
In the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements happening in Hollywood, fashion powerhouse Anna Wintour wrote an editor’s letter for the June 2018 issue of Vogue in defense of Georgina Chapman, wife of Harvey Weinstein. In this letter, Wintour asserts her strong belief that Chapman was unaware of Weinstein’s rampant sexual misconduct.
There were a number of things that struck me about this letter—the ability for women to both tear each other down and pick each other up, the ways in which a powerful man’s actions can crush the lives of so many women around him—but what struck me most was the phrase Wintour used to describe the medium through which people were blaming Chapman for her husband’s actions.
“Blaming [Chapman] for any of [Weinstein’s misconduct], as too many have in our gladiatorial digital age, is wrong.”
As someone who lives almost entirely in athleisure, I’m not the type to feel inspired by Ms. Wintour often. Standard attire for me isn’t exactly out of the pages of Vogue.
We live in a world in which the internet has allowed us to become increasingly combative, shielded by feelings of anonymity as we hide behind avatars, screen names, or at least the knowledge that we have no personal affiliation with most of the people we tear down. And yet, this space that perpetuates trolls, misinformation spread by bots, romance fraud (aka “catfishing”), cyber bullying, etc. is the same one in which we turn to for advice, friendship, human connection. It’s the same medium I’m using in attempt to overpower some of the negative structures it’s built
As a woman experiencing years of miscarriage, the internet was an especially fraught place. It’s where friends shared exciting news of pregnancies, birth announcements, photos of children–all beautiful, wonderful things in which I could often only find pain. It’s the space where pro-life activists decried the evils of medical procedures and interventions I had done out of necessity when my body didn’t recognize that the life it was carrying was no longer living.
But it was also the space where I found other women with similar experiences, a support network I can’t imagine having made it through recurrent miscarriage, or my eventual successful pregnancy, without. It’s the space where I shared the news of my own child’s birth, and it’s the space where I advocate for other women like me. Women who didn’t come to motherhood easily. Women who haven’t come to it all. Women who simply don’t fit any of its definitions.
What I have seen most about this online space, though, is that it is, indeed, gladiatorial.
People take up their arms, no matter how well or poorly they’re trained to use them, and they fight. Even in the most supportive mom spaces, a simple question about vaccines or breastfeeding or co-sleeping awakens the gladiators who must, at all costs, defend their positions, their beliefs, their ways of life.
It is a space where we’re constantly told how to be mothers, how to be women, how to be. And yet, almost everything we’re told is conflicting. It’s not vetted, researched, peer-reviewed, approved by a committee. It’s an everyone-for-themselves free-for-all that makes so many of us feel inadequate, misunderstood, and like we must be doing it all wrong.
Undefining Motherhood is my gladiatorial ring. In my ring, I staunchly defend the idea that we cannot be doing it wrong because “wrong” requires the existence of a “right.” Here, I fight for the idea that there is no essential truth, no age-old way to mother, no time of life in which we’re supposed to mother or way in which we’re supposed to come to have our children. Our digital age may prescribe rules, call people names, categorize lives, and define roles, but I insist that we can also use it to break down barriers, learn from each other, and strip away the definitions placed upon us. This digital space is where, how, and why I believe we should undefine.
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