parenting styles

Motherhood and Parenting Styles Influenced by a Series of Different Feminisms

Motherhood and Parenting Styles

To understand the meaning of motherhood today and parenting styles in general, then understanding other currents and movements of our society is a good start. Feminism was an important movement for women in the last 150 years that evolved and influenced our understanding of motherhood and parenting styles greatly. The way we see motherhood and the way we are parents, behave as parents and apply our parenting styles is influenced by many factors. Movements of feminism is off course just one of them.

A coherent, all-encompassing feminist ideology

Any attempt to define a coherent, all-encompassing feminist ideology is doomed. Most feminists agree on the questions that needed to be asked, like for example the origins of gender differences  or the roots of sexual violence, but feminists rarely agree on the answers or solutions. Feminists in general stay far away from motherhood or parenting styles or flavors.

There is not one feminism, but there are many types of feminisms.

  • There were Anarcho-feminists who found a larger audience in Europe than in the United States, lead by Emma Goldman. Their Strategy: dismantling  institutions like the family, private property, or state power.
  • There were the Individualist feminists, who disagreed with other feminists over the issue of turning to government for solutions to women’s problems.
  • Amazon feminists advocated liberation through physical strength.
  • And there were off course the Separatist feminists and they  included many lesbian feminists. Their Strategy:  women need to liberate themselves with at least a period of separation from men.
  • Another types of feminism, the Socialist feminists saw the problem as a combination of male domination and class exploitation because women in different class systems face different issues.

Three major types of feminism surfaced

Ultimately, three major streams or types of feminism surfaced.

  1. The first were Liberal feminists. They believed the problem is simply one of prejudice and so the system just needs to be corrected. Strategies: A group concentrated on lobbying governments for reforms and influencing decision makers. They were for more equal-rights legislation or protective legislation such as special workplace benefits for mothers which had then also an impact on parenting styles. They saw a great deal in the increase of positive role models,  and improvement of confidence of girls.
  2. Then there were the Radical feminists, who wanted to reshape society and restructure its patriarchal institutions. They believed the role of a woman in society was too closely knot in our society. Strategies: Women campaigns and demonstrations, and the existence of a women’s space and a women’s culture. They also put heavy emphasis on the violence of men against women, such as rape and pornography.
  3. And then Cultural or Difference feminism, the last of the three movements, was against the idea that men and women are intrinsically the same and advocated celebrating the female qualities, such as their greater concern for affective relationships and their definition of care and nurture. For them it was denigrating to attempt to make women more like men.

End of the 20th century

European and American feminists began interacting with the similar movements of Asia, Africa, and Latin America by the end of the 20th century. But they had great difficulties learning about and dealing with the wear of veils in public, female infanticide,  forced marriage, or female genital cutting. They believed saving was needed but they had little knowledge of the real lives and concerns of women in these regions. The role of women declined significantly only when Countries in Africa were actually faced with European colonialism.

“Third World women noted that they could not very well worry about other matters when their children were dying from thirst, hunger or war,”

wrote Azizah al-Hibri, a law professor and scholar of Muslim women’s rights about the on the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, in Cairo. Women from the Third World expected to talk about ways that underdevelopment was holding women back, when the focus of the Conference was abortion and contraception.

The third and current wave of feminism

All these types of feminism were part of the second wave, the first being the 1920’s suffragette’s movement. This third wave emerged in the second part of the 1990s and sought to question and mainly redefine the ideas, words, and media that transmitted ideas about womanhood, beauty, sexuality, motherhood and parenting styles. It was mainly about becoming conscious of one’s gender identity and sexuality have been shaped by society and then intentionally constructing one’s own identity.

They played on seemingly sexist images and symbols. The spirit of this wave is very present in the the anger of punk rock’s riot grrrls movement or the Guerrilla Girls, a group of women artists who use gorilla masks to fight discrimination against female artists. The stereotypical images of women (passive, weak and faithful, or  domineering, demanding and slutty) were redefined as assertive, powerful and in control of their own sexuality.In popular culture this redefinition was evident: Disney heroines changed drastically and powerful media icons like Madonna, or Queen Latifah came to be just like series such as  Sex and the City (1998–2004), and Girlfriends (2000–08).

This last or current movement has its criticism like all the others. But these types of feminism evolve with their societies. Feminist movement have indeed influenced greatly how a society views a women, and in point of fact Motherhood and parenting styles. And they will continue to do so.

parenting styles
Towards the Infinite, Kamila Gibran, mother of the artist, Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese, Bsharri 1883–1931 New York, Date 1916

June 20,2014  |

Ethology and Parenting: Can Instinct be Learned?

Ethology is the study of non-human animal behavior under natural conditions with the goal of learning about more about how species develop adaptive traits in response to changing social and environmental conditions. Charles Darwin’s work was instrumental in the development of the field of ethology. His theory of evolution enabled scientists to begin viewing mankind as a part of the natural world rather than a uniquely separate species. The knowledge obtained from studying animals and their behavior has contributed a great deal to understanding human behavior. Separating the myths surrounding the concept of mother’s natural instinct from fact has been an important aspect of this research.

The concept of imprinting was first studied by Nobel prize-winning ethologists Konrad Lorenz, Nikolaas Tinburgen, and Karl Von Frisch. By studying the behavior of birds, it was concluded that baby birds emerged with the ability to bond with their mothers within a matter of hours. In the 1960’s researchers began to apply ethology to research on child development. One of the most interesting questions ethologists have attempted to answer is whether a human mother’s natural instinct is a biological reality or a social construct.

Mother’s Natural Instinct and Biology

Research methods used in ethology were used to learn more about the human mother’s natural instinct and whether the same imprinting process took place in human infants. According to ethological theory, which focuses on genetics and biology, babies are biologically prepared to behave in ways that establishes a bond with their caregivers. Ethologists believe that these behaviors are evolutionary adaptations that improve the chances for survival. The ethological school of motherhood is one that subscribes to attachment theory.

Rather than imprinting like birds, human bonding has been termed “attachment”, a term used by John Bowlby to describe the process. He agreed with the ethological view that human babies are biologically programmed to form attachments that will ensure their survival. He stressed the importance of successful bonding with the mother above all others and theorized that the quality of the mother-child bond would serve as the model for all future relationships.

While Bowlby’s research and theories proved invaluable, later research revealed that biology may play a larger role in what is considered mother’s natural instinct than he realized when forming his attachment theory. Developmental psychobiologist Myron Hofer conducted experiments that challenged Bowlby’s theory of the internal working model of attachment. When rat pups were separated from their mother, they exhibited both physiological and behavioral changes. Changes were found in heart rate and body temperature, as well as exploratory behaviors. Hofer concluded that mother-infant interactions can actually control vital regulatory functions apart from cognitive factors.

Rat pups that received high levels of maternal licking and grooming had milder responses to threat and increased exploratory behavior – effects that lasted into adulthood, and more importantly, resulted in genetic changes that were passed on to the next generation. Individual differences in maternal behavior contributed to differences in the gene expression of their offspring. These findings proved important in changing the scientific view of mother’s natural instinct.

Mother’s Natural Instinct Versus Maternal Behavior

What has historically been viewed as the human mother’s natural instinct is actually a complex set of interactions between a number of biological and environmental elements. Bowlby’s original concept of attachment security has been expanded upon to show that attachment security is influenced by both biology and maternal temperament. Studies in which children have developed emotional attachments to various objects such as a blanket or a cuddly toy with which they comfort themselves when a parent is not available have provided further evidence of the human instinct to form attachments to that which represents safety as a means of survival.

The concept of mother’s natural instinct has resulted in a belief that all women are biologically equipped to provide adequate nurturing to their offspring. Effective parenting, rather than being the result of natural instinct, is in fact a complex set of learned behaviors. Future parenting behaviors are influenced by the type of parenting an individual has received in the past. Research that identifies the types nurturing behaviors that are most beneficial to children provides women with the opportunity to learn and practice those behaviors. Positive genetic changes result from those behaviors and can then be passed to the next generation. Providing information with the potential to improve the quality of life for future generations is perhaps the most important contribution science has made to mankind.

mothers natural instinct

January 6,2014  |