Holy mother and child

Holy Mother And Child —The Sacred Vocation

Holy Mother And Child Relationship

Art is a powerful force capable of both expressing and influencing the values of the society in which it is created. The value of motherhood as a sacred vocation has been expressed in art throughout history in every culture. Much of that art has been religious in nature and presents an idealized depiction of the exalted holy mother and child relationship. The book Holy Motherhood: Gender, Dynasty, and Visual Culture in the Later Middle Ages, written by Elizabeth L’Estrange, a lecturer in the History of Art at the University of Birmingham in 2012 provides a historical tour of such art throughout the middle ages and presents evidence that shows just how influential art can be in creating and maintaining  social roles for women within patriarchal society.

The extent to which religion has shaped the role of motherhood cannot be underestimated. Separation of church and state is a fairly recent development. Throughout the middle ages, the land and political power of nations were dependent upon inheritance. To insure the genetic identity of royal progeny, it was necessary to cultivate a strict social environment of sexual chastity. Religious art which elevated motherhood to a sacred status served this purpose.

Scriptures of all organized religions and even mythologies elevate motherhood to an exalted state and attainment of the holy mother and child relationship to the highest social ideal. For Christianity, images of the Madonna, so chaste as to be virginal even in motherhood, was presented as the religious role model for women to emulate. For the Hindu religion, the goddess Devi-Ma represents the holy mother and child relationship. For some African religious traditions, it is represented by Yemaya, a creation goddess. Even in Buddhism, Prajnaparamita is represented as the mother of all Buddhas.

Although women were elevated to an exalted state worthy of worship and respectful adoration as a result of their power to produce life, that power has also been feared. Just as obedient women have been credited for human creation, disobedient women have been blamed for human destruction. Within the Christian tradition, Eve serves as the negative example of the consequences of female disobedience to the whole of mankind.

Another example is that of La Malinche, a Mexican princess who was given given as a slave to conquistador Hernán Cortés. She both served as a mediator and bore him a child. In native mythologies, she became a traitor responsible for the destruction of the whole Aztec Empire. Conversely, the Virgin of Guadalupe, attributed with the values of self-sacrifice is revered. Artistic depictions of her can be seen in virtually every city in Mexico.

One of the social effects of the patriarchal laws of inheritance is that a woman’s central purpose becomes her reproductive function. Artistic depictions of the holy mother and child relationship serve to maintain social awareness of, and adherence to, this value. The dangers associated with childbirth further elevates the social value of motherhood. In nearly all human societies, women about to give birth are tended to by their extended families, and the birth of a healthy baby is a cause for celebration.

The majority of artwork throughout history have upheld the idealized image of mothers as virginal and self-sacrificing. This is due in large part to the fact that those who benefited most from women’s self-sacrifice, the royal families, were among the only people that could afford to commission artwork. Today, rather than through paintings and sculptures, idealized images of mothers are transmitted through the airwaves in television commercials. Technology and clothing styles may have changed, but the social expectation of maternal chastity and self-sacrifice remains the same.

Even today, mothers whose sexual behavior casts doubt on the paternity of a child is treated with contempt. Popular television show hosts like Maury Povich and Jerry Springer reveal the results of paternity tests on national television. Live audience members hurl insults and moral judgments, and home viewers enjoy a brief sense of moral and social superiority.

In a very real sense, the lack of separation between church and state resulted in the separation of motherhood and sexuality. In response to the image of the virginal Madonna, its opposite, the whore, was born.

Despite continuous historical media bombardment of these two opposite and extreme images, in reality, mothers are just human. They do indeed sacrifice for their children and cultivate values sacred to humankind, such as patience and love. They also occasionally lose their patience. In fact, most mothers are losing patience with social expectations of exalted perfection.

Holy mother and child
Virgin and Child in an Apse, Copy after Robert Campin, Netherlands, 1480

October 26,2015  |

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  |