As a young girl, I was taught the importance of the mother figure.
More specifically, the dedication of the maternal figure: the housewife, the ilaw ng tahanan. His value was often rooted in his generosity, his compassion, his resilience.
Mothers, as I was taught, had the unwavering capacity for sacrifice. We threw that word around so much without batting an eyelid.
I studied in a catholic school for girls. Mary was often brought up in our religion classes, being the most revered woman in Christianity as the mother of Jesus Christ. She was the embodiment of womanhood in our eyes, accepting God’s call with such grace. We know that her story is one of a mother’s wholehearted devotion, of her identity as the Mother, so much so that we call her Mother Mary in our prayers.
She was also 13 when she officially started this journey. By saying yes to becoming the mother of the Messiah, she sacrificed not only her body, but also her youth.
Then there was the house. I was raised in a nuclear family structure consisting of two parents – a mother, a father – and us, the children. From the very beginning, Mother’s Day cards always featured words such as generous, selfless, sacrifice, etc. Although both my parents had an equal share in my upbringing, it was always expected that the one giving us time would be my mother. We asked for her when we needed something. After her work at the office, she would have her work at home. She often doubted whether she would have days to herself, fearing to leave us alone at home.
I didn’t think about it much when I was younger. Now I’m in my early twenties and wondering about this idea of motherhood. I wonder if women are really supposed to give up so much, and why we’ve come to this.
What a mother should be, as dictated by others
I remember mothers I saw in movies when I was younger. Like many, I was a Disney and Pixar kid. I was raised in part by Disney Princesses, Disney Channel Stars, and Pixar Heroes.
Helen Parr from The Incredibles is one of the Disney moms I remember the most. She was exactly what we knew mothers were: a dedicated, resourceful, and supportive housewife. She is, in every sense of the word, a supermom. Between her and Bob Parr, she is the one who finds fulfillment in family life, actively carrying out her duties as Mrs. Incredible by tending to the house and taking care of the family.
We as the audience felt that was exactly the role she was meant to play. Only 14 years later with the release of Incredibles 2we see her free to rediscover a lost part of her identity as Elastagirl, switching places with her husband.
Certainly, her fulfillment in either role is entirely valid: she loved being a mother as much as she loved being a superhero. Both are choices she made, which is heartwarming to see. But what about those women who never had the chance to choose?
Now I think of Nani Pelekai from Lilo and Stitch, who was forced to play the mother so early in her life.
She touched me even when I was younger, maybe because I’m also an older sister, but also because I thought the process she had to go through to keep Lilo was amazing. My heart sank at her anxiety about not being a perfect tutor. It was surely a huge responsibility to take care of a six-year-old girl, but it always felt like it was up to her not to be a good surrogate mother.
She’s worked hard at multiple jobs and cared for a rambunctious little sister (and an alien dog), all while staying together. At every turn she was scrutinized for what she couldn’t do and couldn’t be, and the only person who really gave her any substantial support was David, her boyfriend – and even then she had to. struggling to make ends meet.
It was as if everything was going against her, and because of her flaws in playing a mother figure, she would lose her sister, who meant the world to her.
I looked: Nani was only 19 years old. I reflect on his lost youth in the process of all that has happened.
We loved him for his determination despite the obstacles. We praised her for going above and beyond for her sister, especially at the end when she ended up asking for help to save Lilo. His strength was an insane feat of willpower.
All ends well in Disney fashion, of course. Yet I had always wondered what would have happened if she had been given more support, if she had been assured of help from the start, if things hadn’t gone far enough for Lilo to be forced to s ‘escape.
I’m sure the story would have turned out very differently.
Were her sacrifices a brave story of maternal devotion, or a tragic indication of what we unfairly expect of women?
What do we say to young girls who see these stories?
Empowerment requires support, not praise
I’m skeptical of sentimentalizing a mother’s devotion. Certainly it deserves praise, but when it becomes a tool to subject women to work beyond what they can bear, then I argue that we should raise more questions rather than blindly glorify sacrifice.
Why do women have to bear the weight of such expectations? When child care services fail, why is the blame placed on the mother and not on the society that contributes to the quality of life? Is the idea of overly devotional motherhood really a sacred duty, or is it a socio-cultural tool of subjugation, a way of diverting attention from issues of health, Politicsand human rights?
What hurts me, as a woman, is the societal romanticization of sacrifice in motherhood – the idea that self-sacrifice is beautiful. I don’t know if praise for such qualities actually takes those burdens away from them, or if, in fact, it just further reinforces those traits in mothers.
It is also difficult because such ideas affect even childless women. It is a burden imposed on those who, despite their choices or their age, are still called to offer so much of themselves for others. Take Nani, a sister and a daughter, 19 and already burdened with the expectations of motherhood.
Empowering these women from these historically forged expectations will require a closer look at how our systems work and how they continue to apply gender roles in subtle ways. The onus should not be on women to do more, but rather on the world that allows them to suffer. How do patriarchal views create gaps in grassroots support for women?
It will also mean writing new stories about women who live all kinds of lives. What should we teach our young women?
Here we call on mothers, sisters, daughters, girlfriends and girlfriends who at some point in their lives have felt the weighted expectation of a woman’s self-sacrifice.
That’s what you need to know: be a little selfish, if you have to. How long have we suffered from the expectation of absolute sacrifice throughout the history of this world? – Rappler.com
Issa Canlas is a student at the University of the Philippines Diliman and currently a Rappler Intern for Digital Communications.