Sunday, May 30, 2021

The mechanical girlboss narrative

Helen Roy has written a terrific article on the topic of motherhood. It is impressive because it not only clearly describes the problem, but digs down into the underlying ideas which bring it about.

I encourage you to read the whole piece, as it's difficult to isolate a few key parts. The argument begins in the 1950s when there was already a trend to dissociate women from the biological aspects of motherhood. For instance, only a minority of women breastfed their children and women were drugged and restrained during childbirth.

Helen Roy doesn't mention it, but the technocratic approach to women's lives had crept into Western culture much earlier. In the Melbourne Argus newspaper in 1921 it was argued (by "Vesta") that industrial methods should be applied to the home:

That time means money and that method saves both time and material, that co-ordination of work leads to efficiency, that exactitude in the smallest detail is necessary if a perfect product is to be secured - what a transformation of domestic work would result if these principles could be brought to rule in the kitchen as they do in the factory.

Vesta wanted women to bring into the home "a passion for efficiency" and "a zeal for method and organization".

This same technocratic/industrial mindset was applied in Australia to infant care in the 1920s and 30s: "the very naturalness of mothering became redefined in the light of discussions about the need for mothercraft and for the application of rational, scientific knowledge to the process of childrearing" [The disenchantment of the home, p. 139]. This led to mothers being given extraordinarily detailed timetables for feeding their babies which were to be kept to "absolutely" and some of the more severe advocates even suggested that mothers limit the cuddling of their babies to a "mothering hour" in the late afternoon. A Dr Dunlop from Sydney wrote "It is not good to nurse babies more than can be helped. When breastfed babies are being fed they get their fair share of nursing and cuddling". 

Helen Roy goes on to describe the formation of a countermovement called the Le Leche League and notes that,

The Le Leche League saw considerable success in their struggle against the dissociative view of womanhood prevalent in American culture at the time. But the founders consistently found a foe in the dogmatic belief of liberal feminists that women’s bodies and their reproductive functions were discrete, acute nuisances and impediments to be overcome and neutralized in service of making women economically competitive with men.

And that,

Progressive feminists and scientists shared a perception of the human body divorced from both its immediate personal relationships and its final cause. Denizens of these two powerful cultural entities wrote and practiced as if women and their bodies were arbitrary material sums of discontinuous, infinitely malleable components—not as unique formations of irreplaceable souls, as in the classical model.

The League ultimately failed:
Despite many successes in preaching the gospel of breastfeeding worldwide, this deeper implicit message—about the indispensable character of a woman’s real presence to her family, and about the inextricable connection between her physical and spiritual nature and her duties—was swept away by a more powerful unholy alliance between feminism and science remains undefeated in a forever war against the female body.

Why have liberal feminists triumphed? Here Helen Roy connects the positions adopted by liberal feminists to their philosophical foundations:

The movement is unstoppable precisely because their fundamental assumptions about humanity—their rejection of metaphysics, their pious devotion to an always-forthcoming, progressive technological utopia, their obsession with power over their own nature—remain unchallenged. What the Le Leche League needed to, but probably could not, communicate explicitly about womanhood and motherhood was not so superficially emotionally satisfying as the mechanical girlboss narrative.

Helen Roy does not shy away from attempting to challenge the liberal feminist mechanical girlboss narrative:

The truth hurts: motherhood is a permanent sacrifice of one’s body to another. Beyond the acute pain of childbearing and the sometimes frustrating journey of breastfeeding, motherhood means involuntarily suffering when your child suffers, as well as voluntarily conforming your will to your child’s objective good no matter what. Motherhood in all its forms—including spiritual mothers, mothers of unborn children, adopted mothers, de facto mothers, godmothers, and bereaved mothers—indicates the female telos, which is sacrificing oneself for the sake of another for the rest of your life.

This is an unchanging, self-effacing, radically anti-individualist orientation to the world. It is pain with a purpose, punctuated by moments of inarticulable joy. I don’t know a mother who would not die for her children. There is no greater love, and, speaking politically now, there is no greater responsibility. Contrary to the oft-parroted shibboleths of modern feminism, a mother’s role is not beneath her. It is actually above her, in the sense that motherhood inherently elevates women as cultivators of the gratuitous gift we know as life itself. Perhaps they already know this. Perhaps this is the point.

The reciprocal truth of the female body and the female soul is fundamentally incompatible with the progressive, individualist, materialist, liberal feminist worldview. So the two were divided, and in this division, subjected to an antispiritual regime that aggressively robs women of their dignity and unified purpose. For women to be restored in their fullness in public and private life would mean to expose and oppose this centuries-long project of the physical, social, spiritual deconstruction of women’s bodies and minds. It would be to uphold a maternal ideal so radiantly beautiful, powerful, and yet humble, as to make her detractors run and hide in shame. No wonder the enemies of humanity would like to make that Woman disappear.

I can't improve on this. I would only observe that Helen Roy's complaint about liberal feminists having an "obsession with power over their own nature" fits in with Patrick Deneen's observations about liberalism, for instance, that "Second-wave liberals increasingly approve nearly any technical means of liberating humans from the biological nature of our own bodies". Similarly Deneen criticises liberalism's "insistence on the human separation from and opposition to nature".

I think as well that women's "unified purpose" has also been undermined by liberal feminism when it comes to relationships with men. Here too there is a "dissociative view of womanhood" in which a woman's love for a man was thought at times to be an impediment "to be overcome and neutralized in service of making women economically competitive with men" (see here).

A note to Melbourne readers. If you are sympathetic to the ideas of this website, please visit the site of the Melbourne Traditionalists. It's important that traditionalists don't remain isolated from each other; our group provides a great opportunity for traditionalists to meet up and connect. Details at the website.


  1. I don't disagree with anything in your post but "sacrificing oneself for the sake of another for the rest of your life" is an idea that would be extraordinarily hard to sell. Maybe if you emphasised the idea of fatherhood (or manhood) being a matter of sacrifice as well, although obviously in a different way, you might make the idea slightly more palatable.

    1. What you find palatable is immaterial. It is True.

      Men work, which is a different kind of sacrifice.

  2. I understand it is partly on account of the situation we find ourselves in, and finding it necessary to address it, distasteful though it may be; but I think it's an important goal to keep in mind that it's really an undesirable thing to be talking about female biology as a matter of public policy no matter where you fall in your opinions. It's a symptom of the cultural sickness we all experience that we don't blink an eye at this being a matter for public discussion.

    1. The Virtue of women is The Health Of Civilization, inky.

  3. This is a perfect example of what I believe you have described elsewhere as the core of liberalism being the need to "make" biological differences cease to matter in order to allow the individual complete autonomy.

    It's true that this is (literally) dehumanising to men, but to women it seems almost absurd. Even when not mothers women seem by nature far more driven to a collective outlook than men are.

    Ultimately this drive to view the human consciousness as something completely separate from (and restricted by) our bodies seems almost gnostic in its intensity.

    The echoes of those old heretics who saw our souls as trapped by the evil demi-urge seem to resonate ever louder today, especially with the rise of the "trans" absurdity.