The De-Mothering Project

Here is a strange, sad article about how one woman’s self-concept as a woman was formed … or de-formed.

The summary goes like this:

Strange as it may sound, the Holocaust education at my school shaped my sexuality and fertility well into adulthood by teaching me that the Holocaust brought about a complete break in the continuity of mankind. In the face of such immense suffering and slaughter, no responsible woman would choose to have children.

Susan Martin, “Conscience, Fertility and Holocaust Education”

This seems counter-intuitive. In the face of genocide, having more children would seem like a good way to fight back.

… Unless, that is, you are being told that you, and any potential children you might have, are part of the problem. And that is exactly what girls are being told. For Martin, it was because of the Holocaust (“the inevitable conclusion that humanity was evil and that all women share indirect responsibility for the atrocities”). Today, it’s more likely to be because of environmental concerns, “overpopulation,” or vague, un-stamp-out-able “injustice.”

Martin describes how being told that it was morally wrong to have children caused her to be unhappy with her body when it started developing into the body of a woman. She was infertile most of her adult life.

I can’t say that the Holocaust was used against me in my own education the way it was used against her, and in fact, I still have a hard time seeing the logical connection. But I can certainly identify when she writes,

“It was clear that my emerging sexuality and potential fertility would not be positively received in the adult world” and “We quickly discovered we got more praise from [society] for writing poetry than for pushing prams.”

Martin’s story is so tragic, and it’s yet another testimony to the fact that you can’t devalue motherhood (for any reason) without devaluing women. I have previously posted about it here.

2 thoughts on “The De-Mothering Project

  1. Yeah I just think that’s a completely counterintuitive idea. And I don’t think most people who are educated about this subject would agree with her take. Like you said, having more kids is the best way to fight back about a nihilistic and destructive outlook. I’m not sure how much of this was the fault of the education system/how she was taught about the holocaust, because she could be making the association after the fact, but also it seems like she was personally having an existential crisis (which the education system certainly encourages and does little to alleviate).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it can be hard to tell after the fact what was intended and what was over-interpretation by a sensitive student.

      The reason I posted this link is that I do have some sympathy with her sense of being made to feel guilty for just existing … either because the Holocaust implicates all humans (in her case), or because colonialism implicates everyone descended from colonials (in mine), or because environmentalism implicates all humans who breathe and depend on technology (in both of our cases) …

      I think kids (at least, sensitive little girls) tend to see things in very black-and-white terms and to try to identify heroes, villains, and nice clear do’s and don’ts in everything they are taught. So I think that when we try to teach (or maybe over-teach) a complex, sensitive subject too young, they can over-interpret so easily. Like I don’t think my Sunday School teachers, when they told me about world poverty, were TRYING to tell me that being an American was the unforgivable sin … but that’s what I got out of it. 😉

      It’s further complicated by the fact that there is an inherent sense of shame that comes with being human (beautifully symbolized by Adam and Eve’s fig leaves), and kids feel it too to a certain extent and are looking for an explanation.

      Anyway. Sermon over …


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