LESBIANS IN HETEROSEXUAL PATTERNS
by AntigaFrom Rain and Thunder Spring Equinox 2000
A disturbing thing is happening. Lesbians are getting married to each other and they are having children. Well over half of these children are boys. Lesbians are fitting in with heterosexual patterns. Possibly this is coming from Lesbians wanting to fit in, wishing not to be so different. I had a young housemate who told me that she did not plan to miss anything because she is a Lesbian. She planned to have as fancy a wedding as she could have had if she married a man and to have children.
I myself have had children and do know what the urge to have children is like. I had four, two sons and two daughters. The man I married was clear with me before we married. He had to have two sons. Luckily I only had to have two daughters before the required number of sons was reached, unlike a friend whose mother had seven daughters before the coveted son was finally born. By that time my friend's mother was so worn out with pregnancy after pregnancy that she died young. Men would rather kill their wives and, in the case of my friend's mother, cheat on them as well, than give up what they consider their god-given right to have sons.
Patriarchy invented marriage in order to control women. The way you show a man you love him is to sacrifice your own life and have his children. I believe that part of the urge to have children is a biological need to continue the species. But patriarchy has co-opted that urge so that there's no way of separating it from the societal pressures that force women to have children.
I commend anyone who resists that pressure. Not having children may seem a high price to pay for resisting patriarchy. And, whether we are heterosexual, bisexual or Lesbian, it's one of the most effective tools women have for keeping our lives for our own use. The moment we have children, we have given our lives into the service of the patriarchy. It does not matter that we plan to do it differently. It does not matter how woman identified we are. Our job now is to raise children to fit into patriarchal patterns. This is even harder to resist than having children is.
Raising daughters in patriarchy is particularly painful. We are given the non choice of raising them to be feminists and/or Lesbians in which case they will be ridiculed by their peers and made fun of mercilessly. Or, raising them to fit into a world whose patterns are in place to take away their humanity. In my case, I wasn't quite ready to put my daughters in the jeopardy that being feminist would have done. Yet I hoped that they would follow my path. I think that my ambivalence can not have helped, it probably left them confused at best, downright harmed at worst.
Especially if we chose to raise our daughters as feminists, they will be taken away from us. They will be turned against us by the scorn with which feminists and Lesbians are regarded. This scorn is hard for children and teenagers to deal with whether they are female or male. They will be taken away by what they learn in school, by what they read in books, by what they see on TV, by what their friends tell them. And the mother will have very little say about what happens. The combined pressures of society are more than a few women can undo.
My older son was extremely distressed that I was a feminist. So distressed that I had an agreement that I would not come to any school that he was enrolled in to speak. Once I spoke at the junior high adjacent to the high school he was in. Word of this got to his high school and he was unmercifully teased by his peers. So he was hurt by my activities on behalf of women. He seemed to think that I did it precisely to hurt him. I doubt if he ever knew the deep hurt I felt at the way he was treated or how torn I felt over the work I was doing. By treating him so badly these teen agers were putting me into a double bind (patriarchy's favorite way of keeping us oppressed). I was made to choose between myself and my son. My decision to choose myself eventually lead to the end of the marriage.
The cost of having children is high. It is almost impossible to imagine what this cost will be before children are born. Before children are born a woman thinks of the joy of having children. There certainly are those joys. But there is no way to understand how much her husband and society is using her until she feels the pressure not to have a life of her own. I have experienced how completely a woman is expected to give her life to the fathers when she has children. I have experienced some of the punishments meted out to a woman who tries to have her own life and be a mother at the same time.
Not only were my son's peers cruel to him but my wuzband continually berated me in front of the children about what a bad mother I was. A good mother would have had no life of her own. Wuzband did his best to turn my children against me. Unless she is independently wealthy and can afford to pay some other woman to share her parenting duties and has "a room of her own" to which she is free to go whenever she wishes, her life will be determined by a role which men have designed for her. The role of mother.
Even if she has all of these things, she may still find herself trapped in a position she never wanted to be in. The position of being resented by her children no matter what she does. Our social system encourages hostility toward mothers. This hostility can have tragic consequences. Marcia Gomez, a woman who lived in Texas, was beaten to death by her son.
Having any want of her own and trying to satisfy it will bring down the wrath of those who uphold the patriarchy on her. We have heard endless discussions about how women working outside of the home for pay will harm their children. Mothers are blamed when anything goes wrong with their children. Fathers seldom are. Even murdering their children is not considered as terrible a thing for men to do as is a woman trying to have a life of her own while being a mother.
Women are kept in a double bind. Those who choose not to have children are defined as abnormal. A woman who does not have children has taken a step toward removing herself from patriarchal control for it is through their children that women are most easily controlled. She is defined as bad for not doing the job assigned to her by patriarchy. Women who do have children are asked to give up their own life. They can never give up enough so they are defined as bad for having any claim to their own lives. Either way, women are seen as the other and are blamed for what is not working in patriarchy.
Mothers are held responsible for the ills forced on their children by society. Poverty is thought to be due to laziness, a woman having more children than she can provide for--so the story goes. The number of children a woman has is always her fault, marital rape notwithstanding. That the father of these children thinks he has no responsibility and has left her with the full responsibility is usually ignored.
What I am talking about here are heterosexual patterns. These patterns affect Lesbians just as strongly as they do other women. A woman will do things for her children that she would not think of doing if only her welfare were at stake. As a woman on her own, she may feel willing to be out as a Lesbian. Given how Lesbians are regarded in this society, she may not be willing to bring the disapproval (including cruel teasing) to her children that she is old enough and strong enough to deal if she were by herself. Any deviation from what society has set up for women will bring her disapproval. And her children will suffer the consequences.
A Lesbian's children may already be very unhappy about how different she is. She very likely will not want to make them feel even more different by insisting on beliefs that run counter to accepted opinion. A woman may find herself trying to fit into patriarchal heterosexual ways of being so that her children can be considered normal even though she totally disagrees with the norms that are forced on them in this society. One of the norms forced on everyone is that heterosexual is the only way to be. By her life a Lesbian she is contradicting these norms. For her children, she may elect to hide who she is from the world. She can't hide it from her children so they are put in the position of also having to hide something. And hiding it means that ,what is hidden is wrong. Otherwise it would not have to be hidden.
It is when children get into school (probably even day care) that a woman learns how little her views and values count with her children. Having children within patriarchy is equivalent to giving them to patriarchy and putting herself in an untenable position_ A woman can have no idea how effectively societal pressures can steal her power until she tries to use it an behalf of her children. Suppose that her child is being treated in a way she does not like in school- Much of what goes as acceptable "discipline' of children is cruelty to them. She goes to school to see what can be done. She is just as likely to be treated as the problem, the complaining parent, as she is to get the problem taken care of. Whether she gets it taken care of depends on a number of factors. Economic class, sexual preference. If she is poor and a Lesbian her chances of getting the co-operation of the school officials are slim.
I am aware that this may be something that Lesbians thinking about having children cannot hear. I am also aware that they may not be able to hear it even during the time that they are experiencing what I describe. It is enough of a struggle to get through it. It is afterwards that one can look back and see more clearly what was happening. Still, it is important for me to say what I know again and again: having children is giving your life and your children over to patriarchy. Yes, some good may be done by having children. But at what cost? If only one woman gets the extent to which she gives up who she is by having children, I will be satisfied.
Children in this society are meant to be the property of the fathers. Having a child whose father is not known does not change this. The society, in the place of the father, claims the child instead. Having a child is giving in to the patriarchy. It forces both male and female children into unhealthy behavior. Patriarchy cares only about insuring its continued existence. It does not care about the health of its children. The more unhealthy they are, the easier they will be to control. And patriarchy is about control
Let's suppose that the child you are raising is a boy. You know that crying is a perfectly acceptable way of behaving when you are hurt. You let your son know that it's fine if he cries. With your support, he does this. The moment other children (and many adults) catch him crying, they tease him about being like a girl. A bad thing to be even if you are a girl. Shameful if you are a boy. You, the mother, are caught between knowing that he is exhibiting healthy behavior and messages that this is not O. K. for a boy. What do you do? I can't say that I was ever able to answer that question satisfactorily for myself. I was often in that torn place between what I knew was right and what others said was right, always afraid to put my children in even more jeopardy than they were already in because I was a feminist.
I felt that I was in an impossible position as a mother. I was expected to meet all the needs of my children with compassion and understanding but I was not given the support from the social system to be the mother I wanted to be. Then, after I had done the best I could in a society and in a situation that did not nurture me, I was blamed for doing a bad job. There is lip service to honoring mothers but real respect for the work we do is absent. When I was negotiating finances at the time of the divorce, wuzband told me, "You never did anything. You don't deserve anything." Our society gives mothers the same message.
Trying to even out the effects of sexism in my children's lives was not appreciated. My daughter, now in her forties, still angrily accuses me of favoring the daughters. What I did was to treat my sons the same way that I treated my daughters. Because they were supposed to get better treatment, the sons felt like something had been taken away from them. My daughter still sees it as her job to protect them but not herself.
The radical feminists Mary Daly, Germaine Greer, and Sonia Johnson agree: the way that women can create our own liberation is by living in exclusively female groups and giving as little energy to males as possible. This emphatically includes male children. A friend observed that boys raised in all women households often grow up believing that they can have unlimited access to any woman any time they chose. This may be good for the boys but it is not good for women. Women are taught to put everyone's needs ahead of our own. Liberation means putting ourselves first on our own priority list and resisting the temptation to give energy to males whether sons, brothers or fathers; whether gay or straight.
When we live in a society that truly honors and respects women then it may be possible to have children without putting ourselves and them in jeopardy.
Feminist Reprise thanks Kya for her help in readying this article for the site.