When a person has a child, she or he will become a parent. What it means to be a parent, and where the parent identity fits into an individual’s multiple social identities, is important to one’s behavior. When discussing the role of parent, women and men have different situations. The role of motherhood, in many cultures, is a mandatory obligation for women. Although a woman does not officially become a mother until she has children. But before that, a woman has been culturally conditioned to become a mother. Women need to be prepared for motherhood both mentally and physically, and even the process of raising a woman is the process of raising a mother. The work of anthropologist Paxson (2006) shows that in the Orthodox context, becoming a mother is a moral obligation for women. The image of motherhood is combined with the religious figure of Mary, the one who gives birth to Christ, and the woman who is required to give birth to offspring. From my personal observation, the moral obligation to become a mother is also very evident in Chinese society. In the Chinese context, becoming a mother is associated with the meaning of a woman’s life, to be a mother means to be a complete person and to have the qualification to be a normal woman. Girls are given dolls and handmade toys by their parents from an early age and are advised to learn to cook, all of which are associated with becoming a mother and taking care of children in the future. China and the Orthodox Church have different backgrounds, but they both have rules about what a woman should be as a mother, and there is a lot of social pressure on those who don’t follow them. This reminds me of another phenomenon of discipline for women, which is circumcision. Circumcision is a procedure that also emphasizes the integrity of the woman, linking the procedure to the maturation of the woman, and those who do not complete it will face the blame of those around them (Gordon, 1991).
Culture makes demands not only about the need for women to become a mother, but also about how to be a mother or what a mother should be like. The key word for being a mother is sacrifice (Paxson, 2006), providing for the child with one’s own physical substance. The nourishment of the child by the mother is first and foremost a biological phenomenon, and the placenta and breast milk are seen in some regions as a bond of kinship (Carsten, 1995). This phenomenon also extends beyond the physical to emphasize the sacrifices the mother makes for her children in all aspects of her life, and the needs of the children need to be considered before the needs of the mother. The mother’s sacrifice is greatly celebrated and the mother’s love is considered unconditional love. In a study by anthropologist Mayblin, it was learned (2012) that northern Brazil analogizes the love of the mother to the love of God, or agape. This affection, which approximates the love of God, can reach a level of madness that transcends the degree of rationality. The priority of a rational person is to safeguard his or her own interests, but as a mother whose task is to embrace and protect her child, a mother’s love for her child cannot be intermingled with value judgments. The glorification of a mother’s sacrifice is in fact a kidnapping of women. Because after being placed on the altar, a woman will be required to play the role of a perfect mother, her free will may be threatened. For example, postpartum depression has become a serious problem in China due to the heavy responsibility of raising children and the need for women to take care of their children’s food, clothing, and transportation (Nisar, Anum et al., 2020).
Current motherhood is problematic, reflecting the oppression of women and the absence of fathers. For fathers, children can be seen as a symbol of honor and social status for the continuation of the lineage. But the costs and burdens of child rearing often need to be borne by the mother.
Paxson, H., 2006. Reproduction as Spiritual Kin Work: Orthodoxy, IVF and the Moral Economy of Motherhood in Greece. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 30(4), pp.481-505.
Gordon, D., 1991. Female Circumcision and Genital Operations in Egypt and the Sudan: A Dilemma for Medical Anthropology. Medical anthropology quarterly, 5(1), pp.3–14.
Carsten, J., 1995. The Substance of Kinship and the Heat of the Hearth: Feeding, Personhood, and Relatedness among Malays in Pulau Langkawi. American ethnologist, 22(2), pp.223–241.
Mayblin, M., 2012. The Madness of Mothers: agape love and the maternal myth in Northeast Brazil. American Anthropologist, 114(2), pp. 240-252
Nisar, Anum et al., 2020. Prevalence of perinatal depression and its determinants in Mainland China: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of affective disorders, 277, pp.1022–1037.