To Be a Mother, Or Not to Be?

While reading a novel named Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, one paragraph caught my attention. It made me realize that femininity and being a woman are socially constructed on many levels:

“Do you know what annoys me so much? If I got hit by a car while we’re crossing and died, in the newspaper it would say a mother of a something-day-old baby was killed at a notorious intersection. Why can’t it say a human who incidentally has a baby was killed at a notorious intersection?” […] But apparently I just exist in terms of my relationship to other people now and Hamish still gets to be a person. (Mason 166)

The character, Ingrid, states that as soon as a woman has a baby, she is purely seen as a mother, and her identity as a human is wiped out. Thus, Ingrid understands that she is not worth anyone’s attention without herself being connected to her child as a mother. In this essay, I will argue that women are framed from a young age to be lovers, wives, and mothers and how this idea of inferiority manipulates the vision of motherhood that young girls have. I focus on motherhood as a social concept and the internalization of gender roles and stereotypes, the challenges women face, and the need to re-evaluate societal expectations surrounding motherhood.

The statement that women are socially constructed can be found in the book The Second Sex by the feminist existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir: “One is not born, but rather becomes, woman” (Beauvoir 514). According to Beauvoir, women are the Second, the Other, subjected to a man and his desires. This idea, then, leads to women being socially constructed to become these inferior beings who are subordinated to men – whether as lovers, wives, or mothers. Women are not women because of their biological make-up or ‘essence’; instead, they become women after socio-cultural forces have framed them. A crucial changing point in a girl’s life is when she enters puberty, gets closer to her future, and when these gendering socio-cultural forces intensify. In the future, she will be the Second, the Other, to her man, who will be superior to her in every sense as girls are convinced of male superiority, based on “economic and social foundations” and marking men as “the masters of the world” (Beauvoir 617). From puberty, all the girl could think about is that “the present is for her only a transition; she sees no valid ends in it, only occupations. In a more or less disguised way, her youth is consumed by waiting. She is waiting for Man” (Beauvoir 616). This idea of being inferior to a man, being subjected to a man, supports the idea of motherhood as the girl is waiting not only for the man himself but to become his wife and eventually also the mother of his children. As Beauvoir continues:

Marriage is not only an honorable and less strenuous career than many others; it alone enables woman to attain her complete social dignity and also to realize herself sexually as lover and mother. This is the role her entourage thus envisages for her future, as she envisages it herself. Everyone unanimously agrees that catching a husband—or a protector in some cases—is for her the most important of undertakings. (Beauvoir 617-8)

Nowadays, many women perform paid labor as well as men. However, they are still expected to be full-time mothers and wives, and on top of that, required to do paid work next to the traditional gender roles. Thus, since The Second Sex’s publication, expectations for women have doubled.

The girl sees this marriage as honorable, making her valid or valued in the eyes of her husband, family, and society. Since these traditional gender roles are imprinted on the girl’s mind, “she can only accept a place that society has already made for her. She accepts the order of things as a given” (Beauvoir 622). Thus, puberty is the point in a girl’s life where she gives into her fate as the oppressed, inferior, submissive wife and mother and does not see herself as responsible for her own future, becoming the defeated, passive object society pressures her into being (Beauvoir 629).

Similarly, to Haslanger, in the essay The Sex/Gender Distinction and the Social Construction of Reality, the fact that the girl has been assigned female sex at birth makes her a subject to stereotypical views and treatments, which causes the girl to adopt a vital role of a gendered woman (Haslanger 163). Haslanger discusses the social and cultural forces and the way they challenge and change the way we think because “our experiences seem to be caused simply and directly by the world itself. […] our culture is largely responsible for the interpretive tools we bring to the world in order to understand it” (Haslanger 157-8). How our experiences appear to be caused by the world seems relatively simple but shows further that it is not the world itself but the social forces challenging us to behave or think in a certain way. Even the interpretation of gender roles is something that we are taught by the culture we grow up in. This role presumably follows women through generations, making them live in a circle of one woman becoming a mother and giving birth to another girl raised to become a mother.

There is nothing wrong with becoming a mother; what is problematic is that this traditional vision of motherhood and women being subordinated to men and their offspring manipulates girls’ minds into pursuing traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Haslanger continues that “being classified as a woman [..] has a profound effect on an individual. Such classification will have a material affect on her social position as well as affect her experience and self-understanding” (Haslanger 163). Thus, how a young girl or a woman is made to be a woman makes her less self-aware or self-understanding of herself as a being or an individual.

To Rittenour and Colaner, in their essay Finding Female Fulfillment, motherhood demonstrates the power to strengthen women’s lives, fulfilling them, but does not come without a price – “considerable sacrifice and acceptance of burden” (Rittenour and Colaner 352). To a certain level, women find fulfillment in becoming mothers, especially if they choose to become mothers. However, how can a girl or a woman know if they want to become a mother? The traditional views and gender roles they are being taught are the only source of the base for their decision. When they become mothers, there could be a significant amount of regret because what they were taught was not what they expected or were manipulated into. The authors continue that research by McMahon (1995) found that gender roles and stereotypes are supported by some women entering motherhood because they adapt the gender-stereotyped behaviors and practices onto themselves, which makes them further develop sexist ideals (Rittenour and Colaner 353).

What might be a good example when a woman enters motherhood and finds an uninspiring surprise is the difference between mothers, especially the “good” and “bad.” In Is This What Motherhood Is All About?, Tina Miller discusses the notion of being a naturally ambitious and predisposed mother for a woman. If a woman fails to be a good mother, it is because her “natural abilities to instinctively know and be able to care for her child” (Miller 339) are not developed enough for her to be a good mother. As soon as women do not comprehend these “natural abilities,” they are labeled “bad” mothers because they supposedly failed their role in society set by nature. Miller continues: 

It is little surprise, then, that women continue to come to motherhood with unrealistic expectations, for these unrealistic expectations are embedded and reinforced through the strands of discourse that in powerful ways shape thinking about motherhood. (Miller 340)

Girls are taught from a young age to become mothers and how to become good mothers as well. However, the “good” mother is instead a universalist and essential concept based on assumptions within the prevalent discourse, which causes a significant change in women’s lives (Miller 340). These standards and stereotypes make women have certain attitudes and expectations that challenge the woman’s thought processes when proven wrong. Eventually, they change, which may cause problems for the woman. Miller points out the importance of these expectations, specifically in connection to women becoming mothers for the first time:

For those becoming mothers for the first time, these include an expectation that their bodies are designed to reproduce, that (until perhaps shown otherwise) they will be able to achieve this (naturally?), and that they will be able to (instinctively?) meet their child’s needs. (Miller 340)

These first-time mothers have certain expectations that make them believe that their bodies are supposed to bear children because that is what their parents taught them in the sense of gender roles and stereotypes. However, these expectations can fall short, especially with post-partum depression, loss of excitement for motherhood, finding out how stressful motherhood is, finding out motherhood is not the right role for the woman, and so on. There are many ways – such as feeling guilty, sad, betrayed by their own instincts – in which women can become wronged about motherhood and what they were taught. Moreover, there are many ways in which women can pursue those gender roles and stereotypes to strengthen sexual ideals without even realizing they do.

In my essay, I focused on the social construction of femininity and its impact on women’s identities, specifically concerning motherhood. I examined how women are conditioned to conform to traditional gender roles and the limitations this imposes on their autonomy. My essay also explores critiques of heterosexuality as a system of oppression and highlights the unrealistic expectations placed on women as mothers. It emphasizes the need to challenge and reevaluate societal norms surrounding gender and motherhood.

I think that many traditional views manipulate young girls and women regarding the vision of motherhood. This manipulation goes even further when the girl or the woman becomes a mother and is labeled as a “bad” mother simply because she is not perfect according to traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Thus, manipulation like this is deeply rooted in the girl from her childhood and a concern developing into a possible depression in her adult life. The fact that women are supposed to become wives and mothers, and when they do, they might be labeled as insufficient, bad, or not good enough, puts women further into oppression by men not only in heterosexual relationships but in society in general.


Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Vintage Classics, 2015.

Haslanger, Sally. “The Sex/Gender Distinction and the Social Construction of Reality.” The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy, Basingstoke: Taylor & Francis Ltd., 2017, pp. 157–167.

Mason, Meg. Sorrow and Bliss. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2022.

Miller, Tina. “‘Is This What Motherhood Is All About?’: Weaving Experiences and Discourse through Transition to First-Time Motherhood.” Gender & Society, vol. 21, no. 3, 2007, pp. 337–58.

Rittenour, Christine E., and Colleen Warner Colaner. “Finding Female Fulfillment: Intersecting Role-Based and Morality-Based Identities of Motherhood, Feminism, and Generativity as Predictors of Women’s Self Satisfaction and Life Satisfaction.” Sex Roles, vol. 67, no. 5–6, 2012, pp. 351–62.

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