Every week, Preen tackles motherhood sans the rose-tinted glasses. Our columnists L. Juliano, Marla Darwin, Monica Eleazar-Manzano, and Rossana Unson tell their personal experiences like it is—at times frustrating, oftentimes confusing, but always enlightening.
All my life, I realize that I’ve always had to pit myself against the Madonna-whore complex. The virgin-whore archetypes were drawn from the representations of women in literature and pop culture. On this spectrum, one end represents idealized femininity and the other an unbridled sensuality. I felt this early on in my life when I attended an all-girls Catholic schools.
The idea of the perfect Catholic girl was reinforced incessantly by way of dress codes, etiquette classes, and all those numerous examination of conscience sessions before weekly confession. Good girls don’t wear sleeveless shirts or expose their ankles. Good girls are seen, not heard. Any hints of a burgeoning sexuality or contrarian thinking were suppressed.
Every time I felt I couldn’t live up to this image, I’d swing the total opposite way as rebellion for feeling inadequate and inferior. It’s typical, destructive behavior and it’s why it’s a complex. At every important season in my life, I remember spending a lot of time finding the balance between virgin and whore, or dismantling the dichotomy altogether.
Motherhood is filled with all sorts of spectacular iterations of this complex—it’s what we call the “mommy wars.” Exclusive breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding. Stay-at-home mom vs. working mom. Sleep-trainers vs. co-sleepers. Everyone who has ever talked about these moms always found a way to find a middle ground or at the very least, get everyone to just agree to disagree.
For some reason though, I still find myself wrestling with this one particular comparison: the cool mom vs. the mom mom. I don’t even know what to call the opposite of the cool mom. I think you know her though. She’s the one who can still do her makeup really well and squeeze in a couple of workouts during the week. She’s the one who can assemble Pokémon characters out of rice for her kid’s bento lunch.
I think you’ll recognize cool mom, too. Amy Poehler’s version in Mean Girls made her a cautionary tale but the ones I’m in awe at tend to have an impressive knowledge on rock music, still look deadly in short skirts, and have vibrant lives outside the home.
The other polarities allow you to comfortably choose a side. I breastfeed and we-sleep. Sometimes I found a way to find something in the middle, like choosing to be a work-from-home mom. With cool mom and mom mom, I find myself sliding into both extremes at different points in time. I have resented both tropes yet I keep seeking validation from them.
You’re choosing between yourself and being selfless. In a world that puts sacrificing mothers on a pedestal, it’s so easy to want to place yourself in mom mom territory. This is the idealized femininity for motherhood. The Madonna-whore complex rears its ugly head again.
This complex takes on its Freudian roots when you see society demand from mothers and wives to be unconditionally selfless and domesticated yet maintain a sexy (but not too sexy!) appearance and offbeat interests to keep themselves engaging. Sigmund Freud first identified the complex as men desiring a fully sexualized, degraded woman (whore) but save their love and respect for the Madonna. So we try to be both Madonna and whore, with the understanding that the Madonna who we should be full-time and we only let out minimal shades of whore when the time calls for it.
It’s nothing new but the one question I want to ask in light of all this is, do fathers feel these things? I look at my husband and I don’t see him agonizing over being a perfect dad and trying to do things that will make him feel like him again. It was not just me who became a parent, he also became one, yet he never doubts his capacity to be a father. He doesn’t feel the guilt I feel when he wants to spend a weekend fishing with his friends or throwing himself into his startup. He’ll occasionally read books on child development to see if we’re doing okay, but he won’t be ridden with worry over our daughter’s milestones and eating habits the way I do.
He’s not insecure of the bond he has with our daughter and he believes we’re doing the best we can. I can’t always say the same.
Maybe mothers have something biologically wired in them to feel so much for their children, but I’m also convinced that society has a hand in pigeonholing mothers into these boxes and leaving fathers out of the discussion.
I often ask my husband if he ever feels the need to be a cool dad or a dad dad. He keeps telling me that becoming a father brought him closer to the kind of person he wants to be. He loves cracking corny jokes and he beams when he baby wears our daughter. So many of my friends have also whispered to me that my husband’s dad bod (read: added chubs) and his beard make him look hot. There’s no cool dad or dad dad with him, he just is. He embraces the dad-teasing and just treats it as another facet to his being a son, husband, brother, friend, and entrepreneur. Maybe this is what parenthood without societal expectation and baggage looks like.
I use to resent my husband for making it so easy to choose himself over being selfless. A lot of it was projected from my own pressure to be a selfless parent. I have to stop putting weighed judgments on my roles. They just are. I have to stop measuring my worth in maternal sacrifices, work achievements, and social success. I just need a happy kid, a happy husband, and a happy me.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.
Art by Dorothy Guya