Culturally, women are considered to only reach their full potential when they become mothers. Younger generations are beginning to break this stereotype, however. Motherhood should be a free choice.
Advisor: Gloria Hurtado Castañeda
Psychologist, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare
Society often expects women to act in a certain way or do certain activities that it often mistakenly considers to be an inherent part of their gender, causing inequalities that negatively impact their lives. This expectation is known as gender roles: the idea that women and men each have their own obligations that cannot be shared and that are not taken on by their own will. In the pursuit of gender balance, breaking down these stereotypes is a task that almost all countries now share throughout the world.
As UN Women states, the section of the United Nations (UN) that has most studied their effects, gender roles create differences and inequalities among women and men, “…in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities.”
According to the UN, despite the fact that women work, they must spend three times more than men doing housework and being caretakers. Similarly, a study conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that only 49% of the population of women are part of the global workforce, despite 75% of them wanting to have paid employment.
So, what is the role of women in the world if it is not that which has been traditionally associated with them? As Gloria Hurtado Castañeda, a practicing psychologist at Coomeva Private Healthcare, explains it is important to show how these roles that culture has placed on them can change as the world changes.
As Hurtado states, “The main role of a woman is to be a woman and feel good about herself. In general, people often think that this is a very egotistical perspective, but in reality, it is a matter of mental health. A life of looking after others and forgetting about yourself has serious consequences, because this means believing that others are more important, while your own personal worth declines. Your life and health can take a toll as a result of this ‘sacrifice,’ which can compromise your emotional stability.”
Assumptions about the role of women
Dr. Hurtado also points out how families often assume that when someone at home is sick, it is the woman’s responsibility to take care of the person, regardless of whether she is a wife, sister, mother or daughter. “It is important to help, but it is also important to understand that the responsibility of taking care of other family members is not just a matter of being female; relationships and family ties are the same between men and women. And with regard to equality, both men and women should be involved in these responsibilities.”
Just because a person puts themselves first, does not mean they cannot take on responsibilities and activities that allow them to relate and cooperate with others. Women are sisters, daughters, mothers, wives, workers and friends, all at the same time. The problem begins when responsibilities fall exclusively upon one of these roles.
“Men do not have any roles expected of them. Generally, they are told they should work and be successful. And this is how culture is discriminatory. A man can be considered to have reached his full potential even if he does not have kids, but culture frowns upon women if they do not have them,” Dr. Hurtado explains.
Our psychologist refers to the role that puts the most pressure on women’s lives: motherhood, whether she has children or chooses not to be a mother. If she has children, there is the misconception that women are the main caretakers of children; and if she does not, by not choosing to be a mother, the misconception is that she has not realized her full potential.
One challenge modern women face is not giving into social pressures or being affected by the frustrations that cultural stereotypes create. “It is becoming more common for modern generations to assume that women may or may not have kids. If women have quality lifestyles with their work, their friends, and can construct a world of their own, this is the response to not feeling like they have not reached their potential if they did not have kids,” Dr. Hurtado explains.
This job is not just up to women, however. Men must also consider that the role of being a mother is becoming increasingly less appealing, as this can compete with other personal interests. If society wants women to continue having children, it must ask itself how to make motherhood a more pleasant experience.
As our specialist points out, “This is because the life of a woman is not just about being a mother. While people believe that there is such a thing as a maternal instinct, it is actually just a cultural construct. If this instinct did exist, all the women in the world, without exception, would want to have kids. An instinct is something that is inherent in nature. No one is taught that they need to eat, it is an instinctual reaction that does not need to be learned, which is why it is different from motherhood – it is optional.”
Are there other ways of being a “mother?”
The idea that women have a maternal instinct can be tricky when someone who decides not to have children is told to be a mother in other ways.
As Dr. Hurtado explains, this can make women end up taking on “maternal roles” in different areas. “You do not have to be a mother in every setting, you just have to be a woman; this way of thought makes you think that you are the mother of your husband, of your co-workers or of your mother, as if you were just meant to be a mother,” she states. “As a form of helping or protecting others, the role of being a mother can be very dangerous because your make others dependent on you, not allowing them to grow,” Hurtado adds.
Regarding the disparities that gender roles create, she says, the interesting thing is that a slow change is taking place, “These changes are not sudden, as there are many who do not want them, but there are others who do.” These transformational forces are grounds for what drives human beings to seek their own happiness and understand that love for others comes after self-love. This is not a matter of being imposed upon, it is about making the decision to cooperate with each other on equal terms.
The main role of a woman is to be a woman, feel good about herself and make life decisions freely.