What is the "maternal instinct"? Does it even exist? There is a stereotype of the ideal mother as someone who expresses unconditional love, who sacrifices all for her children, and who is ferocious and unstinting in defense of her children. Women who compromise on this behavior, who express some reservations and perhaps some self-interest, may be labeled "bad mothers" or perhaps even worse, "feminists".
If self-sacrifice is the ideal maternal characteristic, though, then we should be asking our women to aspire to this biological pinnacle of mother love:
That story is from Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's Mother Nature, a book that discusses the meaning of motherhood and how it fits into biology and natural selection. I think we'd all agree that it is a little creepy, and perhaps too extreme—we should expect human mothers to love their children unconditionally, but carving off bits of flesh to make their sandwiches would probably be a bit much.
There are alternatives in the continuum of maternal commitment. Hrdy's book makes the point that motherhood is far, far more complex than any caricature of a blind maternal extinct can encompass. Being a mother is a difficult and pragmatic affair, and the lesson of biology is that Nature is solidly pro-choice...or that the answers are never simple and straightforward.
Continue reading "Mother Nature" (on Pharyngula)