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We Wither Without the Most Powerful of Female Power

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Woman’s natural power is so immense that without balance on the male side the human project unravels.  For his own sense of worth within the family, the man needs to be the head in a circumscribed set of decision-making areas. The woman has so much power she does not need headship but does need to grant it.

The woman’s power commences with the birth of her first child. Though a father can give much, his wife gives more and more fundamentally.  When young men die on the battlefield, they call out for their mother. When grown sons call home the natural order is to talk first and longest with mother. Father-son conversations, even in the very best of relationships, tend to be shorter, less relational and more project focused.

Immediately the baby is born, the greatest power of woman comes into play.  For her child, she makes the world a good place to be in.  She treats her baby so well it is content to be alive and grow.  Babies who experience neglect –-or worse, abuse — turn away from reality and in upon themselves, sometimes never to emerge again, as with some forms of psychosis.  Such is the power of woman for good or ill.

In her relationship with her child, she shapes its foundational experience of human relationships.  For the child, that relationship shapes all its others.  Here lies the mother’s massive power. By shaping how her child relates the mother shapes the family, and shapes the sexual, the social, educational, economic, and political experiences of her grown child. When too many citizens have not experienced a loving, caring first relationship, collectively they shape the political very differently from those who are well nurtured.

For the child with a warm mother, life is experienced as wonderful.  Those deprived of such a mother live lives suffused with anxiety, depression, or anger. There are no data, but I’d bet the overwhelming majority, if not every single person, involved in rioting in recent months, lacks a secure attachment — not just to mother but especially to father. The father is the child’s first experience of those who inhabit “the world outside of mother”.

As the caring mother attends to her child, her husband steps somewhat to the side — taking care that his wife has all she needs to nurture her child. For most men, the intensity of the experience of a first birth is so overwhelming they forget their needs for some time but, eventually, the woman must take care of her husband, too. Prior to pregnancy her care was most expressed in their marital relations.  When she is physically and emotionally ready, she embraces him sexually again.  This is her other great power, used here again in service of the loved one.

All the above describes the optimal experience.  But first births are fraught with dangers:

  • Divorces are triggered by first births more than by any other single event in the life history of those married young.
  • Many women experience postpartum depression (PPD) rather than joy and happiness. For a certain portion of women this is biologically triggered,[1] but not for all.
  • Though very incompletely studied, men also suffer PPD and severe anxiety. In Asian countries postpartum depression in men[2] ranges from a low of 4% in Malaysia to a (questionable) high of 63% in Pakistan, whereas in the developed Western economy of New Zealand 2% of fathers showed severe depression and 4% a milder form. In the US 10% of fathers in “Fragile Families”(cohabiting biological parents) are depressed 3 years after the birth.

Combine all these facts, and the birth of the first-born jumps to the top of the list of the “most critical of human events”. It shapes virtually everything, from the life of the child to the life of the nation.  In practical terms, the child’s experience at this stage will shape, not only his own life but that of the future spouse and their children, and also his friendships and his relations with colleagues at work.  Furthermore, the new parents’ own experience has been shaped immensely by their own parents’ relationship and experiences a generation earlier. These grandparents’ levels of secure/insecure attachment shaped the new parents’ own attachment patterns and now influences their marriage, their first-child experience and future life together.

Today, the insecure cycle not only repeats but widens, and has done so increasingly for the last few hundred years, with the transitions from agricultural to post-industrial to digitally-shaped economic life.  The length of time for mother-infant bonding has received increasingly short shrift (except in Scandinavian countries, most notably Sweden).  Modern working mothers of newborns are caught “between a rock and a hard place”.  In Spain, professional middle-class mothers routinely return to work after 4 months leave. Some of these mothers, anticipating the pain of the impending separation from their newborn, choose not to bond as closely as nature would have them do!  What social disasters await Spain a generation from now!  And this is happening within married families! How much worse for the low-income couple, and even worse, for the single mother.

The economic world now militates against the nurturance of children.  Borrowing from the title and substance of Iain McGilchrist’s monumental work “The Master and His Emissary”, [3] we can deduce that women, rather  than being masters of a relational domain totally their own, by economic, educational and social pressure,  are becoming emissaries in the economic world.  Though welcome in the economic domain, she is essential in the relational.

Because of her absence more children whimper and more adults wilt.

In pursuing workplace power rather than relational power (child, marriage, and neighborhood power) women have, inadvertently, dissipated vast amounts of the relational ‘oxygen’ that human society needs for all its institutions. Both young adults and those approaching early middle age exhibit the symptoms: they are increasingly depressed, without spouses or families of their own. They are more isolated, alienated, and addicted.

Starved of the relational-generating power that women have in abundance, society cannot thrive, nor this civilization last.

For the good of the child, the future of mankind,

Pat Fagan Ph.D.

[1] The biological and psychosocial literatures are largely distinct, and few studies provide integrative analyses. The strongest PPD risk predictors among biological processes are hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal dysregulation, inflammatory processes, and genetic vulnerabilities. Among psychosocial factors, the strongest predictors are severe life events, some forms of chronic strain, relationship quality, and support from partner and mother.

[2] Risk factors for postpartum depression were clustered into five major groups: biological/physical (e.g., riboflavin consumption), psychological (e.g., antenatal depression), obstetric/pediatric (e.g., unwanted pregnancy), socio-demographic (e.g., poverty), and cultural factors (e.g., preference of infants’ gender).

[3] See minute 52.30 on this interview with McGilchrist.  His work is likely to be massive in its impact on shaping human knowledge-seeking from here on.  There are many wonderful interviews with him on You Tube.

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