On Horses, Unicorns, Women, and Motherhood

I am a unicorn, but there is more to me than just my horn. There, is your interest piqued? Dianna Anderson recently offered an excellent analogy regarding how the Republican party treats women. And yes, it involves unicorns. It also speaks to how the Republican party views women and, ultimately, how it uses the image of the unicorn – i.e. the mother – to cover up for its lack of attention to women’s needs more broadly. To start, let me allow Dianna Anderson to explain the anaology:

“I need to stop reading about politics before bed.

Last night, I had a dream about the Republican National Convention. After Clint Eastwood told Zombie Reagan that he’d make a fantastic Supreme Court Justice because he can’t die, I somehow had an argument with Mitt Romney.”

I’m going to pause here to say that I would sort of like to enter Dianna’s dream world, because it sounds awesome.

You see, Dream!Romney seemed to believe that horses all eventually evolve into unicorns. Therefore, all horses – no matter their set purpose or their owners personal feelings about unicornism – should be treated as “pre-unicorn.”

This produced the memorable line, “Just because you believe in unicorns doesn’t mean you can regulate all horse-owners.” Yes, even in my dreams, I argue about politics. But, the dream did give me something to chew on.

The metaphor there is fairly obvious, if heavily imperfect.

Go read the whole thing. But for the purposes of this post, let me summarize to make sure you’ve all got the point. Basically, in this metaphor, horses represent women who are not mothers and unicorns represent mothers. Dianna says that the Republican party treats horses as though they are “pre-unicorns” – i.e. treats women without children as though they are “pre-mothers.” Dianna, however, would prefer to remain a horse. She thinks horses are pretty awesome, and should be valued as horses and not just seen as “pre-unicorns.”

I couldn’t agree more, but as I read Dianna’s post, I realized that there is another point to be made here. The Republican party fetishizes unicorns – i.e. mothers – but it pays little attention to either the fact that unicorns are more than just a horn or that unicorns have needs beyond having their horns praised and admired. And as a unicorn, I find this extremely troubling.

The Republican party fetishizes unicorns. It talks about how wonderful they are all the time! But for all their talk about the importance of unicorns, I’m not feeling the love. To put it quite simply, all the Republican party seems to care about is my horn. The rest of me? Not so much. (Wait, there’s a rest of me? Something to me besides my horn? That’s news to the Republican party for sure!)

When I grew my unicorn horn (i.e. had kids), the rest of me remained the same as always. (Go with me here.) Just like before, I have a mane and a tail and a glistening coat. I have the same needs as before too – I need grain and a place to run, for instance. These things haven’t changed. But all the Republican party seems to see when it looks at me is my horn. And it really really likes my horn. Or at least, it likes to talk about it.

Seriously, what is it with the fixation with my HORN? Yes, I have a horn. Yay horn! But I’m not JUST a horn.

The Republican party seems to only care about praising my horn, forgetting the fact that I still need grain and a place to run. And you know what? If these needs are ignored, well, my horn won’t fare so well either. The Republican party needs to end its fixation with my horn and realize that there’s more to me than just that, that I’m still here just like I was before in all of my glistening, muscled horsey pride.

Okay, I think I just killed what remained of that metaphor after Dianna was through with it. But I want to finish with another quote from her piece.

Rather than treating (especially single) women as something that will eventually evolve into something more awesome (and, by extension, treating us as “not-awesome” until we do), learn to see us as individuals with hopes and dreams, not as a group that is just waiting to move onto the next stage.

Yes, and this brings two things to mind.

First, when I became a mother, I didn’t stop being an individual with hopes and dreams. I didn’t stop existing. I didn’t stop being me. In all the pandering to “motherhood,” and all the platitudes to the importance of mothers in holding our country together, I feel like I am being forgotten, ignored. I’m not just a mother. I’m a person.

Second, the Republican party uses its perpetual “ode to motherhood” as a way to cover up its treatment of women in general. How can we be anti-woman? They ask. We love moms! We think motherhood is the most important job in the world! Oh yeah? Then how about mandating paid maternity leave? How about offering national coverage of maternity-related medical expenses? How about government subsidized daycare? How about not shuffling their feet on the Violence Against Women Act? How about ending their tirades against the evils of “welfare moms”?

It’s all words, tactical words. That’s all it is. And I am sick of it.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • machintelligence

    Then how about mandating paid maternity leave?

    You want that from the Republicans? You might as well ask for the moon.
    I happened to be in Washington DC when my congresswoman, Pat Schroeder (D Colo.), was ramrodding the Family and Medical Leave Act through the house of representatives (1992). This act mandated unpaid leave, and you should have heard the Republicans scream. It was heartwarming to hear her hold their feet to the fire, since at the time, they billed themselves as the party of “family values”. You should have heard them complain about the inconvenience and expense of not being able to fire someone who needed to take unpaid time off for maternity leave or a family medical emergency. Back then the Democrats saw no reason to compromise, an Bill Clinton signed it into law in 1993. BTW Pat Schroeder had a real way with words: she was the one who stuck the epithet “the Teflon president” on Ronald Reagan.

  • http://amandajustice.blogspot.com Amanda

    Oh no no no… paid maternity leave would be an “entitlement program” and we just can’t have that! /sarcasmfontoff

    I hear ya, Libby. It’s maddening.

  • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

    Umm, I don’t think they love moms or any women. If they loved their own moms they would not be trying to cut Medicare. If they loved their wives who are moms, they would treat them as equals. If they loved moms in general, they would make sure there were plenty of opportunities to prosper.
    The loving moms thing is just a smokescreen.
    They do not love pre-moms because they are potential sluts. They do not love children because they are actively trying to cut programs, not only to lower economic families, but across the board to make sure opportunities cost a ton of money and only are available to a few. They do not love fetuses because they consider them a “just punishment” for sin.
    So what do they love? Themselves. Power and control. Money above all.

    • Karen

      This comment needs a “Like” button. Jaimie, you’ve summed the situation up well.

  • smrnda

    The only Moms the Republicans love are ones who never had sex before they married a guy who inherited his position of wealth and privilege and who has always done what is good for his family at the expense of the American worker. Moms who never had to balance work and home and who were able to delegate a lot of household and childcare tasks onto paid servants who, by virtue of accepting work, were always being neglectful mothers. They love the Moms who have benefited from economic inequality since their smiling ‘we’re regular folks’ bullshit gets eaten up by people so that there can be a whole lot more inequality to come.

  • Red

    Thank you for writing so eloquently about all this.

    The frustration with motherhood being fetishized to the degradation of the individual is something I’m very familiar with as a church-goer, also. I think it’s very pervasive in our culture, not just in the Republican party. The frustrating thing is, I know very few women who will admit to themselves that this is going on, and there is VERY little recognition anywhere for women who feel differently. As someone who wants kids someday but doesn’t want to automatically slide into everything that idealized motherhood is “supposed” to mean, it is extremely difficult to find role models. This has led to a lot of sadness and frustration in my life.

  • Meyli

    It makes me so mad too. I shouldn’t be outraged by the thought of having children!

  • machintelligence

    I went back to check on that Pat Schroeder quote and found another great one:

    I have a brain and a uterus, and I use both.

    For more see: http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/pat_schroeder.htm

  • Tricia

    Call me dense or maybe just immature, but I would have thought a unicorn horn lends itself more naturally as a phallic image? There may be more going on in that dream (and this post) than is apparent on the surface.

    In another life, I would be a Freudian analyst.

  • Falls Apart

    I’m sorry, I’m very confused, maybe someone could clear this up for me? =)

    Other than the CDC’s suggestion mentioned in the article, how do Republicans treat non-pregnant women as “pre-pregnancy”? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there’s not a cultural pressure for women to be mothers, and it’s possible that this pressure is more amplified in conservative circles, but by mentioning Republicans specifically, the implication is that this attitude has shifted to the political sphere. What legislation has there been to this effect? I seem to be completely uninformed!

  • Rilian

    Tangentially, I guess, a lot of mothers seem to fall for this and define themselves by their children. It’s not all of them, but a lot of mothers I know do nothing but talk about their kids, take their kids places, buy things for their kids, etc. But the fathers I know, even single fathers, don’t do that. I suppose there could be some people who feel good to live that way, but can it really be that common? I think they’re fooling themselves.

  • Rilian

    Also, if you don’t want to have a baby, don’t have sex, they say. But will they keep saying that when it’s their wife who doesn’t want to have a baby? Then they’d scream for birth control. Or they’d just rape her >:(

    • Danielle

      Married women can’t have unplanned pregnancies, don’t you know. If everyone would abstain until marriage, then birth control and abortion debates would magically disappear, they say.