Rich describes her envy of a barren woman. A barren woman can be a woman who can't have children or a woman who simply does not have children. It can mean that the woman has chosen not the have children. If the barren woman is someone who has chosen not to have children, Rich contends that she may regret not have children and such a regret is a luxurious one to have. Again Rich is reiterating the idea that motherhood is not necessarily the ideal situation for all women and that some women even regret choosing motherhood.
This regret is present because motherhood robs the woman of self. Although a woman with no children has regrets about her actions she still has her privacy and freedom. Rich seems to place privacy and freedom strictly in the domain of women who are not mothers. Motherhood is therefore viewed as a weight or a burden to a woman.
In this passage Rich is again rejecting commonly held beliefs about motherhood. Rich explains that motherhood is something that some women regret and that not having children allows the woman both privacy and freedom. This is particularly interesting because it reiterates the individual though process and how that process is not necessarily consistent with commonly held beliefs about how women feel about motherhood.
Although in this particular instance motherhood is presented as a chioce, there are also passages throughout the book that suggest that women d not really have much of a choice as it pertains to motherhood. This lack of choice is due to the fact that women who are not married and do not have children are sunned by society. Traditionally and even in contemporary times this is a very true concept. Society seems to question a woman's legitimacy if she decides not to become a mother. With this understood, many women may "choose" to have children because they are conditioned to believe that it is the correct and acceptable thing to do as opposed to what they may desire to do.
In this instance, Rich is questioning the social norms which posit that a woman's worth is defined by motherhood. Instead she asserts that for some it is regretful. Not all women want to be mothers and although they may have some regret on such a decision, their regret pales in comparison to living without the privacy and freedom which is taken by motherhood.
As mentioned previously in the discussion, there is a dichotomous thought process that Rich presents concerning motherhood. Rich discusses how this dichotomy leads to female anger and the supposed consequences of such anger. Rich explains "Mother-Love is supposed to be continuous, unconditional. Love and anger cannot coexist. Female anger threatens the institution of motherhood (Rich, 46)"
Although Rich admits that she is sometimes angry about motherhood and all it entails she also display a type of rationality about the relationship between the coexistence between love and anger. In some ways she is questioning the idea that love and anger is not allowed to coexist inside the sphere of motherhood in the western world. Then in some ways she answers her own question by stating the female anger threatens the institution of motherhood. The institution of motherhood is threatened by female anger because it completely rejects the idea that women are always content and happy as mothers. If it was known or became generally accepted that not all women are content and happy, many women might "choose" not to become mothers. Therefore threatening the institution of motherhood, at least in the context of the western archetype.
In the book, Rich also laments about the idea that all women can be is mothers. Rich explains that
"Not only have women been told to stick to motherhood, but we have been told
that our intellectual or aesthetic creations were inappropriate, inconsequential, or scandalous, an attempt to become "like men," or to escape from the real tasks of adult womanhood: marriage and childbearing. No wonder that many intellectual and creative women have insisted that they were "human beings" first and women only incidentally…The body has been made so problematic for women that it has often seemed easier to shrug it off and travel as a disembodied spirit
(Rich 40) "
This idea that women shouldn't think or pursue intellectual endeavors is the opposite of the ideas espoused by feminism. Feminism takes an egalitarian approach to the rights of men and women. Furthermore feminism asserts that these equal rights should be both social and political. That is women should have equal rights in all spheres of life. This passage also explains that within society a woman's only two purposes are often seen as marriage and childbearing. Women are not viewed as having the capacity to do anything else than marry and become a mother.
This passage also presents the idea that women long to be thought of and treated as human-beings with feelings, thoughts and intellect. However, Rich presents the idea that the female body hinders women from being seen as such. They can only be seen as child bearers with no other possible contributions to society. Some women have recognized the "problem" that their body presents and would rather be disembodied spirits than exist in a world that can see past the function of their bodies.
Rich is using feminist thought and postmodernism to explain the way that women are often treated in their society. She addresses the way that motherhood is often viewed through the eyes of women and not through the prism of patriarchy. Rich presents that idea women are multidimensional. Marriage and motherhood in some cases are part of those dimensions but not necessarily. Rich implements a postmodern way of viewing this idea in that she focuses on the desire of individual women instead of making generalizations about women as a whole.
The body is identified as a machine in a patriarchal context, how is this an issue of power & control?
In the chapter of the book entitled "The kingdom of the fathers" Rich explains the role that patriarch plays in society. Rich explains that
"Patriarchy is the power of the fathers: a familial-social, ideological, political system in which men -- by force, direct, pressure or through ritual, tradition, law and language, customs, etiquette, education,, and the division of labor, determine what part women shall or shall not play, and in which the female is everywhere subsumed under the male (Rich 57)."
In other words men have control because they monopolize all of the aforementioned spheres. In monopolizing these spheres they have power over them and ultimately they have power of women. This power exist at every level of life, for the domestic, to the social, to the political. Patriarchy asserts that men are in control and can therefore dictate what occurs within a society.
Men even have control over women's bodies because they can by force direct, pressure or otherwise persuade women to conduct themselves in ways that are beneficial to the man and maintains a sense of patriarchy. With this understood women's bodies are used as machines to produce in both the domestic and economic contexts.
Indeed, Rich presents the female body as a type of machine, that is needed to produce children and sexually satisfy men. This is idea is most prominent in the following passage which describes the concerns of a woman whose letter is published in Margaret Sangers book Motherhood in bondage. In this particular letter the woman is inquiring about birth control so that she can have sex with her husband but still avoid pregnancy The woman writes "I am not passionate…but to try to treat the sexual embrace the way I should, be natural and play the part, for you know, it's so different a life from what all girls expect (Rich, 41)." Of this woman's inquiry, Rich posits
"The history of institutionalized motherhood and of institutionalized heterosexual relations (in this case marriage) converge in these words from an ordinary woman
…who sought only to fulfill the requirements of both institutions, "be natural and play the part" --that impossible contradiction demanded of women (Rich, 41)."
Rich further the states that this woman was seeking to gain some modest control over her own body. Rich also questions what compelled her to d this and concludes that it was a combination of three elements: her own voice, the needs of her existing children and the demands of her husband.
In this instance the woman writing the letter seems to understand sexual relations with her husband as her duty. It seems to be a mechanical function rather than a function of intimacy. In this ways the body of a woman acts as a machine to fulfill the needs and desires of the husband. She doesn't seem to demand anything from sex. She simply wants to be able to play the part without having to deal with the consequences of having additional children.