Students will focus on several questions during the unit. They will first be asked to define Motherhood. What are a mother’s responsibilities? Motherhood in the biological sense consists of the ability to procreate and ensure that offspring is equip with the essentials for survival. All mothers make choices. By analyzing mating habits of nonhuman primates students will be confronted with similarities they have with humans. The leap from nonhuman primates to humans manifests the human need for emotional survival.
Infanticide will be reviewed and analyzed by students from the biological standpoint and a social standpoint. Infanticide is widely viewed by the western contemporary world to be the most heinous of offenses, especially for a mother. On the surface it appears to go against everything for which “motherhood” stands. The readings selected raise unique issues pertaining to infanticide. Is a mother only responsible for trying to maintain life? At which point does emotional happiness and well being transcend a mothers wish for her child’s survival. Do the two ever diverge? Students will review the behavior of gorilla mothers. Gorilla mothers manifest a great deal of affection and attachment to their offspring. When a breeding silverback dies and leaves the mother and her infant unprotected infanticide, or attempted infanticide is inevitable. Biologically this practice among Gorilla males is sensible. Offspring of other males is a possible threat. By eliminating offspring of others the male is free to produce his own offspring. The female gorilla usually mates with her child’s killer because that is the only option offered her. Surprisingly bachelor gorillas often attempt to kill infants of females who are protected. When this occurs females usually join with the offending male and mate with him. This is a horrific prospect when viewed through modern human society. However when the rationale for the gorilla’s behavior is offered it may be adapted to conform to the ideals of a “good” mother. “The female’s choice is imposed by the logic of violence, by the threat to her next infant. The new silverback has become her hired gun in an ape universe of silverback baby killers.”
By establishing the behavior of the female gorilla as the paradigm for maternal responsibility can we not trace some of the oppressive behavior we see manifested throughout the world?
Studies of infanticide in India point to reasons that reflect the female gorilla’s alleged logic. Economic necessity may be the “silverback baby killer” that Indian women are attempting to escape. Interviews with several poor farming couples in India reveal a humane excuse to justify infanticide. “We felt very bad, but at the same time suppose she had lived? It was better to save her from a lifetime of suffering.”
These novels are covered in the unit yet several others may be substituted and included. Sociological and political issues concerning women’s rights and reproductive issues also provide a broader approach to the issues presented.