Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why Not Mothers First in Biographies?

EVER wondered why it is the case that in reading biographies of great and minor figures, the name of the father is almost always mentioned first than that of the mother? Not counting the cases of one of the parents being lopsidedly famous and powerful or influential over the other, the general trend has been that the father is almost always mentioned first. Notwithstanding if the father is a scum and it is the mother who served as major breadwinner. Even in the case of United States President Barack Obama whose father deserted them, his biographical page in the White House website cites his father first: “With a father from Kenya and a mother from Kansas, President Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961.”

Is such really the natural course to follow? Perhaps, because most human beings carry the surname of the father* it is deemed to be a most natural thing to mention the father first.  Or, maybe, it is thought that God of some patriarchal religion decrees it that way. Perhaps in the days of old when outdated thinking and stiff patriarchy ruled the world, citing the father’s name first was understandably standard operating procedure for historians and biographical writers. Today in a world enlightened by science and humanist philosophy, should fathers still come first?

If it is “natural,” we should abide by, is it not logical that the name of the mother–who carried the infant in her womb for 9 months and risked her life giving birth to the child–instead come first in the biographies of noted humans of this planet? Why should the father, whose paternity is not obvious or readily verifiable be mentioned first?

In the olden times when it was exclusively the men who eked out a living and financially supported the wife and child, such practice of crediting the paternal roots first over the maternal  can be justified. But even that is arguable from an objective, non-patriarchal viewpoint.

In the modern times when women also work, if not actually serve as the family’s main breadwinner, should it not be fair SOP to mention first the mother over the father. I mean, it is the woman, after all, who is the biological source of the child, notwithstanding the genetic contribution of the man. So long as there’s a (valid) witness to the pregnancy and the delivery, the fact of motherhood is always undeniable. It is the woman who suffers the discomfort and extreme pains of pregnancy/labor, and, usually, the responsibility of nurturing the child in the critical early stages of infancy. So why prioritize giving credit to the father whose paternity cannot be perfectly guaranteed unless the mother was under fool-proof eunuch-guarded house arrest for a few months before the estimated date of conception.

In the Philippines, there is a saying that ‘the grandparents can only be certain that a grandchild is theirs if it is the mother who is their offspring.’ Indeed, the marriage of, say, a son to his wife will not guarantee that any grandchild such a union produces carries the grandparents’ genes. The context of the saying is, of course, the traditional setup where DNA paternal testing was not yet available. However, even such DNA testing does not provide 100% accurate confirmation of paternity. Unless, perhaps, the procedure is repeated multiple times.

I say it is high time that humankind flow with the biological and reverse the patriarchal viewpoint of biography writing. Let the naming of mothers come first before that of the fathers. Mothers not only deserve first credit for all their pregnancy woes but, also, such a practice should provide more accurate, biologically founded biographical information.

*At least one exception is Sweden, as a Swedish friend informed me that couples have the option of choosing which surname (the wife or the husband) they wish to legally carry.


Photo credits


Mother and Son – Fruit and Flower Background
by Norma Belleza – 1996

Mag-Inang Nagpipili ng Bigas
by Cesar Amorsolo – 1983



President Barack Obama. White House website. http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/president-obama

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