Can Men Be Good Mothers? Can AI Robots?

Uploaded 2/3/2022, approx. 23 minute read

I received several thought-provoking questions from a client of mine, despite having watched several of my YouTube videos talk about indomitable courage. Anyhow, she raised a few fascinating questions related to several of my videos.

I would like to respond to these questions as briefly as I can, which means this video is going to be shorter than the normal three hours.

Yes, yes Shoshanim, I know you don't like long videos, you don't like long anything lately and we will not go into sordid details.

Okay, my name is Sam Vaknin, I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, and a professor of psychology.

And these are the questions and really they are very interesting ones.

She asks, what does it mean to be a mother? When we say that it is clear that a child needs a mother, is there a marked difference between a biological mother and a non-biological mother?

I'm thinking about children born to surrogates, not just those adopted. Is there a difference between a biological mother and a mother figure, a grandmother, an aunt? Can a man, she asks, ever really play the role of a mother?

Example, two children of gay male couples. Could a man be a good enough mother?

These are excellent questions in today's world.

When Donald Winnicott came up with the phrase good enough mother, which embodied a whole conceptual universe of thinking about motherhood, at that time there was no sex fluidity, there were no transgenders, there was no gender fluidity. Everyone knew his place and your place in society was strictly determined by your genitalia.

There was this hidden assumption that your genitalia are somehow correlated with your brain and therefore with your proper place in society. There was the belief that optimization of social functioning critically depends on very rigid gender roles.

So when he said good enough mother, he was thinking about someone with a vagina who is a woman gender wise and who fulfills her domestic roles because these are the only roles open to her.

Things have changed a bit since then. Hillary Clinton. And so we now tend to think in a much less rigid way, much more flexible and transgendered. We are more open to fluidity in almost every one of the words I had just mentioned.

Let us start with the fact that mothering is a social function. It has nothing to do with what kind of genitalia you possess. It has nothing to do with your assigned gender role. It has nothing to do with anything except the role assigned to you by society. It is a job and it has a job descriptions with qualifications and anyone with any type of genitalia or in transition between genitalia or in flux between genders, anyone can fulfill the role of a mother.

And this raises, of course, immediately in the minds of those of you who are intelligent, a minority admittedly. This raises the question, what is the role of a mother?

Mother's main role is to frustrate the child. Her main role in the upbringing of her child, of her offspring, is to push the child away.

I'm going to repeat this because it's counterintuitive and many of you will not, again, hear Vaknin's nonsense. Listen well.

Mother's main role, the main function of mothering, is to frustrate the child, not to cater to the child's needs and to push the child away from her.

This process is called separation individuation. A good mother, definitely a good enough mother, allows the child to separate from her, encourages the child to separate from her, and by separating from her, the child becomes his or her individual, divisible from her.

And the individual forms when boundaries form.

So a good mother encourages the child to create boundaries, fosters and engenders boundaries in her child, never challenges the emerging boundaries of the child, this nascent adolescence, and never ever breaches the boundaries, never violates the boundaries.

Now there are many ways to violate the boundaries. And all these ways put together are known as child abuse.

Yes, this is child abuse. Child abuse is when the child is not allowed to separate from the mother, become an individual, and set boundaries separating the child from the world and from the mother, most importantly.

To pedestalize the child, to idolize the child, to pamper the child, to smother, to spoil the child.

These are forms of abuse because they don't allow the child to separate from the parent, to instrumentalize the child, to parentify the child. These are forms of abuse because the parent and the child merge and fuse and become a single psychological organism, something that is replicated later by co-dependence and to some extent people with borderline personality disorder.

The child is not allowed to separate. To sexually abuse the child is, of course, to breach the child's bodily boundaries. Same with physical abuse, same with psychological and verbal abuse. They penetrate, they invade, they vitiate the child's boundaries, psychological boundaries.

Everything is about boundaries. A good mother sets her child apart behind his boundaries or her boundaries, the child's boundaries, so that the child can get in touch with reality.

By pushing the child away, the mother forces the child to get in touch with reality.

Initially, the child develops grandiosity. He says, I don't need mommy. I can take on the world.

That's healthy. That's a healthy form of narcissism, as Jung had observed.

But to do that, the child needs to feel safe. He needs to feel that mommy has his back. Mommy supports him and eggs him on. Mommy wants him to go away on this enormous adventure called life, touch upon reality, create a proper reality testing, get rid of magical thinking.

Because the child until then believes that if he wants something, mommy will deliver. And because he and mommy are one and the same, he develops magical thinking. He just has to think about something or cry and things happen.

This is magical thinking. By putting the child through the trauma of separation, because it's a very traumatic event, potentially the most traumatic in life, by forcing this trauma upon the child, the mother actually encourages the child to get rid of magical thinking and to develop a reasoned, logical, rational way of looking at the world and connecting actions to consequences.

So to summarize this paragraph, a mother's main role is to traumatize the child, to frustrate the child, to push the child away, to encourage a child to become separate from her, to render the child an individual, to foster in the child a proper reality testing, and to get rid of the child's magical thinking.

And at the same time, at the same time, there's a fine balancing act, because the mother needs to continue to be throughout this process, a safe, a secure base. A safe base means she needs to be present, she needs to be empathic, attuned to the child's needs and child's fears and anxieties, caring enough to do something about these things, holding and containing, loving unconditionally, and yet demanding from the child certain accomplishments, milestones in the child's development.

And not many, not many mothers know how to do this. Not many mothers know how to balance these utterly conflicting demands.

On the one hand, to be a safe base, and on the other hand, to push the child away. On the one hand, to love and care for the child. On the other hand, to frustrate the child. On the one hand, to be empathic and loving. And on the other hand, to traumatize the child.

Not many mothers know how to accomplish this equilibrium. The child is poised on the cusp of what is called object relations, relations with other people. He needs to say goodbye to mommy. He needs to internalize her, introject her, and carry her with him for the rest of her life, as a mere voice.

And the mother needs to let go. She cannot allow herself to be absent or selfish or depressed, to infantilize herself, to parentify the child, to use the child as an instrument, to realize her unfulfilled dreams and fantasies and wishes. She can't do any of this if she's a good enough mother.

And regrettably, few mothers by these definitions, by these criteria, few mothers are good enough mothers. The mother should prepare the child on four different planes, four different levels.

First of all, she should teach the child about physical reality. Don't touch the oven. It's hot. The stove is going to burn you. Don't do that. Don't drink this. It's going to have a bad effect on your tummy. Don't overeat. I don't know, bananas.

Physical reality.

The mother needs to introduce the child to physical reality. Physical reality includes the playground, the sandbox and other children at first as objects. Her job is to train the child to survive, corporeally, bodily survive in his environment.

Most environments today are urban, urban environments. So she needs to teach him everything, how to cross the street. So physical reality.

Second, second level of training, second level of induction into the human race, into mankind, which is the role of a mother, is social reality. The mother is a socialization agent. She is an agent of society. The father has a similar role, but we have discovered recently, definitely in the last 15 years, what psychoanalysis discovered long ago, that the father's role is much, much less important than the mother's role, even when socialization is concerned.

The mother is the agent and representative of society. And she inculcates in the child the ability to read social cues and the social skills to respond to them. She integrates the child in peer groups on the one hand, and with other adults on the other hand.

Socialization teaches the child what are the under with the overriding values of society, the universal values, what behaviors are acceptable and which are not, what is empathy, and how it manifests in interactions with others, how to interpret body language, facial expressions and micro expressions, advances.

So socialization, the third level, where a mother has a major function, is as a conduit to the Germanic culture, to the dominant culture. This process is called acculturation. She immerses the child in the prevailing culture by telling him stories, fairy tales, fables, exposing him to mass media and social media in, you know, gradual way, incremental way and controlled way. And so she exposes the child to the culture, the dominant culture, thereby rendering him a part of this culture, not necessarily the conforming part, he could be a contrarian, he could fight the culture, but he needs to get to know the culture, to make a stand, to take a stand later on in his life.

And so she channels the culture and brings it to her child.

Finally, the mother is the one responsible for primitive skills acquisition, basic skills acquisition. Fathers usually assume this role later in the child's life after age five or six, after the formative years, but until age five or six, the mother is the one who teaches the child's all the necessary basic skills, starting, of course, with walking, walking, later on, much later on reading and writing in between talking, walking and talking to critical skills. She teaches him myriad other skills, anything from toilet training, to dressing, to brushing teeth, to cooking with mommy, to eating how to eat. So she teaches him hundreds of skills.

And this is an underrated function of motherhood.

Is there any of this? Is there any of these things that cannot be done by a mother figure? No, any mother figure would do. Is there any of these things that necessitates a biological connection between the mother and the child? No, none of them. Any surrogate mother, any adopting mother, any mother figure, like a grandmother or an aunt, they can all carry out these roles to perfection. They need to be good enough mothers.

And as I said at the beginning of this presentation, it's a job. It's not a job. They need to apply for the job. They need to have the necessary qualifications, and then they can be good enough mothers.

The biological connection is spurious, is not really an integral part of mothering.

Indeed, in many parts of the world, children are brought up by uncles, or by a whole tribe, or a whole village, or by an extended family, or by their cousins, and so on and so forth.

Many types of people and institutions and communities carry out the functions of mothering.

In the kibbutzim in Israel, children, now that's not the case, but it used to be the case, the children were taken away from their mothers and raised by professional caregivers, professional caretakers, and the mothers saw the children only intermittently once a week on the weekend.

And yet, children who grew up in the kibbutzim are by far the most mentally healthy, productive, and constructive adults in Israeli society. They constitute a vast majority of all Israeli elites, and yet they have not been raised by their biological mothers, but by mother substitutes.

Okay, we move on, and the next question, thought-provoking question from my client, what does it mean to be a woman? Is there a fundamental biological script that we are overriding or merely social expectations that we are shunning?

But before I answer this, I would like to dwell on the question, can a man ever really play the role of a mother?

For example, in a gay couple, could a man be a good enough mother?

I guess that by now you know the answer. Of course, a man can do all this. Anyone, theoretically, a computer can do all this.

That properly constructed Android with artificial intelligence absolutely can fulfill all these functions. Successfully, anyone, regardless of genitalia, regardless of body composition, silicon or carbon, regardless of anything can fulfill this role.

The only ones who are likely to fail in being good enough mothers are people, men or women, who have mental health problems, who carry a baggage of insecure and insecure attachment style, borderline personality disorder, other problems, narcissism, narcissistic personality disorder, other mental health issues, bipolar, for example, disorder.

So people with mental health issues, probably an insecure attachment style, probably will have extreme difficulty in being good enough mothers, but men definitely can be good enough mothers.

And in the future, 50 years from now, properly constructed robots with human-like skin, you know, indistinguishable from humans, and with the right AI, artificial intelligence program, they can be good enough mothers.

Good enough mothering is a function, a job, and a mother goes to work with her child. It's a workplace. That's what men fail to appreciate. The household is a workplace, perhaps the most onerous and demanding of all workplaces.

So what does it mean to be a woman? Is there a fundamental biological script that we are overriding or merely social expectations that we are shunning?

Well, there is a god awful confusion between sex and gender. Sex, we used to think of sex, we used to believe that sex is biologically determined by something called gametes, certain type of cells, sex cells. We've honestly and firmly and sincerely believed until well into the 1960s that sex is exclusively determined by gametes in a sexual differentiation process during the pregnancy. And the people are born either men or women, either male or female, I'm sorry.

So sex is about being male or female.

Today, we know a lot more. And we know that about 2% of people are born with an indeterminate sex. We also know that hormonal cascades, hormonal developments in later life can absolutely change one's sexuality and end psychosexuality to the point that one has gender dysphoria, which is a bad name, a bad label, it should have been sex dysphoria.

So we know that someone can be born as a man, but having been exposed to certain hormones in the womb, but later on in life, etc, etc, he can definitely feel that he's a female. He's born male, but he can feel that he's a female and vice versa.

So there is the concept of sex fluidity.

Regrettably, it is hyped beyond measure, but it does exist.

I also see nothing wrong in adolescence experimenting with sexual identities. Sooner or later, all adolescents settle on a single sexual identity.

Now this sexual identity can be bisexuality, can be bisexuality, can be, it doesn't have to be male-female. We have about, I think, eight or nine sexual identities nowadays, which are recognized and recognizable and documented in literature for thousands of years, by the way. So I don't see anything wrong in an adolescent experimenting.

Actually, adolescents had always experimented with homoeroticism and homosexuality, even in the 1940s, even in the 1920s, even in the 19th century.

People, when boys were growing up, they were experimenting with homosexuality. It was a well-known documented phenomenon.

So people experiment as adolescents, and then they settle on a single, usually lifelong identity, and there is tight constancy after that.

So sex is largely dependent and largely determined biologically, but people can transition, and there is sexual or sex fluidity. And in adolescence, it might even be a good idea to encourage people to explore the whole range until they can conveniently and safely and comfortably settle into a single sex, sex kind of role.

So this is sex.

While sex, in something like 90% of the cases, is determined at birth and is stable across the lifespan, gender is a completely different thing.

Now remember, sex is male, female. We have sex in all the animal kingdom, male and female.

Well, all the advanced organisms have sex, definitely mammals have sex, like male and female. Sexual reproduction is the favorite strategy in nature.

If we ignore, for example, protozoa and microbes and so on, and if we talk about evolved, complex organisms, sexual reproduction is by far the favorite strategy of nature.

We transfer genes, usually onwards, intergenerationally using sexual reproduction. So this is sex, and one could say pretty safely that sex is fixed.

At the margins, there are people who are fluid and they can transition from one sex to another, but sex is a pretty fixed thing.

Not so gender. Sex is male, female. Gender is men, women. Men, women is a social, cultural construct. It has no foundation, no real strong foundation in biology.

It so happens that people with vaginas were assigned the gender of women, and people with penises were assigned the gender of men. And people with penises were assigned the gender of men.

But there is no biological foundation to decide that a specific gender role should forever be assigned to someone with a specific set of genitalia, or that a specific gender role should be universal across all periods of history, in all societies, all cultures, and all geographical regions.

Actually, this is counterfactual. It's not true.

Gender roles, there are like thousands of gender roles throughout history in various cultures, societies, periods, etc. Gender roles are inverted in northern Albania, which is a highly traditionalist and conservative country. There are women there who are considered to be men and treated as men.

Gender roles are inverted in many, many tribes in Africa, in Latin America, in the Amazon, etc.

Many primitive early societies had inverted gender roles, including passages in the Bible.

Gender is not a fixed thing. Gender is a social convention, essentially, and the outcome of upbringing.

To start with, as Butler had noted, gender is performative. It's a performance. Gender is what men do, how they act, including in sex. Gender is what women do, how they act, their choices, including in sex.

So sex is, sex underlies gender and kind of, kind of integrates with it in some way, but as a performance.

When you grow, when people grow up, they are being consistently told, girls don't do this, boys don't do this, this is the way you should be in, to be a man, to grow up and be a man.

This is the set of actions, choices, decisions, body language, etc. that you should adopt. It's a stereotype, it's a role, and people are brought up to perform these roles.

So gender is performative. Gender is also the outcome of socialization.

Society wants us to perform specific roles.

For example, there was a period in human history where society valued children very much, especially, for example, during the colonial times, when they needed surplus population to take over colonies. So during that period, 1817, 18 and 19th century, women were encouraged to stay at home, reproduce and raise children. Society needed it. Men were encouraged to be testosterone laden, aggressive and so on because society needed soldiers. Societal needs shape and determine gender roles.

Today, for example, society needs women to be promiscuous. They need them to not have committed relationship. Society needs women to not have committed relationship. Society needs women to postpone, delay marriage and not have children.


Because society wants women to be, to integrate in the workforce, to integrate in the workforce and to become consumers.

The overriding need of society today is to equate gender roles, to make, to create a uni-gender where everyone, regardless of genitalia, is a consumer and a producer.

Now children get in the way of this. Families, marriages, marriages, committed relationships, intimacy, they get in the way of profits and income and consumption and production, which are the ultimate values. They are the gods of today. They are the idols of today, money, the bottom line, profits.

So these are the values of today.

So gender roles today had shifted to reflect these social preferences.

Similarly, gender roles reflect dominance, submission. Men are supposed to be dominant. Women are supposed to be submissive.

Now everyone in the manosphere will tell you this is the natural and biological way of things. That's utter unmitigated nonsense.

In numerous species, it is the female who is super dominant and the male who is submissive. There's nothing in nature that preordains this. Nothing in the biology of men and women determines who will be dominant and who will be submissive.

Yes, men have higher muscle mass. They have more muscles.

Women, by the way, are better adapted to modern, postmodern society and its exigencies and demands. But men for a very long time during the agricultural and early industrial revolution, men had leveraged their muscles to dominate society and exert control over women, subdue, subjugate and submit them.

But this is a historical accident. Had we started with the, for example, had we started with the industrial revolution or the information revolution in ancient Babylon? We would have had a matriarchy. Men would have been nothing. They wouldn't be dominant. They would be submissive.

Indeed, in many societies throughout history, there were matriarchies. Women were in control. They were dominant.

In quite a few societies to this very day, women married multiple men. And today in the West, 43% of primary breadwinners, the providers, those who bring the money, those who bring the bread home, those who bring the money home, they're women, 43%. And about half of all children are raised in single parent households, majority of which are women.

So dominance and submission is a socially imposed interpretation of what it means to be a woman and an integral underlying foundation of gender roles.

Then there is the issue of gendered personality. We are taught to become gendered. Part of our identity formation is our gender.

It's not like you're an accountant. Your identity is not that you're an accountant. Your identity is that you are, I don't know, a man, a woman.

So gender, masculine, feminine, is an integral part of your identity, unlike, for example, your profession or your academic accomplishments or degrees or whatever.

And so we are taught from an early age that this job, this job, it's a job of being a man, this job of being a woman, this job of being a father, this job of being a mother, this job of being a masculine, this job of being a feminine, these are jobs, these are absolute jobs. We are taught that these are the only jobs that are part of our identity.

If you later become a PhD, that's not part of your identity. If you become an accountant, that's not part of your identity, but if you are training to be a man, that's part of your identity. If you are about to become a mother, that is part of your identity.

We took a set of jobs, a set of employment opportunities, and we made them a part of our identity. And they are not. They should not be.

That you're a man or a woman should not be a part of your identity because that is a societal imposition in accordance with society's needs, not your needs.

Now you may feel comfortable being a man or a woman. No problem with that.

But just try to not feel comfortable and you will see the societal backlash against, for example, transgendered and transsexual people.

So masculine and feminine are narratives, societal narratives that tell you that you can't have a complete and whole identity if you don't have a gender, even though a gender is total fiction. It's a job.

And finally, there's the issue of boys and girls. We can't ignore the fact that women raise both boys and girls, children, regardless of their genitalia, are raised by women.

Now, that creates an asymmetry in the way boys and girls are raised.

Naturally, women have more affinity to girls, even if they don't admit it, even if they are totally infatuated with their boys rather than their girls.

It's still, studies have shown that women raise girls differently to the way that they raise boys.

For example, they are much more emotionally open and empathetic with their girl children than they are with their boy children.

Gradually, boys learn to separate from the mother, not only in a good way, but in some ways, in some dysfunctional ways, in some not-so-good ways.

They learn, for example, boys learn, for example, that to express one's emotions is unmanly.

Now, men today are softer. They're more effeminate. In other words, they had adopted some elements of the feminine gender role.

But still, they're very averse to expressing emotions, crying in public, admitting to vulnerabilities. They're much more averse than women.

There is a mountain of studies on this. And why are they averse?

Because that's the way they had been brought up by their mothers. The mother broadcast to the boy, to the boy child, the mother broadcast, I am much closer emotionally to my girl than to you.

And the boy takes this on board and he understands that he shouldn't burden his mother and impose on her his emotions because she reserves her emotions to the girl, not to him as a boy.

Now, this has been documented and observed. And actually, it constitutes one of the arguments in modern philosophy.

Theoretically, the presence of a male, the presence of a father should balance this, but it doesn't.

It doesn't because women monopolize the formative years, zero to six, absolutely monopolize.

Psychodynamically, the father has an extremely limited function before the age of six. And this is the critical age where we get all the messages that tell us how to be, who to be.

So our identity formation, these are the critical years. We become who we are. We have identity diffusion well into age 21.

But the figments, the elements of our identity, we acquire these in the first formative years where mommy is in charge to the exclusion of daddy and boys get a different treatment, bordering on discrimination.

Even if they're loved and adored and admired, they're loved and adored and admired in a way different to girls.

It could well be one of the main reasons for the current gender wars and the problems between men and women.

This is my commentary on the questions.

I wish to thank my client for raising them. I hope I provoked your thoughts as she had provoked mine.

Thank you for listening.

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