Rants, Feelings & Opinions

Why One Mother-To-Be Likes the Term MILF

June 2, 2016
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Writer and mother-to-be Franziska Gaensler explores the origin of the term MILF, as well as the sexual identity of mothers in Western society, and the rise of MILF porn.

For 29 years I never thought much about my position in society; never felt the need to label myself as part of any subculture or other limiting system of identification. Then, almost nine months ago, I got pregnant. Luckily, I live in Berlin, which should be known as the global capital of rudeness, because even now, three weeks until my due date, nobody has started offering me seats on crowded trains. Car drivers still honk if I don’t cross the street quickly enough. In the public eye of the city, nothing has changed.

The odd thing is, while I would appreciate some consideration and courtesy, there’s a part of me that’s relieved whenever I’m in a social situation where no one mentions my pregnancy. I am not uncomfortable with becoming a mother, yet I seem to be uncomfortable with being perceived as one by society. The way motherhood is constructed in our culture just seems limiting to me, as if female identity is still perceived as a compartmentalized experience, as if the term woman does not carry the same possibility of many-sidedness as the term man does, but constantly needs further contextualization to apply to the given constructs of identity.

Think about sex. There is a quote by political theorist Iris Marion Young that states “patriarchy is founded on the border between motherhood and sexuality. Freedom for women involves dissolving this separation.” While women usually have to have sex in order to have a baby, the concepts of female sexuality and motherhood are rarely linked in Western society. Motherhood marks a transition from young to old, while sexuality is still primarily associated with being young, childless and unmarried.

A survey by sociologists Beth Montemurro and Jenna Marie Siefken from 2011 explains why many women find it hard to reconcile their sexual identity with their self-perception as mothers: With social expectations and language successfully reproducing the notion of their maternal obligation to take care of others before—or instead of—oneself, vocabulary denoting female sexuality is often influenced by religious or social taboos, describing the pursuit of sexual pleasure to be self-focused, indulgent, even immoral (think of the whole Madonna/whore debate). Additionally, the fact that mothers’ primary and secondary sexual organs transform into objects of giving birth, nurturing and childcare force further de-sexualization in their perception. In Siefken’s and Montemurro’s study, many women found it easier to cope with the topic when they emphasized their partners’ sexual needs and their own wish to satisfy those needs, suggesting that their partners’ were less affected by the transition into parenthood.

In the 90s, a term was created that linguistically combines the concepts of female sexuality and motherhood: MILF (Mom I’d Like to Fuck). It is an acronym invented to describe sexy mothers – women who are desired by their sons’ pubescent buddies, inheriting exactly what Iris Marion Young was rooting for: by linking the two formerly separated social concepts, the perception of female identity broadens.

In 2014, Pornhub released a statistic ranking MILF as their third most popular search term, closely followed by mom and stepmom. In 2013, a study published in the Journal of Sex Research analyzed the content of MILF pornography, and its findings suggest that the fascination with maternal themed porn seems to stem from a male desire to submit to a dominant female partner. The study not only documented the sexual dominance of MILFs, but also showed that 83% of the women had higher professional status than their male counterparts in clips where the characters’ profession was part of the plotline. The increasing popularity of MILFs in male-targeted pornography thereby seems closely connected to the social empowerment of women, reflecting an increasing male open-mindedness towards changes in social power dynamics.

If language always evolves with the need of its speakers, then the 90s seem to have made the invention of a term connecting female sexuality and motherhood necessary. New York Magazine links this necessity to the rise of Sildenafil (aka Viagra). Quoting Ian Kerner, therapist and author of He Comes Next, a sexual guidebook for women, the article states that the release of Viagra increased pressure to perform in the male target group, making “the idea of submitting to an older woman who can take charge (…) incredibly alluring”. While the linguistic invention of the MILF thereby primarily mirrors a male desire, the term seems to agree with the female need to escape the limiting constructs of motherhood. Although repulsed by the inherent objectification and crude terminology, many of the women interviewed by Montemurro and Siefken acknowledged “that the term actually recognizes that mothers can be sexual,” considering the identification as MILF a compliment. It seems to be a rare thing, that a term can move from porn into social acceptance and even mainstream pop-culture. The fact that MILF made that transition (think of Britney’s “MILF in training” shirt from 2004 or Mary-Louise Parker’s happy giggle when being addressed as MILF in Weeds), reflects the positive associations the term inherits for female speakers, as it seems to encourage women to reconsider and broaden the perception of their identity as mothers, partners, and women.

When reading about the concept of MILF, some authors critiqued the increasing pressure applied to women by society. It has been said that our society’s expectations of women to stay young and sexually attractive has now sadly taken over even pregnancy and motherhood. While I acknowledge the problems that accompany our society’s pressure to “be it all” and “have it all,” I believe this is another issue entirely. In my opinion, gender equality will only become a reality when the concepts of man and woman include the same notions of diversity, when both genders are equally disadvantaged or favored by social developments, and when both genders are equally free to choose which characteristics to inherit and which not to. Linguistic innovations such as the term MILF recognize a co-existence of different female roles and are thereby a step towards an equal perception of human diversity.

Returning to Iris Marion Young, if the result of dissolving the separation of sexuality and motherhood is freedom, then the term MILF must be considered a first linguistic step towards this result. And while I, in a few weeks, will be a mother, I would appreciate if the term MILF eventually became redundant, and the one term denoting my diversity and freedom could simply be woman.

Franziska Gaensler is a writer based in Berlin.

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