Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mothers Are Women, Too

Mary Elizabeth Williams, a happy and proud mother of two girls, wrote this past week that Mother's Day

is not going to be a great day for everybody. It’s hard for people who’ve lost their moms. It’s hard for those who had crummy moms — and believe me, it hasn’t escaped my notice that in our cultural glorification of motherhood, the fact that a lot of women who’ve had children have done a piss poor of raising them seems to get conveniently left out a lot....

I certainly know several childfree women, and I’d say the number of them I’d describe as selfish, shallow and self-absorbed is dead even with the number of mothers I’d describe that way. That’s why I’ve never understood women who circle the wagons and shut out their childfree friends once they cross over to Motherland.

Though gracious and generous enough to avoid the term, Williams recognizes that people can be awfully patronizing about motherhood:

I recently had a conversation with a fellow mom in which we wound up passionately disagreeing about the concept of motherhood itself. She argued that you can be a “mother” even if you haven’t had children; you can be a mother of ideas, of enterprise. I countered that “woman = mother of something” is a label not every woman wants or aspires to. And while my status as a mother is in my heart easily the biggest, best aspect of my life, it is not the only one. It is not the sole thing that defines me, the only identity I have, the single thing I’d want to be remembered for. It’s sure as hell not my “job,” and I deeply resent the relentless categorization of women’s personal lives in professional terms, like we have to call it a job for it to matter. You’ll notice you rarely hear fatherhood described as the best job in the world. If you want to call something my job, then pay me for it. Motherhood is the thing I volunteered for and I’m completely fine with that.

Recognition that being a mother is (usually hard) work but not a job is nothing new for Williams, who thirteen months ago explained

Aside from the fact that I harbor no illusions that what I do in raising my children is more difficult than, say, defusing IEDs or putting out oil fires or finding cures for cancer or being a sweatshop factory worker, I also don’t consider motherhood my job. I have a career, one that’s satisfying and challenging and for which I get paid. But being a mother isn’t a job any more than being a spouse or a daughter or a friend or, let’s not fail to mention here, a father is. Oh, it’s work, make no mistake, physically and emotionally demanding work. Work that many of us chose and love. But it isn’t a job and it sure as hell isn’t on a higher moral plane than many other forms of work.

The "job" thing has been effective political strategy for many companies. The video (below) from Boston ad agency Mullen for American Greetings CardStore includes a woman referring to a "sick, twisted idea," which would be an apt description for the promotion itself.  Williams concluded

The fact that I have had and am raising children is not a résumé item. It’s not something I “gave up” my life for. It’s sure as hell not a competitive act, one in which I somehow get to beat out every person who isn’t female or doesn’t have kids for best and most. And I don’t appreciate messages that seem to build women up while essentially telling them that nothing they can achieve in life matters more than having babies. You want to thank women, want to show women they have value? Close the wage gap. Challenge the insidious rape culture that exists in the military and in our colleges. Join the fight for our reproductive rights, so we can decide when and if we choose motherhood, safely. Don’t pat us on the head and minimize our contributions outside of the domestic sphere. You think motherhood is thankless, hard work? So is feminism. How about you celebrate that?

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