Does the Mommy Movement Bother You?

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The Mommy Movement.

I have been doing quite a bit of thinking about how we identify and organize ourselves (good and bad) when an email landed in my in-box from a reporter looking for comment on the latest move toward organizing politically around motherhood.

Not surprisingly, I have an opinion: We don’t need more ways to divide society — especially on this dimension.

This supercharged motherhood contingent suggests that anyone who is not a mother lacks insights or value and is, by definition, a second class citizen. From where I sit, the elevation and lionization of mothers marginalizes women who couldn’t have children, chose not to have them or are single. A related problem with this carving out of society is that it implies that we who are not mothers don’t care about or can’t relate to children. Not true. I adore my nieces and nephews and want very much for children everywhere to live safe, happy lives with access to good health care and education opportunities. This may be news to the “mommy movement” but their efforts could backfire or alienate by appearing exclusionary.

I don’t vote “as a Californian” or “as an infertile woman” or “as a left-handed person” for that matter though all of the above are various aspects of who I am.

Welcome reader thoughts…

mommy movementMeanwhile, I also heard from the organizer of a non-profit organization called More to Life. This group aims to help those who are involuntarily childless.  So if mothers are in search of a good cause, how about helping those who are made to feel less than or invisible as a result of not being able to have children.

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UPDATED: You can read more about the topic of Motherhood Politics here at The American Prospect  in an article written by Kara Jesella. I found it curious that some
women didn’t get engaged or “radicalized” for political or community causes until they became mothers. Seems it was only because an issue mattered to their children that they took an interest. Kind of sad, actually. No wonder many live with the assumption that those who don’t have children don’t care about certain issues or other people’s children — they’re seeing the world through a “me and mine first” lens. Hopefully these mothers don’t pass along such insular views to their children.

32 comments

  • I’m in full agreement. That’s one of the major things that has bothered me with women running for office…playing the mom card.

    Because someone is a mom doesn’t mean they’re instantly qualified to do a job, and just because they’re not a mom doesn’t mean they aren’t.

  • Yes, it bothers me. I guess I don’t see how reproductive status, whatever it may be, relates to qualifications for a political career (or any other career for that matter). There are bigger issues to be discussed in this country at the moment.

  • Amy

    So this may sound simplistic and/or naive but I wish that we could just see people as people and STOP categorizing. It seems to me that no matter what side of the coin you are on there is a group that judges you … as a parent of a large family without a career outside the home I am judged just as much as the person who does not have any children! I just think that it is sad that we (or some) judge by these factors. Each person has different qualities, we can not be expected to like every quality of everyone BUT do have to file them with a title?

    Just my two cents!

  • Hey, your blog, your rules. : ) Personally, I am happy to see you posting again! And I totally agree with you & the commenters above me. I recently wrote a post along the same lines. The idea, whether implicitly or explicitly expressed, that non-parents are somehow lacking or lesser beings than parents, drives me up the wall. We’re no better, we’re no worse. Our lives are just different. We need to focus on the things that unite us & stop looking for & harping on the differences… build some bridges, as our friend Mel would say.

    Motherhood/parenthood is a wonderful thing… but it’s not the ONLY thing.

  • Diane

    “Organizing politically around motherhood”? Good Lord, for what? Aren’t we already a child-obsessed society? What more could these politico-moms possibly need? However, I realize that there is a contingent of people who believe that a woman really doesn’t achieve full maturity until she breeds and raises children. So maybe those politico-moms are smart for playing the mommy card to sway those folks who think their motherhood status gives them some sort of added credibility. (See: the Sarah Palin worshippers.) Personally, I’m not interested in the causes or opinions of women who define themselves merely by having bred, as I find them rather smug and tiresome. So they will not find an audience with me.

  • Glad to have a moment from you while on sabbatical:-)

    I agree, I think that if mommy’s want to make a difference, support those that can’t be one. I recently had an encounter with an ex-co-worker of mine and she was trying to congratulate me on being preg, but made a comment about “being a mommy is the best feeling in the whole world.” But when I had my m/c, she never said 2 words to me. When she said that statement, I felt slapped in the face. It was like I was less of a person unless I was a mom, and that my life couldn’t possibly be fulfilled and truly happy without a baby.

    I worked in a daycare for 10yrs, I’ve been the children’s leader at my church for 8 yrs, I have 3 nieces, 1 nephew…I don’t have a “child of my own”, but like you said, I still care and can relate with children. I have always had a comfort level and patience that others notice when it comes to kids.

    I agree…why do people always have to be in a category…when we’re all just people, trying to get through life…

    Thank you, again, for posting.

  • Deborah

    I have already had the “mom card” played the weekend Sarah Palin was nominated for VP. A friendship of over 25 years ended via an e-mail because I was told I could not possibly understand what it is like to be a parent. I was shocked and moved to tears to have someone who has children, tell me, yet again, that my opinion was of no value and that I was “an angry person” because I did not agree with her viewpoint or her Candidates choice for VP. Why her experience as a parent makes her views right and mine wrong…is a mystery to me.

    So yes, most definitely, the Mommy Movement bothers me to no end.

    Unfortunately, our Country has turned into a “team” mentality. It is very difficult to be a non-parent and a Conservative in this country because we are expected to pro-create. You would think that, at minimum, women could unite with each other on issues, other than motherhood. Instead it is driving women apart and they just do not care what people without children have to say at all. They want us to just “go away”.

  • Iota

    Like one of your other commenters has already said, it seems a shame for politics to divide rather than unite society. I mean, are there issues which mommies would all agree on that other people would disagree about? A few, perhaps, to do with maternity pay or whatever, but surely mommies aren’t a separate group. Too many of them, for a start.

  • Io

    Heh. I wrote a bit about this earlier in the week. I am really bothered by the Palin qualification as mom thing.

  • lynn

    It is certainly upsetting to think that being a successful woman in politics means that you must be a mommy. Pam you are correct in asking where is the single childless woman, infertile woman or woman who never wanted any children in such a scenario.

  • I’m a bit torn on this one. I guess I do think that women (not just mothers, but all women) often have something inherently different and valuable to offer – in art, in business, in politics, in society, and I do think that much of what I see as women’s potential gets marginalized or suppressed. (And I think we do it to ourselves, too – lest you think I’m just pointing the finger outwards.) I recognize and accept that motherhood can be a profound and galvanizing experience for many women, but it seems to me that in a perverse way, when we allow motherhood to be the defining issue for women, we are inadvertently returning to the time when biology was destiny, and motherhood was used to exclude women from spheres of public influence.

    In my heart, I am a revolutionary – I dream of a world that is very different from the one we live in today. And the world I dream of would receive the wisdom of compassionate women and men at all stages of life, with or without children. I think the contribution of women often boils down to a better understanding of the human heart and I reject absolutely any suggestion that motherhood is a requirement for that understanding, or for the desire to apply that understanding to making our world a better place.

    (On the other hand, the thought of sitting down and trying to come to a consensus with Sarah Palin on any topic just makes me shudder, so perhaps it’s really all about ideology and not life circumstance at all!) 😉

  • May

    I really don’t know what to say when people (including my own sister, argh argh argh) pull the ‘as a mother’ card. I am a professional with nearly-three degrees, a job in academia, and a long history of really caring about politics, and my opinions are worth less than someone who has had a kid’s? Really? Because amoeba can reproduce, and I don’t see anyone checking the state of the nation with them.

    Just because I want a child very badly doesn’t mean I assume I’ll be a better, more caring, more motivated person if I am lucky enough to get one. Quite the reverse, considering how tiring child-care is.

    I don’t know what mommy-card players expect me to answer. ‘As an infertile woman, I want all small children to be locked in sheds until they’re old enough to work in factories’? ‘Being childless, I want the world to disintegrate into war and poverty preferably by next Tuesday’? ‘

  • so nice to see you resurface, PJ!

    I for one have never been one to join any kind of cult. like some of the others above, I’m tired of people suggesting that someone would be qualified for anything based on her status as a mom, or that one would have intrinsically less value because she isn’t.

    what I want to know is when a certain political party decided to be all up in arms about sexism to begin with. but I digress.

  • shinejil

    There are wonderful, compassionate, intelligent women who mother, and there are horrible, violent, neglectful, self-absorbed women with children. Giving birth to a child and having children in one’s home do not equal any particular insights, abilities, or personal virtues.

    Though our society is obsessed with the image of motherhood, pregnancy, and the patter of little feet (as it’s great for marketing and manipulating), we consistently underfund universal quality education, children’s health care, nutrition programs for children, etc.

    To any woman who claims moral superiority over me because I have yet to have a child, I reply that I have traveled the world, learned several languages, and found common ground with people who would only baffle and scare many Americans. This was my choice, something I worked and suffered for, something I dedicated years of my life to. I don’t lord that experience over others, nor do I think it gives me special license to ignore other intelligent (note that key word) opinions.

    In short, I don’t think motherhood is an automatic plus on someone’s resume (as I mentioned, there are tons of terrible parents out there–just ask any social worker), nor do I think it should inhibit any woman’s choice of life’s work (be it inside or outside their home). I oppose candidates like Sarah Palin based on their political incompetence and religious fanaticism. What’s gone on in her womb is her business.

  • I completely agree. It started years ago with the media reporting how soccer moms loved Clinton. At this point, I think it is completely demeaning to women (all women) to think that I would vote for someone simply because of gender, race, marital status, # of children, etc. I think the whole thing insults my intelligence

  • sherylhs

    To everyone who has added a message to this post, I say AMEN to you all. As for me, am I tired of the ‘As a mother’ crap?? Hell, yes! Like another poster, I have 3 degrees and work at a major US university in biomedical research. Yet, I’m apparently a dumb ass when it comes to kids. On the other hand, I also grew up surrounded by children. I baby sat constantly through junior high and high school, and believe it or not, through college. I baby sat for 3 professors of mine during my first masters!! Not to mention spoiling the CRAP out of 3 nieces and 3 nephews. I do believe I ‘know about kids’ and I am so tired of being told that I don’t. Being a mother doesn’t make anyone, ANYONE, anymore qualified to run for office than it makes a father more qualified. End of story. And, I have to breed in order to ‘really feel love’ and to ‘really understand what it’s all about’?? Please. The converse of all of these arguments would also be that moms never cared about children — the welfare of children, etc., and didn’t ‘know’ a thing about kids until they had their own. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?? It should – it’s just as ridiculous as saying the rest of us are clueless and basically heartless because we don’t have children. Sorry – I know my bitterness is surfacing. Down, bitterness. My own mother has said in my presence that “your kids are what life’s all about! you haven’t lived if you haven’t raised kids.” Excuse me for not calling this weekend, mom, I’m still pulling that arrow that you threw out of my chest. And the last time I flew home, I was introduced to my brand new nephew. I held him and loved on him, but someone had to ruin it for me. My dad said “that’s not how you hold a baby.” Ok – holding babies is NOT rocket science. I was holding the baby just fine – the baby certainly looked perfectly content!! Next thing I know, my sister (with 3 kids to her name) held the baby, and my dad HAD to comment “now THAT’S how you hold a baby.” I submit that there was no difference in how we were holding that baby – but it hurt so much to hear. The reason it hurt is because I KNOW that’s exactly how society sees me — despite all my history with kids — as inept. Yes, I’m tired of the mommy card. The next time I hear someone say “As a mother . . . ” or anything of that nature, I’m having my dog pee on them. Yes, I’ve trained my dog so well, she goes potty when I tell her to. How’s that for potty training????

  • Good to hear from you, Pamela Jeanne! I hope that your sabbatical is proving productive.

    I want to echo all that the other commenters have already said. I have absolutely no doubt that motherhood is a deeply changing life experience, and have no problem with women who want to organise around that experience. What I do have an issue with is the assumption that those who either cannot or choose not to have children are somehow seen as less womanly, or indeed are positioned as second class citizens, by comparison.

    It is also frankly insulting to imply that, just because a woman is a mother, she is somehow inherently qualified for political office.

  • I don’t think I can say it any better than those who have commented before me. There is a school of thought that says the personal is political, so it’s no wonder that there is a move to politicize motherhood. As it’s beens said before, just because you’re a mother doesn’t mean that you have a moral superiority over anyone. I wonder if they consider adoptive mothers to be “real” mothers. How about the women who gave up their children to adoption? How about women who have had stillbirths or who have suffered infant loss? Can they join? You can see where this is going. Everybody seems to want to belong to a special interest group – when oh when will people figure out that we all breathe the same frigging air, occupy the same planet and suffer birth, sickness, old age and death?!!

  • I think everyone else has said it well. My blood has been boiling for 2 solid weeks on this topic, so I’ll leave it at that…

  • MLO

    There is an ugly truth about human beings that comes to the fore in every major election – we are tribal and divisive by nature. If it wasn’t the mommy issue it would be some other issue. We are hardwired to divide ourselves into smaller communities. Human nature isn’t going to change.

    What makes this bad is that the powers-that-be use it to divide people into sub-communities that really have no relevance to making real changes. What does it matter if someone is a mommy or not when the majority of Americans are facing major cuts in their lifestyles – including the ability to put food on the table? No, mustn’t look at the real issues – let’s make everyone talk about Sarah Palin being a mommy! Please, that has nothing to do with anything other than that she is probably a member of the quiverful movement. (Sorry, PJ, I will try and not fall into a diatribe about Dominionism masquerading as a legitimate political movement.)

    There are more important issues that need to be addressed right now.

    Now, everyone seems to forget that we live in a democratic republic – not a democracy. The idea is that special interest groups will not be too adversely affected. This mean that the majority (mommies) should not be allowed to dictate to or adversely affect the rights of the minority (infertiles).

    Personally, I’m not big on building bridges. Why not? It is a complex series of reasons that include my experience dealing with food allergy. People, generally, are not nice when they have to face something that either inconveniences them or makes them uncomfortable. I’m much more in creating oasis of safety and laws that protect minorities of all types from the idiocy of the majority. History shows us that the majority rarely acts in the interest of the minority.

    The “mommy” movement is nothing more than a way for the powers-that-be to distract from real issues such as privatization of the armed forces, decreasing living standards, and a variety of other issues that really need to be addressed. I don’t hold much hope that people will ever figure out the divide and conquer tactics that are used.

  • Bea

    Yes, it bothers me. I’ve no doubt that some people learned certain lessons through parenthood – patience, selflessness, love of children and the desire to protect them, etc etc etc all the cliches. Guess what? That’s not the only way to learn those lessons. When I hear someone say something like, “A child’s cry sounds much more heartbreaking now I’m a mother,” I feel like responding with, “Gosh, you must have been a callous bitch before!”

    Bea

  • I’m glad your back because there is so much more in life to blog about than having children!

    Some of the most mothering women I know are those who did not have their own children. The maternal instinct is more than just having children. Women who don’t have their own children have an important role as care takers for children, either as a support, big sister, stepmother, or adoptive mother. It takes a village…

  • The mommy card sucks, in all respects. How many men do you seeing waving the pappa card? How many female world leaders do you see waving that card? It’s an embarrassment and and insult to the history of this country to see Sarah Palin waiving that card. And in the event anyone needs any proof that Ms. Palin’s mommyhood doesn’t qualify her for VP, read this article:
    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/09/17/palin_mayor/

  • Renee

    I just found your blog. I can’t tell you how relieved I am after hours of reading through your entries.

    On this topic specifically, yeah, it bugs the heck out of me.

  • Carole

    AMEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Finally, a term to describe what I’ve been trying to describe for years…..

    I hate this little club and now that I’m finally pregnant (after suffering infertility for over two years) I’m even more annoyed that NOW, ONLY NOW, I seem to have received the secret decoder ring that will get me in the door. I don’t want to be part of the club if it means cutting other women down and making them feel less of a person just because they don’t/can’t/won’t have kids. Let’s all be the best person WE can be and let everyone else live their own lives!

    I swear on my life I will never make another woman feel the way my “friends” have made me feel. If I do, I’m going to wash my mouth out with soap several times over or throw myself in front of a bus. I have actually started a written list of things to avoid falling into that trap.

    I think as women (some, not all of us) struggle so much with our own self worth that we take joy in cutting other women down. If we steered all of this energy into working together (people with children and people without) we COULD change the world…

    I love your blog, by the way, and everyone that responds. You all make so much sense to me.

    • Pamela Jeanne

      I’m grateful to everyone for their responses and insights. I’ve often wondered — okay tortured myself second-guessing: Is it my imagination? Am I looking for trouble where there isn’tt any? Clearly, you’ve helped me see I’m not alone in this observation and experience. I’m relieved … and troubled that this sort of discrimination is so prevalent.

      Carole: Having been on both sides of the equation, you have a unique vantage point in this social experiment. Thank you for taking the time to weigh in.

      • Carole

        Thanks Pamela – I don’t post much, but your blog has always been such a source of comfort for me. You are so eloquent and I often read things you wrote and think: “I never thought of that!”

        Now, even though I am on the “other side,” I feel fraught with worry, a tad bit bitter and whenever I think about those trying to conceive who are not able (I know quite a few personally) it brings me to tears.

        I have a super fertile friend who is just bubbly, out of her gourd excited for me and I know she questions why I don’t feel the same. I don’t know how to explain to someone who hasn’t been there…… It’s like I’m waiting for a big ball of doom to drop. Does that make any sense?

        Anywho…….

  • Daisy

    It has been my observation that people in general fail to become involved until something “strikes close to home.” To say that “mothers” are the only proprietors of this phenomenon is not only irrelevant but idiotic. You will find that most of the people walking for breast cancer know someone who had it. I bet you would be hard pressed to find a member of Resolve who had not at some point dealt with infertility.

    If someone chooses to look at the work I do as a non-mother as invaluable then they aren’t very smart. I am a social work student who works with the elderly, supports Lupus and Alzheimer’s research, and works with homeless organizations in my community. A class member of mine has devoted 10 years of her life to working with troubled teens. She doesn’t have children. Does that make her any less passionate or good at her job? I think not.

    I think the most important thing here is to realize that we ALL have intrinsic and extrinsic value. Our life situations make us more inclined to lean one way or the other and IMO, that is the best part! If we all were the same kind of person living the same kind of life nothing would ever get done.

  • At this late stage in my childless life, I have decided that I don’t really care what the mommies think of me. I do have the best interests of children, as well as the poor, the middle class, ethnic minorities, gays, the elderly and the marginalized in mind when I vote, when I speak, when I think about Life and the Universe. One does not need to be a parent to understand the deep responsibility, great joy, and sometimes awful pain of parenthood.

    My theory is that because we are biological beings who at root have the drive to reproduce, society will most likely always assign huge rewards to the child bearing folk.

    What the mommies truly do not understand is the deep and abiding pain that lives within many who are childless. To assume, either way, that we did or did not want children is ignorance at its best. Because to not want children is a legitimate choice.

    To make smart remarks about my not having children is wielding a knife that cuts to the heart of who I am. Yuck!

    We all do the best we can to assign meaning to our time here on earth. To put all of one’s reason for existence into parenthood shows a lack of imagination.

    As a nonparent, I may well be more generous in my willingness to give up something that may benefit me personally for the benefit of the greater good. My sister, for example, gets absolutely hysterical over the thought that she may lose money toward her childrens’ college education even though the price may benefit those more in need.

    I wish the mother contingent would be less outraged over the “Mommy Wars” and more open to other points of view. I support them already.

    It’s a sticky wicket, I agree. But for gosh sakes I count too. It is not necessary that I give up all of my personal feelings of self worth and goodness just to validate “you.”

    • Pamela Jeanne

      You are a model citizen who can live in my community for as long as you choose! Wish more people had your sensitivity and big heart.

  • CC

    I agree with PJ. There are already too many things dividing society today, politically or otherwise. I think I’m fortunate to be a mom, but it’s not the defining characteristic of my life, or the single thing that gives my life meaning. And I don’t think it makes me better than anyone else; I just have a different set of experiences. I find the “As a mother…” folks kind of creepy in their insular one-dimensional way of seeing the world.

    Perhaps this hypothesis will help to increase mutual understanding. Maybe the “Mommy’s Movement” is a backlash of sorts, a response to how they think society perceives them. Generally speaking, after the women’s liberation movement, a woman’s employment/job/career became a way of defining a woman’s identity. If you didn’t have a job of some kind, well you didn’t “do” anything, did you? (even if you did have kids.) My own Mom (stay-at-home for years) said she felt she had to justify her existence to others when asked what she “did.” Maybe these moms felt that THEY were perceived as inferior, or even “second-class” because they lacked this status in society. That seems like something this blog’s contributors could relate to.

    It seems that this attitude persists today. At a high school reunion, the former school principal (a man) said to me, of my status as a SAHM at the time, “Oh, you’re just a mother then are you?” Verbatim. A good friend of mine said to me, while we were discussing some aspect of her new job, ‘Oh well, you wouldn’t understand because you don’t work 5 days a week.” (For the record, I had a 3 year old, was 8 months pregnant, was writing a Master’s thesis and had a part-time job. Yup, a real slugabed, that was me.) Years later, after she became a mom, I wonder if she ever realizes what an astoundingly dumb thing that was to say. (I also hope I’ve never said anything quite that callous either. I probably have though.)

    This is just my opinion. I’m not a sociologist. I just wish I could see a lot more acceptance of personal differences, and respect for an individual’s choices in the world, not so much “us and them.”