What About Mothers?

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From “The Mommy Mantra” in the Jan. 19, 2007 issue of The American Prospect:

“History shows that women gain influence when they separate themselves from constricting domestic ideology — not when they internalize it.”

That’s a fancy way of saying that coming across as motherly in any way hurts a woman’s chances in a man’s world. I say: then change that world so that it includes women who are mothers. Feminists who denigrate women like Nancy Pelosi for showing her maternal side are just as bad as male chauvinists. They’re saying that a woman needs to act like a man in order to get ahead.

That’s hogwash. Certainly each woman needs to make her own decisions as to how much she will allow the public or her employers see of her personal life–whatever it is. But why should she have to hide something that matters deeply to her if she wants to share it? And why should she have to pretend that being a mother isn’t important? It isn’t just women who are affected by this attitude. Men, too, are typically taught to not make a big deal out of being fathers for fear of being thought of as weak or sentimental, which is exactly how feminists who show their maternal side are seen (sometimes by other feminists).

Not all women are mothers. But that doesn’t mean that a mother’s concerns shouldn’t be considered. Ironically, when mothers’ needs are being met, the whole world benefits. There is an organization called MomsRising that has a very specific platform of what they think needs to be changed in this world: Maternity and Paternity Leave, Open Flexible Work, TV and After School, Health Care For All Kids, Excellent Child Care and Realistic and Fair Wages. That’s just a broad overview of what they stand for (and a way to spell “Mother” in case you didn’t get that). What man or woman or child wouldn’t benefit from these initiatives?

May 11th is Mother’s Day. It would be a good day to think about what mothers can and do bring to the world at large. Their influence is felt there whether we like it or not. But so far it hasn’t been enough, partly because there aren’t enough mothers in public office or management. Mothers should be more vocal, not less. They should not have to apologize or shrink from the fact that they have had children. That doesn’t make them lesser human beings; if anything it broadens their horizons. I don’t know how many women I’ve met who have said that becoming a mother made them grow up. They now have a broader perspective about what’s important in life.

There is no force in the world like a mother protecting her own. It’s no accident that the most vocal critic of the war in Iraq is a mother. (Cindy Sheehan) But she is often treated like a crank because those in power don’t want to–no, make that don’t have to–listen to women in general and mothers specifically. We have to change that. Join organizations like MomsRising. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Support women running for or in public office and defend their right to be mothers as well as politicians. Run for office yourself. And above all, teach your children that they need to be concerned with the needs of all people, not just people exactly like themselves.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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