What About Mothers?

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.

Female Politicians

It’s increasingly looking like Obama is going to win the nomination. But I haven’t counted Clinton out yet. I worry because I don’t think Obama could beat McCain, and I think Clinton could. But they both have serious “flaws”: Obama is inexperienced and black and Clinton is well, a Clinton, and a woman. One reason I think Obama will win the nomination is because, from a bigot’s point of view, Obama is the best kind of black and Clinton is the worst kind of woman. I also think that Clinton’s hurting herself with her stance on health care. Hers is the most expensive and includes the word “mandatory.” Americans don’t like being told what to do, even if it’s for their own good. (I remember the furor over mandatory seat belts and safety helmets.)

What I can’t understand is feminists who are for Obama. I wonder how many of them are second wave feminists and how many are third wave (and therefore younger). There could be a sort of ageism going on. Just like in the 60s when everyone over 30 was considered suspect, now it’s everyone over 50. I do hope that when the presidential election rolls around, the younger people in this country will come out in droves to vote. To judge by my own children, only 50% will. Maybe their ageism also makes them suspicious of politicians in general, most of whom are older than they are.

When I took one of my Women’s Studies courses, I made a plea in one class that the young women there consider a life in politics. None of them seemed interested. I understand that, but in my opinion it has to be changed. Too many people think that public office is unattainable, but it isn’t. Initially it takes preparation and perseverance. The money will follow if they get the following and the support of those already in office. There are organizations who will fund female candidates, like EMILY’s List and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.

Click here for the story of a woman politician in Buffalo, N.Y.

Click here for facts about women legislators in the U.S.

Click here for something that will make your blood boil!

Women and Power

As they took turns bowling, the five men talked about politics. Cliff Albea, a dissatisfied former Republican who stamps logos on cigarette packs for a grocery distributor, thought he might vote for Clinton because he liked her conviction about high gas prices. John Gilmore, a recently retired mechanic, favored Obama because “I can’t really bring myself to vote for a woman.” [From a story in the Washington Post on May 6, 2008 by Eli Saslow.]

I can’t help but wonder how many men–and women–in this country feel the same way as John Gilmore. There’s a lot of talk about how voting for Obama gives a black man a chance to advance, but you rarely, if ever, hear the media say that voting for Clinton does the same for a woman. I’m not proposing that anyone vote for Clinton just because she’s a woman. There are plenty of women I wouldn’t vote for. But she shouldn’t be counted out because she’s a woman either, no more than Obama should be counted out because he’s black. Like the days when black men got the vote before women did, racial discrimination is seen as the greater evil.

Why does John Gilmore feel the way he does? I don’t know for sure, but one reason could be that women are seen as being powerless in this society. It seems more fitting to many people to have a man in charge, “even” if he’s a black man. They feel that he’s more likely to get respect and cooperation than a woman is. Just because he’s a man.

There may be some truth to that sentiment. Look how Hillary was treated when her husband was in office and she tried to get somewhere with health care. Some of the criticism was that she was not an elected or appointed official and therefore had no place in the debate. But there was a lot of talk about her not knowing her “place”–as a woman. She was getting “uppity.”

It’s a double bind for women. They’re socialized to let men have the upper hand. So a woman who bucks the system is then denigrated for not having enough power. Men don’t want her to have it, but then call her inferior because she doesn’t have it. And if she does have any power, they insist that she doesn’t have enough to make it in a “man’s” world. The same world that took it from her in the first place.

No one uses the words “male chauvinism” these days but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It isn’t mentioned the way it was in the 60s and 70s because this society wants to believe that the problem of discrimination against women has been licked. That would imply that men have seen the error of their ways. Well, John Gilmore hasn’t. And I bet he’s not the only one.