Our Country’s Psychotic Obsession with Motherhood is Psychotic

One of the many reasons I have never wanted to become a mother is that becoming a mother meant becoming a mother. That is, to anyone who saw me, referenced me, or identified me, I would cease to be “Sylvia,” cease to be a “woman,” and would be only a “mom.” Someone who raises children – period. At the same time, my husband would somehow retain his identity – his name, the fact that he is a man, an individual – with “father” or “dad” added to the many roles he plays.

Not me. I’d just be a “mom.”

The Today Show over the last several weeks has proven that I wasn’t being overly dramatic or paranoid to anticipate that a loss of personal identity would accompany motherhood.

It began with “Coma Mom.” Coma Mom Defies the Odds, the Today Show reported in early September. Click the link, and it’s “Mom defies the odds after devastating accident.” It’s an incredible story of a woman’s (sorry – a Mom’s) survival after a family vacation goes horribly wrong.

But what does the fact that the woman is a mother have to do with the story? I wondered.

Maybe they called her “coma mom” instead of “coma woman” because she was on vacation with her family – which includes children – when they noticed her missing during their moped ride.

I thought, “Maybe this is an isolated incident. Maybe they call her a ‘mom’ for a reason.”

But then the Today Show, in one single day – today -, offered further evidence that there’s definitely an imbalance in how our society perceives parental roles.

“A 67 year old California man is lucky to be alive today after his car plummeted off a mountain road into a ravine,” the Today Show’s Natalie Morales said. “His family found him on Thursday during their own search. He may have been stranded there for up to six days.” He drank creek water and ate leaves and bugs to stay alive. That’s one dramatic story, all right.

And he had children – children who found him in the ravine. Yet – he’s a “man,” not a “dad.”

An oversight? Maybe, I thought. But then:

The Today Show aired the story “Mom reinvents herself” about a fifty-something woman who, after she and her husband lost their jobs, decided to use the escape-artist skills she’d been practicing since she was 17 to earn a living. Not one word in the story about her children. They had nothing to do with her decision, weren’t interviewed, and didn’t even show up in the form of a picture on the wall. Still, she’s a “mom” – while the man in the previous story, the one found in the creek by his wife and children, is a “man.”

The Today Show obviously isn’t the only media outlet that does this.

Do we place so much value on the role of “mom” that once a woman has children, she ceases to be anything else? Do we place so little value on the role of “dad” that whether a man is a father is practically irrelevant? The imbalance has to contribute somewhat to how each sex views his or her role as a parent. I mean, this is a country that barely blinks when a man leaves his children but will readily crucify a woman who dares to leave hers, that treats a man fighting to be with his children as a veritable miracle and a woman sticking with her children as…you know…what moms should be, duh.

In other words, men go into parenthood knowing they’re dispensable, and women go into parenthood knowing the colossal weight of the entire family rests on them (and they’d better do a damn good job of it, because their brand new identity is at stake).

You have to wonder whether more men would fight for custody of their children if it were communicated to them that their role as “dad” is just as valuable as a woman’s role as “mom,” and that their dedication to their children – not financially speaking – is every bit as expected as is a mother’s.

You also have to wonder whether ceasing to treat mothers as holy figures would remove some of the pressure women feel to have children. All of this emphasis on “mom” and “mother” continually reminds us that, as far as society is concerned, we’re much more valuable as child-bearers than we are as, well, anything else. That woman up there has been practicing her escape-artist maneuvers since she was 17, she’s finally making use of them at 50-something, and “escape artist” didn’t take precedence in the headline over “Mom”? Are you kidding me? What does this say to little girls but, “Tut tut, now, honey. You can play with your little hobbies and develop your little skills, but always remember none of it will matter to anyone, or even be very interesting to anyone, unless you’re also a mom“?

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22 thoughts on “Our Country’s Psychotic Obsession with Motherhood is Psychotic

  1. Jenny

    I think we can end up getting too sensitive about such issues. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be minimised to ‘mother’ in a news story and I think the media portrayal of women often does more injustice to mums than it does CF women. CF women are largely ignored in the media but I don’t really care: I avoid watching TV and reading magazines anyway so it doesn’t affect my life and I know the CF choice is the best one for me. The media’s representation of motherhood surely hurts mothers who have a less-than-ideal time being a mother and don’t want to be defined by how many children she has.

    1. You just saus something quite telling.. basically “I don’t care, because it doessn’t affect my life in any way.” but does it really? And are you so self-absorbed as to not care about the SOCIAL implications of this trend?

  2. bootsy

    good post. and you know, it seems that until we have children we’re not taken seriously as anything. it’s mom or nothing in this world. well i’m not buying. keep up the good work. love your blog!

  3. I never noticed it this much before. I think “mom” or “dad” is suitable if they have children under 18, because if this particular parent had a tragic accident, then society is stuck with their offspring. But the 50-year-old “mom”? Her kids are probably adults. And society in general assumes that a woman of that age has had children, so the only specification there would be if she was NOT a mom.

  4. In University I took a class entitled “Drugs, Women and Society”. One of the most interesting ideas I encountered in this class is the idea of Master Status. The primary identifying characteristic of an individual, both self assigned or assigned by society. Your most important label, if you will.

    For men in Western Culture it can occupation, race, religious position, etc. For women, it is ALWAYS maternity. Fair enough, plenty of women who are mothers feel that their role as a mother defines them more than any other aspect of their identity, but there are major dangers in assigning THAT much importance to motherhood across our entire gender. If your status as a Mommy/Not Mommy is the most important thing about you according to the rest of the world, particularly in a culture of pro-natalism, it can leave us childfree ladies feeling as though our varied and fascinating characteristics count for very little.

    1. Jenny

      A very enlightening post and also very true. I think defining ourselves as mothers or non-mothers determines how we are viewed. As a woman, saying you have no children can attract all kinds of horrible bingoes: you have a womb, you were put on the world to procreate, it’s not natural not to have children…mother is not a role I want, nor is it a label I want and I definitely feel that women who have children lose a big part of themselves when that happens, which is evident in the way many of them talk only about baby things even if they are intelligent, or the way in which they have a narrow view of the choices available for women and are astounded when someone says they do not have children.

  5. Susan

    I didn’t see this right away, so I hope Sylvia and everyone will forgive me for bringing up what may be an old topic. I agree with the title, chiefly because it tells me that despite all the advances that feminism has made since the 19th century, the idiocy that “you’re not a real woman until you’re a mother” hasn’t gone away. There are still people who have the backward idea that if you’re a woman, your primary purpose on earth — if not your sole one — is to reproduce, and if you don’t, there’s something “wrong” with you.

    I see that moronic attitude displayed constantly on abortion discussion forums (I participate in two as a pro-choice advocate) from anti-choicers who want to make abortion illegal. It still amazes me how many people seem to be stuck in the 19th or early 20th century where women and reproduction are concerned. I just wish people would quit pressuring women to have children. It’s none of anyone’s business whether someone has children or not anyway. Hope this wasn’t too long. :)

  6. I love this because it re-frames the seemingly “feminist” issue of women’s roles as mothers being inextricably woven into their core identities when the same isn’t true for men. It points out how this is damaging to men–they are seen as dispensable. They start to view themselves as a less essential parenting figure. Society doesn’t view them as essential to their children–and this manifests in different ways. Off the top of my head, one way this manifests in a real way for me is how my husband’s employer/co-workers view it as bizarre when he has to take time off to help with the kids. He suffers professionally for being an equally involved parent. I think they view it as bizarre because the stuff he takes time off to do are traditionally seen as things mothers ought to be doing.

      1. La.stefi

        I notice that even in TV series. If you take “Tha Affair” we see a man with a new woman and a new child, leaving behind his “old” children with their mother. The opposite is rarely shown.

  7. Susan

    I’ve often thought that one of the reasons why this country is obsessed with motherhood is because there isn’t enough discussion about it being a CHOICE rather than a biological mandate. The fact that some people seem to think motherhood is some kind of obligation simply because one is a woman is, to me, bleeping nuts.

    Earlier today, I decided to start a discussion on motherhood/parenthood as a choice on an AOL discussion forum. Sylvia, if you or anyone else is interested in participating in such a discussion, I’ll be happy to post the link to it here. If not, that’s okay too. Have a great weekend! :)

  8. Susan

    Sylvia, I should have remembered that not everyone likes AOL or participates on its discussion forums. My humblest apologies for that.

    Question; are there any non-aol forums or blogs where both CFers and parents can discuss the question of whether having kids or not is a CHOICE, not a biological mandate? If you know of any, I’d love to participate in such a discussion. Thanks in advance. :)

    1. No worries. I can’t really think of a site off the top of my head. MAYBE Dinklife.com, which has a combination of childfree (forever) and “no kids right now” dual-income-no-kids couples. Or, in other words, future parents. But as for parents and childfree together in one forum, I don’t know. I’d love to find parents willing to talk, though, because I’ve been wanting to present a series of questions to parents (or future parents) who think people should have kids, and who get mad when they don’t want them. I’d like to understand their position.

  9. Great post, Sylvia.

    Last year there was a car crash near where I live. A man threw a rock from a highway bridge, hit a car and killed a 37-year-old woman who happened to be the mother of two children. The case dominated the news for weeks, every single report about the crash only mentioned that a mother had been killed (not a 37-year-old woman, a mother) and the manhunt for the guy who threw the rock was intense.

    About two years earlier, there was a similar crash. Someone throws a rock from a highway bridge, the rock hits a car, the crash kills the passengers. However, this earlier crash killed a childless woman in her early twenties and her grandmother. And guess how much media coverage there was? Very little. After all, there was no mother involved.

    Though in my experience, when a policeman or soldier dies on duty or a man is killed during a crime, the news report will inevitably mention that the deceased was a family father. This may be cultural – I’m not from the US. And at least, the men get to be a police officer or a soldier or manager of a gas station or taxi driver in addition to being fathers.

  10. Susan

    Thanks for the quick reply. I’ll try and see if there’s a way to create such a discussion thread on a non-aol forum, that could be a neutral area for both CFers and parents to express their views. I’m sure there are a few, I just have to look. If I find an area and create such a discussion, would you like me to let you know?

  11. Thank you for posting this – it’s always great to get new insight on how our culture uses vocabulary and labels to reinforce stereotypes, especially regarding sex and gender.

  12. Johnathan Spaulding

    Thanx for the blog. was woundering if i was the only person to see this trend into days life. But not only are women being objecting to this harsh reality. Into days life there is an obsession with women having to get pregnant. So us men are subjected to having to; and i hate to say but were subjected to having to tell these woman to back the hell off. When this happens we are frond upon. For most the women i have been with are infatuated with this ideal life of that shes going to get knocked up and shes going to stay at home cook, clean, and take care of the child. Im sorry but im not going to bust my ass so she can stay at home. Fuck that, thats not what woman are supposed to do. Thats what are society has pounded into our young men and woman of todays life. I work, she works, and we should have both our own separate identities as well as one that we would share as a family.

  13. Lauren

    This is quite timely, my husband and are revisiting the idea of parenthood and a huge hesitation on my part is this notion (and honestly fear) that responsibility will fall solely or majority on my shoulders. My husband is amazing and says he completely understands but I fear social norms and sometimes wonder, does he really “get it”?!

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