Okay people, real talk time. Can women ever do anything without being defined by what they do with their uterus? It’s insulting how often the media adds the qualifier “mother” or “mommy” ahead of a woman’s accomplishments or contributions, along with “mompreneur.”
A perfect example is The New York Times‘ recent story about SAHMs who have been volunteering in my neighborhood of Rockaway Beach, New York titled “After Hurricane, a New Calling for Mothers – Mothers Find a Calling in Volunteer Work After Hurricane Sandy”. I want to be clear that I am in no way trying to take away from the women they discuss in this piece. They are awesome. They have been out here, among volunteers from every walk of life, mucking houses, coordinating and delivering, providing medical care, food, clothing and supplies and being all-around wonderful to my community.
The piece starts out with the line:
“Fathers misplace their children at the supermarket; mothers miraculously transform tofu to make it palatable to 3-year olds.”
Seriously. What I can’t believe in this day and age that a publication such as The New York Times will still run this dribble. It’s insulting to fathers. We can’t expect to be treated as equals among men when we are so eager to pigeonhole them into the role of the bumbling, incompetent dad.
Then there is this gem:
“These are generalizations, of course, but they hold true in regard to a group of women, most of them stay-at-home mothers unaffiliated with one another, who have found a calling — an obsession, arguably — in volunteer work for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.”
There are literally hundreds of volunteers in my neighborhood every day. Many of them have been here, much like the women showcased in this article, for weeks. They are often here seven days a week, working their fingers to the bone to help my community rebuild. Some of these volunteers are parents, some of them aren’t. Some of them have regular jobs, some of them don’t. Why is it only called obsession when they are a stay-at-home mother?
The author later goes on to say that Jill Cornell, one of the women profiled in the piece, is addicted to relief work. I wonder if the author would say the same about a non-parent or a working parent doing this work:
“The supportive but dismayed husband emerged as a recurring character in the narratives Ms. Cornell and the other housewives recounted of feeling first drawn and then overwhelmingly addicted to something that has felt big and ambitious and defining.”
I don’t even know where to begin with this one. Supportive but dismayed? As if these long suffering men are somehow martyrs to their wives’ “silly” relief addiction. I’m not advocating abandoning your family to muck out homes seven days a week, but it’s curious how no one is using this patronizing language about non-SAHM volunteers.
Instead of focusing on the great work they are doing, the article spends the first three paragraphs talking about how they are moms and their family life:
“Her most recent accomplishment before all this, she joked, was winning a pie-baking contest at the Windsor Terrace farmers’ market.”
The author goes as far as referring to them as the “Real Housewives of Relief,” which even they admit is glib. There is a brief mention of the backbreaking work being done by these moms in paragraph four and five and then a vaguely disconcerting bit about the culture shock of an upper middle class white woman working in the projects. The term “air hustling” is used.