Moms, Boobs, and Babes: Framing the Conversation

So this happened:


And it sure did generate some conversation, eh?

Each time I read a piece in response to the TIME cover, my reaction started with “Yes, but….”

The salient points, all of them valid, were:

  • The cover was created to generate controversyThe nursing kid is a tall three and is positioned to look about six, the mom is young and hot, etc….  Yes, but isn’t that predictable at this point?  Why aren’t we creating our own controversy, aimed at generating a necessary conversation?  How about a young hot blond suckling Uncle Sam?  Now that’s some controversy!
  • The mommy wars are fabricated:  Yes, but doesn’t the very idea of our choices coming under fire make us as defensive as a cat about to be catapulted onto a hot tin roof?  And isn’t there a conversation to be had there—a conversation about why we get defensive, and what we can do to change the culture so that every mother feels supported rather than attacked?
  • Moms can say no to what they hate to do:  Yes, but no parent invested in parenthood gets to say no 100% of the time to 100% of what he or she hates to do.  And isn’t there a conversation to be had there—about how we can support moms and dads because being a parent is so freaking hard?
  • Are we feminist enough?  Yes, it’s valid to discuss the intersection of motherhood and feminism—but really?  Do we have to examine every mothering choice under the burning light of feminism as if the two are, and must forever be, having a fashion face-off?

Yes, but, yes, but, yes, but I kept thinking—and the conversations I wanted to have were nowhere to be found.

There is a more than one valid conversation buried here, but I’ll start with the most prevalent.  To say that attachment parenting, when taken to the extreme, unreasonably taxes the mother is a valid criticism of the approach (I speak as a mother who was and is attachment-oriented, though I didn’t follow Sears word for word).  If we start there—by examining a recommended method of childrearing rather than by attacking any mother who would choose to follow that method and then pitting her against a mother who doesn’t make that choice—we might find some interesting results.

We might begin to hear the voices—the real, vulnerable, non-defensive voices—of women who are trying to balance too much with too little, no matter what method, or non-method, of childrearing they follow.

And that is what is at the core of all of this:  the power of that conversation.  If women owned this conversation, rather than reacting to the non-conversations that male-owned, profit-hungry media outlets engender, we could begin to reshape the culture around motherhood.

As things stand, the way the conversation is framed turns us against ourselves. En masse we respond to attacks on our mothering choices angrily, but privately we often respond to by wondering what else—what more—we haven’t done well enough.  No, not all of us, and no not all of the time.  But there is a general cultural sense that a mom can never be mom enough—thus, the invention of supermom—just as there is a general cultural sense that a man can never be man enough—thus, the phrase that got turned around by TIME.

If we want this to stop, we have to stop it.

By owning the conversation.  We need to speak first and speak loudest.  Otherwise, we will forever be reacting to whatever the media cooks up to generate sales.

Gloria Feldt articulates this idea in her book No Excuses:  9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power:  “…when we don’t use our power to speak first, we miss the point.  We miss the moment of opportunity to define the terms of the debate.  We cede the intellectual framework within which everyone’s thoughts will be constructed.  We limit our future choices.”

It is that constriction—that limitation—that was whispering to me throughout the entire “mom enough” conversation.  I wanted someone to say this:  all of our conversations are reactions.  When are we going to get to the heart of the matter?

And then I found this CNN article, by Heather Hewett and Deborah Siegel, that did just that.  In discussing some recent French books that have supposedly stirred up the international mommy wars, the authors point out that the media reduces the books in question to mommy war fodder rather than truly examining them.  And then they go on to discuss the books, one of which is a book I’d like to read:  Elisabeth Badinter’s The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women.  In their analysis of Badinter’s book the authors say this:

“We disagree with Badinter, however, that the obstacles are merely in our heads.  We think they’re in political structures, too.  Despite Badinter dismissing as irrelevant the French policies that make health care and day care accessible and affordable, here in the U.S., we lack such support for parents, mothers in particular, who work and do the second shift at home.”

Oh, yes.

Now that’s a conversation I’d love to have.

2 thoughts on “Moms, Boobs, and Babes: Framing the Conversation

  1. BroadBlogs says:

    I’d say it’s feminist to be able to choose to do attachment parenthood (though mixed reviews on how healthy it is for mother or child).

    But if all women did this none of them could do anything but parent for a huge chunk of their lives. That would leave the world seeing and doing things from a male perspective and lacking a female point of view and a female touch.

    In the 50s when women didn’t work there were no changing tables, women were “put on trial” for their own rapes, men could rape their wives (because it wasn’t rape, right?), married women couldn’t have their own credit… the list goes on.


  2. Elizabeth Hall Magill says:

    Excellent points, Georgia. I think Badinter’s book discusses the idea that attachment parenting, when taken to the extreme by a large number of women without much support, would indeed land us squarely back in the 1950s. Not a place we want to go!

    But the title of the Jezebel article (“Freakish or Feminist”) bothered me because it creates a duality: you must be one or the other. (This, of course, is just what headlines do–and I think the article itself was less polarizing than the headline.) However, moms are so often presented with these black and white choices. What if, you want to do it all? You want to breastfeed, and cosleep with your child, and work full time at your dream job? Sure, it can all be done–at extreme personal cost to the mom. And to some extent, that comes with the territory of having kids. But it seems to me that if the conversation around “is something feminist” were reframed or rephrased to be more along the lines of, “Do mothers have adequate support to make this parenting choice”–then feminism could begin to expand its audience, reclaim the “f-word” status of the name, and erase a duality that doesn’t need to exist–while also achieving its aims of involving more men, more fathers, and more social institutions in the empowerment of women who are also mothers.

    Thanks for the thoughts–you are helping me work through things I haven’t fully articulated to myself yet.


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