Mothers are People Too

A friendly reminder as we celebrate Mother’s Day tomorrow: Mothers are people too!

Before they gave birth to you, adopted you or took on a mothering role, they were (and are) human beings. Yes, mothering is a nurturing position, but a mother’s life cannot revolve just around serving those around her.

Girls are encouraged to marry men, encouraged to have children, encouraged to put those children first above all else. So long as mothering is an action considered specific to women, motherhood is another way women are told to put themselves last.

It’s wonderful that we celebrate mothers! For a 24/7 job that is unpaid and unfairly relegated to one gender, mothers deserve recognition. But Mother’s Day cards and gifts reflect the same gendered mindset that places this burden on women in the first place.

Mother’s Day cards thank mothers for all that they do for others. It’s a system revolving around us: those of us who receive mothering.

In 1976, Marge Piercy wrote the sci fi feminist utopian novel Woman on the Edge of Time. Piercy imagines a utopia where mothering is an action any gender can undertake. Families have co-mothers, people of all genders who take on the nurturing role of mothering and share the responsibility. A Mother’s Day in Piercy’s imagined world would look very different from the pink Mother’s Day cards and breakfast in bed traditions we practice.

A Mother’s Day in Piercy’s world would recognize the nurturer in each of us. It would be a celebration of mothering, not the people who mother. It would be a day to acknowledge all the work and dedication that goes into putting someone else first.

Mothers are people. They deserve more than a day of thanks for what they do for those around them.

Tomorrow, when you thank a mother in your life, let them know you acknowledge not just what they do for you, but the person they are. Their life does not belong to anyone but themselves.

More than Happy Mother’s Day

Just like my post for International Women’s Day, I want to do more and encourage more for Mother’s Day than just buying Mom flowers or chocolate or wishing her a “happy mother’s day”. Mothers need rights and suffer through the same sexism of other women, but with an additional layer that’s rarely touched upon. How will chocolate or flowers ease someone’s oppression?

When I was in Elementary school, one year instead of the traditional art project or craft fair where we would buy our moms useless trinkets or coffee mugs, we instead made coupons. The coupons said anything from: “this coupon is redeemable for one hour of alone time”  to “redeem this coupon for a week’s worth of housework” or “your child will wash the dishes tonight” and the list continued. In its own small way, this set of pieces of paper, no more valuable than monopoly money, did something no other mother’s day gift could: it recognized the strictures surrounding mothers and sought to alleviate them.

Mothers do too much to even try to name it all-I know my mother did, and still does, make great sacrifices for me and my brother-and mothers are oppressed to a higher degree.

There’s a great book on feminism called “Full Frontal Feminism” by Jessica Valenti (founder of feministing.com). Although it is informal in its presentation (it reads with a smart and witty voice, short chapters and the facts she provides never bog down the material but enhance it, although as  a warning she tends to swear and be blunt) it is a worthwhile read for anyone wanting to know more about modern feminism and the issues facing women in the world today.

There’s a full chapter on the injustices facing mothers. Valenti quotes a study done by the University of Connecticut and the University of Minnesota which showed that:

not only do moms feel undervalued by the people in their lives, but they also don’t feel appreciated by society in general-nearly one in five moms said she felt less valued by society since becoming a mother (162)

And this is just feeling undervalued as a person. In terms of being undervalued in the work force, married women with children make 73 cents to the man’s dollar, single women with children make 56-66 cents to the man’s dollar, and women without children make 90 cents to the dollar.

Women are told to have children and be super-moms, but once they have children they’re in a worse social position than they were before. They are then undervalued at home and at work.

This is why the coupons idea was so phenomenal. My teacher recognized that mothers go through so much  in their daily lives that a box of chocolate and one day out of the year can never make up for the sacrifices mother’s make for their children or the harassment mothers put up with on how to be a good parent. The coupons took Mother’s day and turned it into a week, a month, or however long it took for those coupons to run out. It took some responsibility off of mom’s shoulders and distributed it around to the rest of the family.

Now mom has a chance to do something for herself for an hour and not feel guilt ridden.

My brother and I are adults now and I am so proud to see my mother living her life. I regret that we didn’t take more responsibility sooner and let her have her own life and her own identity when we were much younger.

My mother is a healer, a yoga teacher, a health coach and a woman who is not defined by her biological function of producing my brother and I. When I hear about the schooling she does, the belly dancing classes she’s enrolled in, the friends she Skypes with, I’m reminded that she has every right to be an individual.

Motherhood should not force women to give themselves up some standard, or lose their individuality in an effort to raise children.

If you’re interested in finding a mother’s day gift, try to find something that addresses the core of mother’s day: that mothers need to be valued and respected. Give mom a day off from chores and let her know that you appreciate what she has done for you and your family. Let her know that Mother’s Day may only be once a year, but motherhood is a lifetime and should be treated with dignity.

For more information on the rights of motherhood visit:

momsrising.org

This blog is dedicated to my mother, who is the most positive influence I could ever ask for in my life. Thank you.

This One’s for the Mothers

No matter how it might seem sometimes, feminism is not a movement for the young. Historically it seems that so long as feminism has had a name, the following generation of women has wanted to exclude her parents and older women in general. There is a misplaced belief that becoming a mother gives into the patriarchal system. Under this belief, mothers cannot be feminists.

This is one of the largest problems feminism still grapples with because although there are critics of feminism for being straight, white, and middle class, motherhood is discussed far less often. If each new generation of feminists is content to believe they are the only ones who are oppressed, and that because they are young and radical they are at the core of the movement, then feminism is limiting itself.

I understand that motherhood is a slippery subject with feminists asking questions such as: is giving birth and settling down accepting your biology? and Can this choice ever be a feminist statement? A woman named Kathleen M. Streater wrote a feminist critique of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in 2007 and summed up feminism in perhaps the clearest way I have ever heard: “Today, more than ever, feminism is about choice.” Without going too much into detail about Streater’s critique, I need to point out that choice is exactly what feminists are fighting for. We want the choice to be engineers, executives, or athletes. At the same time, what about the choice to fall in love, be in an equal relationship and raise your children as feminists?

Motherhood is often mislabeled as unfeminist, without anyone really understanding what unfeminist means. Does anyone stop to consider that motherhood does not kill feminism? I want to praise the mothers who want a better world for their sons and daughters. I want to praise the mothers who live in a world that dismisses them once they have fulfilled their biological function and given birth.

My mother has been influential in my life, and I know that she has has always put my brother and myself first, before any career options, and that employers are never happy with this. Women are supposed to raise families, give birth, and put aside their identities for the role of mother. The commonality of woman-as-mother puts her in direct opposition to feminism. But it shouldn’t be this way. If feminism is for equal rights, keeping mothers closeted as the uniformed generation of the patriarchy is not going to bring any unification.

The next step for feminists needs to be accepting mothers as the strong women they are, understanding that we are all women, and finally dismantling the stereotype that mothers are only identified by their children.