Women. We can’t do anything right, can we?
Choose not to become a mother, like the Sisterhood’s Chanel Dubofsky, and others view you as selfish. Chose to become a working mother and you are seen as selfish. Or, choose to become a stay-at-home parent and, yep, you are seen as selfish.
Over the past few years Chanel has written about her desire to be childfree. She has, rightly so, challenged the idea that motherhood is inseparable from womanhood — a notion that goes far, far back to Eve, whose name, given to her by God, means “mother of all things.” So from, like, biblical days until the latter part of the 20th century (i.e. basically forever), women have been valued based upon their ability to make and raise children. This has been especially true in Jewish communities where the ancient commandment to be fruitful was perceived as all the more urgent following the Holocaust. In short, not having children was, and still largely is, a major no-no.
Okay, so this must make me one of the good girls, right? Because I have a baby. A son! And I love him, so, so, so much.
If only it were that easy. You see, theoretically women having kids are good, but in practice, not so much.
Women having kids and wanting and/or having a life beyond kids is not so good. Now, I do love my son, so, so, so much. And I also love my work so, so, so much. The point isn’t which one I love more — apples and oranges if there ever was some — but just that both are central to me being me at this stage in my life.
Things are surely better than they were 40 years ago, when mothers started entering the workforce in droves. But there is just too much that isn’t better enough. There is an overwhelming dearth of institutional support for mothers, things like paid parental leave, flexible work schedules and affordable childcare and early education. Women have been fighting for improvements in these areas for awhile now, but we haven’t gotten very far. Why? Because our kids are our problems, and it is selfish for us to presume that in the United States there would be a collective attitude towards children. Even our co-workers get annoyed with us. It might take a village, but we apparently don’t live in one. So that’s that.
Though as tough of a time as working mothers have convincing others, individually and societally, to help them out, stay-at-home moms have it even harder.
As portrayed in popular culture today, the SAHM is the most self-indulgent creature around. She is obsessed with her kids. OBSESSED. There is a popular website and an upcoming book dedicated to telling her to shut the you-know-what up. She breastfed each kid until 3. She has a Pinterest account for Olive and Thaddeus which she uses to meticulously plan their back-to-school wardrobes and unique birthday party themes. She serves them homemade yogurt with homemade blueberry compote for breakfast every morning, which she never fails to mention to her friends. She is first in the carpool line every day because otherwise she can’t drop off Rebecca to dance in time to then get Daniel to violin. Don’t expect to talk about anything but the kids when they are around — and when they aren’t. She has no business asking for help or complaining about feeling lonely sometimes and when she does we all just want to roll our eyes at her.
Of course, there are few SAHMs actually like this. Still, this is who popular culture has set its eyes on, the type whose unbelievable myopia and odd combination of self-entitlement and self-abnegation we love to mock. Because she lives up to our expectations that women, no matter what, are selfish. And she is soooooo selfish. In conclusion, the childfree are selfish. Working mothers are selfish. And stay-at-home moms are selfish. Got it?
Elissa Strauss, a lead blogger for the Sisterhood, also writes about gender and culture for places like the New York Times, Jezebel and Salon. Follow her on Twitter @elissaavery.
Why Women Just Can't Get It Right
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.