Lately I’ve observed a troubling trend. The bleeding news that leads frequently starts with something like “A mother of three…,” as in “A mother of three was found murdered in her home” or “A grandmother was brutally raped.” And it got me thinking…are only tragedies involving mothers newsworthy? Would it be any less tragic if the victim was, say, for example, me?
It’s not just in the primetime news slots that I see this occurring. Three recent shows in Oprah’s final season were titled “The Bravest Mom in the World is Set Free” (9/22), “The Mom Who Fathered Her Own Children” (9/29), and “One Mom, 20 Personalities” (10/6). In each case, I can’t imagine the story would be any less impactful if we substituted the word “Woman” for “Mom.”
Who’s behind this? Did some big marketing study show that “Mom” is a buzzword that attracts viewers (and advertisers)? Is there some sinister plot afoot to further ostracize women without babies? What does it say about our society that being a mom makes you a better story? And how does all this make us, women who are childfree, feel about ourselves?
Me, I’m kind of pissed. But I’m not ready to carry a sign, write angry letters, or start an impassioned campaign online. I already feel marginalized, and I don’t want to subject myself to the “you-must-be-a-child-hating-anti-mom-bitch” response I fear would come.
Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. Her articles have appeared in AAA’s Westways, GRIT, Real Simple, and 805 Living magazines. Read “How to Be the World’s Best Aunt Ever” on eHow.com.
I don’t know. But i’d say that if it is coming from Oprah, a letter that way might be important. As Oprah is a childless/childfree woman herself, you would think that some support/sensitivity from that direction would come.
Of course, as you say, it may all come from her directors & marketing folks. But Oprah is one woman in the world who doesn’t need more marketing, etc. That woman has more than most of us could ever dream of. (Not running her down, she has worked for it.)
I’ve thought this a lot lately, but more skewed toward cops who are fathers. My husband is a police officer, and I worry all the time that something will happen to him while working. I read/hear things in the news about a fallen officer, and it’s always something like “he left behind a new baby” or “he left behind three little kids” etc, like it’s only sad that a police officer was killed if he is a father. It makes me sad and angry, worrying that if something happens to my husband, no one will think it’s that bad because he would only leave me behind. Of course, I had a similar moment when we attended the police memorial activities in our city, and any officer who died (natural causes or otherwise) was honored, and the family members were asked to stand while the spouse laid a rose at the monument. My thought was “who else will stand when my husband dies? How sad if there is no one else but me. And what if I die first? Then there will no one.”
The ideas in this post have been a major gripe of mine for years. I was just interviewed for BITCH magazine (present!), and you can be sure I unloaded on this theme in a big way…
I can also say I’ve thought this. And wondered how people would feel if it was me. I’m sure that many people would think “at least she didn’t have children.”
I thinkthat marketing probably does come into it in a very deliberate way in some cases, but in others, people just don’t think about it because they seem to assume all women are mothers.
Oprah panders so totally to the mothers in her audience, that she demeans herself and us. That we’re “not important.” Yet she has had more influence on the world and on children being raised today than any one mother will have had. She’s never talked about not having children (to my knowledge) other than making the comment “it wasn’t something I felt I could do.” And so has ignored being childfree/childless as an issue.
Oprah is on my list (although I’m not sure exactly what that means yet). She could be such an incredible spokesperson, but you’re right, the subject rarely comes up. I’d be very interested to hear if she faces the same issues we do. I’m guessing yes.
But! We’re so much more than MOMs! We’re writers! We’re dedicated teachers, and nurses and activists for childrens’ rights, etc ad infinitum! We’re patrons of charitable causes! How cool are we, ladies? To hell with the media and the soporified masses. We’re not just another mother of blah-te-blah. We’re women of action and potential!
i don’t know… i’ve been a woman of action and potential for like nearly 20 years now. All this time i thought i’d be that AND a mother as well. Now the mother-part of that has suddenly been put very far (if not totally) out of reach. In a way that i feel i would have to decide if i’m for any kind of action – or should i concentrate on MAYBE reaching the mother-goal. As a consequence, i don’t feel like a woman of action and potential anymore either. Life has dealt me a blow, i can’t just go on with the action. There’s no reason to that but it’s genuinely what i feel….
Yes, that is a hard decision. I’m sorry, Mina.
As to the mommy blitz in the media…. Look at people like Julia Child… nobody overlooked her obituary. We don’t have to be mothers to mean something.
We’re not all going to be Julia Childs though. We’re just people making our quiet way in the world. I don’t like the feeling that now because I’m not a mother I have to go the extra mile to mean anything. You have the mom card and you’ve earned your stripes. The rest of us are now required to make it big, a published author, charity organizer, career woman, big career! Somehow it doesn’t seem fair. Maybe because I overheard a mom tell her 1 year old in Target’s changing table she was going to, “pop her in the mouth.” yet if that woman is attacked one day she garner more sympathy than me simply because the news will call her a mom.
I don’t feel I have to prove myself because I’m not a mom, but I feel like I’ve been given a pass to go and be whoever I want to be. A lot of my friends who are mothers don’t have that freedom. I don’t feel obligated to be great, but if I decide to be I know I won’t have to also juggle motherhood. I find it quite freeing.
Millie, you Target story is awful, but sadly accurate.
Kathleen Guthrie says
Can’t recall if I’ve shared this with the group already, but during a difficult period, when I was talking to a close friend about how much I wanted a child/family and it didn’t look like it was going to happen, her response was, “Maybe you’re supposed to birth a novel instead.” Really? Writing a book is going to give me the same kind of fulfillment as having, raising, and loving a child?!? I wanted to smack her or say something really cruel, but I couldn’t voice a response at the time. Still not sure what I should have said.
I have embraced my childfree life (for the most part), but there are times when it still doesn’t feel like enough. (And I have to add how much I appreciate that I can share this with you, women who GET IT and not try to fix, minimize, or condemn my feelings.)
Oh yeah!! I know what you mean!! Try being a 40 year old cancer patient with cut-rate health insurance that no dr. really wanted to accept. I felt like a selfish imbecile (actually, was made to feel) for trying to save my life via cancer treatment. I felt like I needed an excuse such as ” I need to survive this… I have ___ kids that need me.” And then the survivor’s guilt when a mother does die from the same cancer, and I still live….. “why it should have been me… I don’t have children..” gee, why does a woman’s worth in our society drop so low if she’s not a mother.. how did it get like that???