Saturday, May 10, 2014

I Find a Lot of Mother-Talk Really Patronizing

The premise of this article is:

What if a stay-at-home mom were to give a commencement speech at a college?

Many people mean well when they talk about motherhood. They value it so much that they want it to be the equivalent of being an engineer, a brain surgeon or a CEO.

And so we're supposed to believe that motherhood is a "profession" and it's just like having a high-powered job.

And so you see a lot of this on social media...

Let's get real about motherhood.

It does not take a lot of brains to do this job.

Indeed, since the beginning of time, women have done this job without any formal education, and sometimes without a great amount of cognitive intelligence.

I don't think we do ourselves any favours in denying this fact, and when people act like mothers are in the same categories as engineers, brain surgeons or CEO I feel very talked down to. Because I know the truth.

This is, of course, one of the reasons why many feminists looked down on stay-at-home moms. They don't do anything "important" with themselves; things that win accolades, large paycheques, celebrity, status and everything else that makes one "important". They do not, in any way, contribute to the "advancement of women" (Thank God!)

Absolutely anyone can be a mom. Even women who think they can't be moms could probably do it if they put their minds to it. Having a baby really does change a person.

One of the reasons why some feminist-minded women recoil at the prospect of being a stay-at-home mom is that they fear being reduced to this unimportant position, this situation where their education and talents "go to waste". And let's face it, if you get a college degree, chances are you're not going to use a lot of it during your years as a stay-at-home mom (unless it's a degree that's directly associated with children, like nursing, ECE or human ecology). And in that sense, motherhood seems to be dehumanizing. It seems like the mother is replaceable. If you don't need a degree to do it, if any woman can do it, how is it uplifting to women to do it? How is it empowering? How does it raise the dignity of women? The things that make a woman an individual-- her talents, and intelligence-- seem to go to waste.

And here's my beef with all these "a mom is like a CEO" people.

A mother is not doing "a job". Now we may call it "a job" because it involves a lot of labour. But it is not a "real" job.

You are hired for a "real" job mostly because of your talents. Social skills are important too. But with a job there is an exchange: you provide the talent, and they give you a paycheque for that talent, so long as your talents are necessary to the organization. When your talents are no longer of use, or you can't produce the desired results, or your talents are too expensive, you are expendable.

With a job, you are your talent. You are your results.

And that's not how it works at all with motherhood.

As a mother, you are first and foremost a person. A whole person. You have talents, yes. But you have a personality. You have a philosophy. You have a certain emotional intelligence. You have a style. You have a relationship with your kids. A relationship of unconditional love.

And when you look at this from that perspective, you see that you are not a CEO, and treating you like a CEO is really patronizing because although you are an intelligent woman, your function is nothing like that of a CEO. All those functions listed in that image which supposedly make you worth $100 000 a year (according to one well-known internet meme) are bogus. You're not on the job market. Your services don't have a price. You didn't study for them; for the most part you are not an expert or a professional at them (I laugh when I think of myself as a "hairdresser) and it's just ridiculous to try to make the comparison. A hairdresser gets paid to be good at doing hair, and that's it! She goes to work, she comes home, she gets paid.

Motherhood is nothing like that.

And so the "specialness" of motherhood should not be looked at from the angle of the job market, paycheques or professions. To me, it's an insult to my intelligence to do so. From a labour market point of view you are "just a mom". You don't have a degree for it, you don't get a paycheque, you are not in demand by the wider world, you have no status, and you've proven nothing to the world.

And that's perfectly fine.

The value of a mother should not be measured in those terms. Those are false terms of value.

Motherhood should be valued on non-monetary values, of sacrifice, self-giving, love, nurturing, etc, the very things that you can't be rewarded with money.

When you look at motherhood from that angle, a mother is extraordinarily important. It's her person and her relationship with her family that matters. Making and selling widgets is all very well and good, but in general it's not something done from the heart, the way motherhood is.

Feminists don't like this evaluation because looking at the mother this way inevitably means you shed a lot of the competitive mindset that you need to be on the job market. This is what "holds women back." When you judge motherhood from the heart, and care less about the paycheque and the status, you don't really want the high-powered job; you don't want to work 80 hours a week to build a business, you don't want to be away from your kids just to market widgets to a bunch of people who only value you for what you can do for their business.

When we keep talking about motherhood like it's a job or a profession or a career on the same order as any other paid labour, we really do ourselves a disservice. It's obviously untrue; it's an insult to intelligence and it doesn't really do justice to motherhood.