With much of England and half the U.S. on Kate Middleton Baby-Watch this week, I’m writing about motherhood in the Guardian. It’s great (and normal) that we’re all excited about a new (and royal!) baby. Babies are really cute, and all of them should enter the world into the arms of folks who are excited to welcome them. But our celebrity pregnancy obsession, coupled with our unrealistic and condescending view of motherhood (it’s THE HARDEST JOB IN THE WOOOOORLD!) make real political change difficult, and keep parents (mostly mothers) unsupported. A bit:
The idealized mom is Sarah Palin’s Mama Bear, ready to sacrifice everything for her kids, starting with her physical health and extending to her finances, her relationships and her career. She’s the one whose job is “the hardest in the world” but also the most rewarding – so hard and so rewarding that there’s no need to create social mechanisms to help her out, let alone compensate her. So hard and rewarding that women who haven’t done it can’t possibly understand how myopic and limited their own lives are. And so hard and rewarding that most men wouldn’t even consider doing it, even if they’re happy to condescendingly claim that their lovely wife actually runs the show.
Women who don’t meet the mothering ideal – women whose most important and demanding job is their paying one, women who don’t have husbands, women who can’t sacrifice everything because there is no “everything” to sacrifice – are invisible in the cultural discourse and vilified in the political one. And so, our social policies are set to serve the mythical perfect mother, leaving real, flawed, complicated families to fend for themselves and cobble together individual solutions to broad cultural and political problems.
We love the bump-watches and the ridiculous celebrity baby names and the stories about the impending royal child because we’re human beings, and we’d be in a bad place as a species if most of us weren’t at least a little predisposed to getting excited about the entry of a new human into the world. While it’s easy (and good!) to get misty over a creature with such tiny toes and such a big future, it’s more difficult to show real support for the many imperfect people actually caring for the infants who don’t appear on magazine covers. Meeting that challenge is part of what takes us from being nominally responsive animals to being caring, responsible human beings.
The full piece is here.
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