There was a kerfuffle in the online lady-universe in the seconds after Natalie Portman dared to proclaim while accepting her Oscar that motherhood was the most important role of her life. Mary Elizabeth Williams fired the first professional shot, arguing in Salon that Portman was selling out her ovaried sisters by implying that creating, birthing and raising life was more important than being lauded for pretending to be a ballerina pretending to be a swan who stabs herself in the gut.
At the time I thought, “Jesus, lady, chillax,” and moved on, but a similar conversation today, in which it was asserted that a woman’s pre-baby lifestyle and traits must remain the dominant ones for the rest of her life or she’s somehow settling for some sad Betty Draper-esque existence, renewed my contemplation of the subject. Specifically, it had me yet again thinking, “Jesus, lady, chillax.”
The notion that a woman’s identity is somehow pitiable if it gives itself over to that which comes with motherhood is based on a few flawed premises:
1. That there was some inherent superiority to the pre-baby life.
My life pre-baby was pretty cool, involving somewhat regular trips to museums, an occasional night out at the ballet and a concert here and there. But most nights involved lounging around in sweats watching television, reading or fiddling with the Times crossword, and doing laundry. And now that I have a child I still fiddle with the Times crossword, watch television in my sweats, do laundry and make somewhat regular trips to museums. Except now when I go to the museum I get to watch another set of eyes widen at the riot of color in a Lichtenstein.
2. That there is some soul-shackling inferiority in the tasks associated with parenthood.
This would seem to include spooning mushy peas into a babbling baby, taking a child to piano or lacrosse, or wiping little noses. So here’s my challenge to those who poopoo the rigors of handling, er, poopoo: What did you do today that was somehow better than helping guide a child through the world well fed, happy and healthy? Oh, you dumped some food in your cat’s bowl, got some froyo, and went to Target? Well played.
3. That increased selflessness equals weakness.
Because that’s what the argument folks like Williams are making comes down to. That the act of giving up some concern about yourself — your social life, your poetry reading circuit, your wardrobe — somehow means you’re giving up, period. (This is not to say that those who never have children are living an inferior, vapid life. I am specifically addressing those who would criticize mothers for reveling in motherhood.) What some frown upon as weakness, others call maturation.
It’s a sad group that points to a woman setting her Facebook profile picture to a smiling shot of her child and sees evidence of an anti-feminist plot to lease all available brain space to the patriarchy and the kiddieocracy. Because sometimes a cute picture of your kid is just your favorite picture that week. And it’s your Facebook profile, not your obituary. The day that the sum of our feminist selves comes down to what snapshot we’re putting on a site designed to ensure college students get laid is the day that Betty Friedan officially lost.
It’s a sad group that believes talking about your daily goings-on with your child when asked how you’re doing and what you’ve been up to is proof that you, poor thing, have lost yourself. They have no idea that this life lived in tandem with a child is a new evolution of you and it’s pretty goddamned spectacular.
Since having a child I have helped save 30,000 teachers’ jobs. I have helped my husband grieve the loss of his mother. I have done the best writing of my life. I have built communications vehicles from nothing into powerful tools that speak daily to tens of thousands of people.
But I have also changed approximately 4,200 diapers, read Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy roughly 108 times, made 16 packages of personalized pink sugar cookies for Valentine’s Day treats, and turned tears to smiles with a belly tickle more times than I can count. I have, without regret, wrapped up nearly every ounce of my concern in the well-being of my daughter.
This has been the most important role of my life.
And this is what a feminist looks like.