I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a mother in this day and age. With the post-feminist backlash — once prominently discussed in the media as such — becoming a political tennis ball being lobbed across party lines, I feel used and abused by both politicians and the media.
The recent debate over Obama’s Life of Julia website makes me realize how much people are missing the point. Who cares if the representation of Julia is not chronologically accurate (because Obama Care may not exist when this fictional character is of child-bearing age, Social Security and Medicare will no longer exist as we once knew it, etc.)? The point as I see it is this: certain politicians are trampling women’s rights to the full civil liberties that some men enjoy without having to lift a single voice of protest. I say “some men” quite deliberately, because men of color or poverty, union laborers, former military service personnel, and many other groups do not enjoy the privileges held by those who remain blithely ignorant of the suffering their policies and lifestyles create. Debating the “unrealistic” nature of the fictional Julia is like saying Shakespeare has no real value because he represents a world with fairies. Fiction can tell truths that reality fails to reveal.
Several people chastised me in chorus the other day because I was ignorant of something that had been making news headlines for days (can’t remember what at the moment). “Everyone knows about it,” they said. “Did you just crawl out from under a rock?” was their meaning. No, but I have been busy parenting, teaching, hiring, grading papers, washing the dishes, placing incoming freshmen in the proper language classes, and making sure that my daughter has clean pants and shoes that fit, to name just a few things that occupy my day. I do not have access to cable or network tv, I do not have take time to read the newspaper (or much else), and I spend several hours on public transportation every day (where I cannot read without barfing). When I’m lucky (i.e.: not running late), I read the headlines at the newstand and the follow up later on the Internet, if I have time. The people I talk to at the water cooler are discussing how to help struggling students, how to balance our workload, or what we are supposed to prepare for the next faculty meeting. When I have time after my daughter goes to bed or when she is staying with her father, I work on photographs I’ve taken, play the guitar, write, or when I’m too tired to do anything else (which is often the case), I indulge my passion for cinema by watching a movie. I am not living under a rock, but — like many working parents — my life is very full and I choose to use my free time for creative pursuits rather than follow every hot news story that hits the cable outlets.
For some stupid reason, I felt guilty when the chorus of criticism fell upon me. I defended myself loudly, as I am doing here. But again, people are missing the point. It is not about me: I am a privileged example of a single, working mother. I am privileged because I earn a good living at a job I care about, I live in a nice apartment in a safe enighborhood, and my daughter has enough food to eat and (usually) clean clothes that fit (I call them Capri pants, not “flood” pants, because they are always too short within weeks of purchasing them). She goes to a good school because I have chosen an independent education (free from the tyranny of Sacramento and Washington, DC policies and budget crises) instead of expensive vacations, video games, or material goods. Therein lies my privilege, in addition to my status as white, well-educated, middle-class person from a loving family.
I think every day about those women with whom I share many characteristics and whose lives are so much more difficult than mine. Would you criticize them for not knowing who Obama’s Julia is? Would you accuse them of living under a rock? Would you call them ignorant? And would you take away their rights because they are too busy mothering to raise their own voices in protest?
People do. I choose not to. I cannot speak for all mothers, but I can speak for myself and hope that some of what I say will have a positive effect on others’ lives, too.
Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes today, even though it can only be done in a fictional way.