Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Mothers' Day Political Thoughts
1. The political respect for motherhood is a bit like buying one of those "I Support The Troops" bumper stickers (made in China and very cheap) and then voting against any veterans' benefits.
2. That's why the myth of the all-sacrificing female parent as the sole caregiver of children is so popular! A special day once every year and no need for paid parental leave! Because mothers are intended to self-sacrifice, so nobody else will have to. This is an extreme example of how a proper mother should spend her life. Note the guilt, note the need to erase all other parts of one's personality, and then note that all this is internalized: The job of parenting belongs solely to mothers and its cost is pretty much everything else.
3. That's the shadow side of basic libertarian* thinking, too, which stinks of Nietzsche. If the Übermensch is to be mostly free (free!), then the Untermensch cannot be. Someone must wipe the butts and wash the diapers, but having done so will always count against the person in the labor market. You must take time off to be a Good Mother but you will be punished for taking that time off.
4. None of this means that fathers of children wouldn't be expected to take responsibility for their children. But traditionally that responsibility coincides much better with a person's other goals in life: You can advance in your career, get promoted, satisfy some of your ambitions, and nobody asks who is minding your children or how they cope with your absences. Granted, the monetary consequences are not good for either mothers or fathers who take time off from the labor force. Still, we expect less hands-on care or presence from fathers and guilt them much less for the choice to continue working hard.
5. The problems of the mythologically decreed Supermom, working mostly on her own, are much exacerbated for some groups of women of color and for poorer women. Staying at home is not an option if you are the breadwinner of the family or if the earnings of two adults are necessary, good quality daycare may be unaffordable. Those single mothers who qualify for government assistance are often viewed as parasites sucking the blood of upstanding taxpayers.
This provocative story is by a black woman who chose not to have children because she knew she was expected to do it all on her own.
6. The bumper sticker view of motherhood in this country means that the US is one of the few countries where maternal mortality rates are rising, and also one of the few industrialized countries where there is no nationwide policy for paid maternity leave, not to speak of paid paternity leave.
Though the reasons for the former are complex, they clearly intersect with poverty and race. The latter we may thank the conservatives and corporations for. You may have heard that paid parental leave would handicap American corporations which have to compete against foreign firms. Possibly even firms located in countries which already have paid (and long!) parental leave. Gasp.
7. These points are about political thoughts about motherhood, not general or philosophical thoughts. Thus, they are not intended to negate the wonders of parenthood or to imply that the respect for individual mothers wouldn't be real. But politicians are not meant to focus on the latter. They are meant to create the support systems which parenting requires. And in that sense this country gets a failing grade.
* This libertarian angle crops up in the onus put on individuals rather than the wider society:
Rather than making the environment safer and healthier for children, the onus is put on the parents, and especially on mothers, beginning from pregnancy: Mercury in tuna? It's your responsibility not to eat it while pregnant. No sidewalks for school children to use to walk to school? It's your responsibility to drive them, and when they get fat from lack of exercise, that, too, is your responsibility. And we won't even ask the question what a parent without a car should do.
The counterargument is that people shouldn't have kids if they cannot do all that. But children are the next generation and will become the future caregivers, doctors, dentists, farmers and so on; the people who will one day take care of the old people that even today's young and childless libertarians turn into. This shared aspect of the value of children is one reason why the society should support good parenting.