Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Golf And Motherhood: The Frame

A New York Times article discusses the choices of professional female golfers to quit in order to have children. Or perhaps in order not to just have children but also take care of them full time? The story is both on something biological: the fact that the best golfing years and the time to have children largely overlap, but also on something societal: the definition of parenthood.

The beginning of the story is bound to make you feel glum:

Over the past two years, the L.P.G.A. Tour's two biggest stars retired to devote their energies to family. The departures of Annika Sorenstam at 38 and Lorena Ochoa at 28 rocked a tour that was reeling from lost sponsors and tournaments.

In this age of million-dollar purses and million-mile travel, can the L.P.G.A. keep its superstars long enough to increase the tour's following? The players' fitness trailer is a reminder of the tour's weakened state; its sides are adorned with larger-than-life images of Sorenstam and Ochoa.

Michael Whan, the L.P.G.A. commissioner, said women's professional golf was "a tough, aggressive, highly paid career path, and people struggle with what kind of competitor they want to be and what kind of mom they want to be."

He added, "We try to make it possible to be a mom and be competitive, but we can't make it where nobody leaves because, quite frankly, that's personal choice."

Perhaps. But nobody truly points out the larger frame. It's visible in a few of the quotes. Here is the "hook" couple of the story, Cristie Kerr and her husband Erik Stevens who are thinking of having a child:

At a May tournament in Mobile, Ala., Kerr exchanged a hurried greeting with Karen Stupples, who was rushing to retrieve her 3-year-old son from the tour's day care center 15 miles away. Kerr glanced at her husband, and the thought that passed between them, Stevens said, was, "No way can we do that!"

See it? What are the options here? She quits or she uses daycare. The third option is not mentioned.

Another revealing quote is this one:

When Nancy Lopez was dominating the tour in the early 1980s, such discussions began and ended with finding and affording child care.

"It's definitely different for women," she said. "Guys, they have a wife who takes care of the children. They can focus totally on golf."

See it? If child-care is acceptable why not that option we are not going to mention at all?

And the oddest quote of all is this one:

The travel, which was always hard on Ochoa, grew unbearable after her December marriage to Andrés Conesa, the chief executive of Aeroméxico, who had three children with his first wife. Ochoa returned home from season-opening events in Thailand and Singapore and told Conesa she would quit in May.

"Andrés asked me, 'Did I have something to do with this?' " Ochoa said. "I told him, 'Only because I'm with you and I'm happy.' I think my retirement was hardest on Andrés. He feels some blame, I guess, because people see that I got married and now I'm quitting."

What do Ochoa's husband's three children from his first marriage have to do with her quitting?

I often feel like a real grouch hammering on these same topics. Also as if I was hitting my head against the same brick wall. But someone has to do it, or so I feel. Because the frame that is used in these is an intricate one and consists of so many different bits that one swallows it all in one large gulp, oh so very easily.

Yet some bits don't really belong in that frame and others are presented differently when it is men who retire from some professional sport. They don't retire because of a role conflict. They retire to enjoy life in other ways (exactly what Ochoa seems to have done, by the way). Neither is their retirement seen as some sort of a general challenge to the system or generalized to all men.

But these mildly worrying stories about women are written that way: Moms juggling career and kids! Watch them falter! Watch the whole league falter! Better not venture into these areas at all.

And do you know what is really the weirdest bit of the frame? These women are competing against other women, not against men. So they all share the same limitations if they plan to have children. Somehow I would have thought that the league could take that into account.