The Language Of Motherhood

The other day, a piece I wrote that reflected on a quote by actress Elizabeth Banks went up at Bitch magazine. Banks had been discussing motherhood with People magazine and was quoted saying,

“You don’t realize how easy one is until you have two. Now I’m really a mom. Oh, I am a mom now! This is for serious — I am responsible for two people now.”

As I mention in my post at Bitch, I don’t actually believe that Banks feels that mothers of only one child are not “real,” nor am I personally offended if she did happen to mean it. Instead, I took Banks’ words and used them to look at the larger issue of why language like that can be damaging when it comes to motherhood. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with me and I was subjected to some pretty harsh comments (I know, I know. Never read the comments).

I’m not writing this post to complain about the negative comments I received, but instead to wonder why we can’t have a discussion about the language surrounding motherhood without claims of sensationalism. The purpose of my piece wasn’t to sensationalize anything or anyone, or even to “call out” Elizabeth Banks. The problem, as I noted, isn’t even Banks, but rather the fact that we have phrases like “real mom” or “good mom” in our vocabulary when reflecting on motherhood. I’ve written about this before – dads are certainly not scrutinized in the same judgmental fashion mothers are

I’ll admit it: I’m knee-deep in ripping apart the good mother myth at the moment. I’m currently in the editing phase for my anthology (book cover samples came in the other day!!), and I own up to wearing good-mother myth tinted glasses more often than not. I’m more tuned in to both the overt and more subtle ways society continues to push this myth of the “good mother” as the ideal.

But just imagine for a moment if we didn’t have “good mother” or “real mother” as parts of our language of motherhood. What else might fall to the wayside? Heated arguments about breastfeeding vs formula feeding? “Natural” vs. Intervention births? What else?

Imagine if we could take all that time that’s been used up by these debates and focus it on issues that really matter (oh, you know… mandatory paid family leave, paid sick leave, flexible work hours, continued access to safe & affordable contraception and abortion, perfecting that awesome cake in a jar recipe from Pinterest). A gal can dream, no?

What would we talk about if our language around motherhood shifted?

What would we talk about if our language around motherhood shifted?

8 thoughts on “The Language Of Motherhood

  1. I am so glad I discovered your blog! I am a fellow Wesleyan grad, and I just started a new blog. I’m trying to figure out what kind of blog I want to have. I am a doctoral student in education policy, and I want to write about research on learning and parenting, as well as my own experiences as a new mom. But it’s so hard — as a feminist — to negotiate these two, very discrete worlds of “mommy” blogs vs. serious education policy and research. Your blog is a wonderful example of writing as a mother while also getting into some provocative issues in a serious way. Thank you!
    And I also just wrote a post about Elizabeth Banks comment. Yes, we really need to get away from comments about “real” anything: “real” moms, “real” Americans, whatever.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! Nice to meet a fellow Wes grad – will definitely check our your blog.

      It can definitely be tricky to parse how just how to present yourself and your writing when wading through both the “mommy” thing and academia. Fortunately, there’s a host of excellent feminist bloggers who are also mothers that have help me navigate this arena and provided me with inspiration and camaraderie.

      If you haven’t already, check out blue milk, First The Egg, Birthing Beautiful Ideas, and more (I also rec this great round table I facilitated with feminist “mom bloggers” for Ms. Magazine:

      • Thanks for these ideas. I looked at a few of them…. They are great places to start! And let me know if you have any suggestions/comments about my blog — I’d love from blogging wisdom!

      • For sure. Feel free to email me (TheMamafesto AT gmail DOT com) – I tried to access your blog from the link in your comment profile but it doesn’t seem t be working :/

        On Fri, Jan 25, 2013 at 1:01 PM, The Mamafesto

  2. 1. Kudos to you for avoiding the sensationalism that often accompanies the parsing of celebrities’ (or really anyone’s) poorly chosen words. We’ve all been guilty of it at times. (I don’t even mind generalizing there.) And your piece in Bitch is exceedingly careful *not* to do it.

    2. YES. A million times yes. That good mother/real mother spectre (and even the spectre of the “woman who has it all”) seems to loom large over most media pieces on motherhood these days, even when those concepts aren’t central to the story. And I’d love to imagine a day where they don’t. Better yet–I’d love for them to *actually* not loom large or small at *all.* Because then, yes, the “really good” conversations about the work of parenting, and systems of support, and social-cultural critiques can happen then. (I use the phrase “really good” with all of the wink wink, nudge nudge silliness you can think of.)

  3. How about just stop describing mothers as good or bad? Just responsible or irresponsible mothers. The questions should not be bottle-feeding or breast-feeding but was the baby fed, full stop. It is very rare a man is asked if he is breast-feeding or bottle-feeding.
    I won’t even get on the two children make you a real mother argument. Numbers of children do not tell anyone about what kind of mother you are.

  4. Very interesting post and focus on the cultural hegemony of the word “natural” motherhood discourse. Do you think it coheres to other discourses around ‘naturalness’? I’d be interested in reading more about this topic.

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