I will be attending a conference on the subject of motherhood in New York City at the end of the week. It is a joint effort between the Museum of Motherhood, CUNY Graduate Center, and Manhattan College. The title of the conference is Tales of Motherhood: Dislodging the Unthinkable, and its focus is on reclaiming the visibility of motherhood. The conference was timed to be the week before Mother’s Day, one of the only times of the year when the idea of motherhood gets full attention from entertainment and news media.
The rest of the time, the media seem to be interested only when motherhood is presented as a spectacle. Whether it is Kate Middleton giving birth to her second baby (the “spare to the throne”), a mother pulling her son away from the Baltimore riot and disciplining him, or any of the celebrity moms and their post-baby weight loss, the everyday experience of motherhood is put aside in favor of the good/bad mom of the moment. The Museum of Motherhood (of which I’m a board member), received borrowed space in New York City for several years but has closed its physical doors at the end of the previous year (it remains a virtual museum and is presently looking for new space). The museum was hampered in its ability to fundraise because of the invisibility of motherhood. People could not understand why there would need to be a museum for something that seems so “natural.”
During the next ten days, we will all be subjected to stories about presents to buy for our moms, extraordinary moms who have overcome illness or tragedy, and reports on what moms would earn if they were performing their work in the workplace. Last year even brought us a fake job interview (sponsored by American Greetings, of course) to illustrate the burden of a mom’s work. Moms might even get cards from their children, a plant, or breakfast in bed.
All that may be nice, but what would be even better is if there were more discussion on the challenges facing mom in terms of wage gaps, lack of access to day care, lack of flexibility in jobs, the difficulty of re-entry to the workplace, among other serious topics that don’t lend themselves to cute videos to sell cards or flowers, but can lead toward systematic change.
So, my wish this year is for everyone to have a happy Mother’s Day (‘cause, why not enjoy it?) but also for us all to consider ways to make mothers’ work more visible and supported on a daily basis.
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