Any justice without kids raises some red flags, in my mind. Having children gives one a “vested” interest in the consequences of one’s rulings. Kids broaden your perspective and make you less selfish. ~ Comment by "randee" on "Obama Names Sotomayor As Supreme Court Pick" at Fitsnews.com
The nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who is not a mother, to the United States Supreme Court and some recent discussion on feminist blogs about a hypothesis advanced that there is a divide between young, childless feminists and mothers have highlighted the ongoing variation of so-called mommy wars (stay-at-home versus working outside the home, partnered versus single, breast feeding versus bottle feeding and on and on and on) where women who are mothers and women who are not are pitted against each other and alienated from one another other.
A majority of American women will become mothers at some point in their lives. This current fact leads to discussions of women to sometimes become conflated with discussions of mothers. However, a non-insignificant number of women are not mothers either by choice or by circumstance. Women who are mothers can often feel that their voices are dismissed because of judgmental assumptions that parenting has consumed their lives and rendered them mute on any subjects not involving attending to the needs of a child. Women who do not have children can feel marginalized, especially in the blogosphere, by the many, many mothers who write on a range of issues and some who at times imply that motherhood has given them a perspective that should be more highly valued than that of other women. Every time I see a post lead off with some variation of "we should pay attention to women, especially mothers" I get stabby. These slights, however unintentional they might be, sting even for those of us who are content with our non-parenting lives. I cannot imagine how painful they must be for women who very much desire to parent but are unable to do so for whatever reason. And the focus of too many of my clueless marketing brethren on showering only certain types of mommyblogs and not other life bloggers with attention, trips and gifts certainly doesn't help matters.
In her piece "Raising the Baby Question" Nona Willis Aronowitz, writing for The Nation, sees a disconnect between blogs written by and targeting young feminists and blogs written by mothers discussing issues of parenting. To her credit, Nona did not react defensively to criticism of her thesis from bloggers including Julie Pippert at MOMocrats and Veronica Arreola at Fem2.0 and Viva La Feminista in which they pointed out the many blogs in which issues of feminism and identities as mothers intersect. She engaged and continues to seek common ground. However, I think her perspective still poses an artificial dichotomy. In a follow up piece published at community.feministing.com, Nona sums up her piece with the observation: "In short, I think moms and feminists need to work together more." Which, of course, prompts the obvious reaction in Jessica Valenti's first comment: "The thing is - moms are feminists and feminists are moms. I don't think they're separate groups." However, in reply to Jessica's comment, the mom vs. non-mom dichotomy is raised. happiestsadists writes:
Actually, a lot of feminists aren't moms. And won't be. And a lot of us feel incredibly alienated by what seems like an already mommy-focused shift in feminism.
And from there battle ensues. Sigh.
I don't have children and I read MOMocrats because it is home to some seriously smart, impressively well researched, kick-ass political writing not because I think they have any superior perspective as mothers. As far as I'm concerned, being a mother confers you with superior insight on precisely one issue: how to raise your children. That said, I am in awe of the communities moms who blog have created and the support they give each other through sharing their familiar stories. I will read some parenting blogs for the amazing writing or because I know the mother in real life. But for the most part, I don't generally read blogs that focus on parenting issues because, though I have cared for children and there are children in my life whom I love dearly, I am not a mother and it's just not my tribe nor is it one I ever anticipate joining.
However, becoming a parent, I am quite certain, gives one a different view on life and on issues that affect her and her family. Will women who are mothers bring that view to their writing about feminism, policy and any other topics they might discuss on their blogs? I hope so. Our life experiences whether they are shaped by gender, economics, race, religion or parenting status and how we got there make our voices unique. And we are well served to seek out diverse views and approaches rather than a monolith. As Julie points out in the comments to her post examining Nona's article:
MOMocrats obviously tends to skew towards moms, but by no means do we exclude for moms only. We include DADocrats and FRIENDocrats, too. I have a Facebook category called COOLocrats. :) We've got all sorts of honorary MOMocrats.
The ultimate idea, in my mind, and I think in most MOMocrat minds, is that we want people to understand where moms are coming from, where we hope to go, and how we are going to drive the national conversation to get there (to be pithy).
As Steph said, your frame of reference does shift once you become a parent (mom or dad).
As I said, and as you said, the key is to build our allies---which we have done, including all sorts, such as even single, childless men!---and so if you ask me? You aren't just welcome here, but welcome aboard!
The shared status of being a mother does not lead to all mothers thinking alike and sharing identical views on politics, policy, parenting or justice. Sonia Sotomayor will bring a unique perspective as a divorced, Catholic, Latina non-mom raised in the projects by a widowed single mother. However, I suspect she will have much more in common in her role on the Supreme Court with the late Thurgood Marshall than does Clarence Thomas even though they shared a common background as black men raised in the segregated south. Some were up in arms over President Obama's desire to choose a nominee who is capable of empathy, i.e. understanding that her rulings have very real consequences for the lives of real people and not limiting themselves to an abstract academic and theoretical lens. Now that Sonia Sotomayor has been selected there are those who are disappointed she is not a mother and those, like the commenter who kicked off this post, who believe it disqualifies her from the bench. Perhaps, as Derek Thompson writes for The Atlantic in "Sonia Sotomayor and the Economics of Gender":
[Y]ou might ask, what does this have to do with Sotomayor, who has no children?...
[W]hen Sotomayor says things like this -- "I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage" -- it's very easy to label her an scourge of identity politics, but it's more accurate to call her self-assessment honest.
As a non-mother I support and advocate family friendly policies in the workplace that benefit parents as well as non-parents. I might need the Family Medical Leave Act someday to care for an aging parent. Guaranteed paid sick leave should be universal as became incredibly apparent during the recent swine flu scare. If another flu pandemic should come one day, I want sick people to stay home as the CDC directed and not show up so they won't get fired or because they cannot afford to miss a day's pay and infect a workplace. Unfortunately nearly half of workers do not have access to paid sick leave. And that parents can use sick leave time to care for their children, too? Well, fantastic. I want universal healthcare because I believe it is a human right not a profit center despite my supposedly selfish, childfree, un-empathetic, narrow parochial view. In the meantime, though moms in Congress are raising the issue, discriminatory gender-based health insurance pricing affects me as well as moms. Being a parent does not automatically make you unselfish nor does it give you superior willingness or ability to advocate for policies that seek to respect all human beings. And not being a mother does not automatically imbue you with a lack of interest in or ability and desire to advocate for policies in the workplace or the world that benefit parents.
When I worked for Kraft Foods in a division led by Ann Fudge, I was inspired by her perspective that everybody should take needed time off be that for parents to spend time with their children, for partners to build their relationship or singles to seek a relationship, build a family or find community. She recognized that we are people beyond our desks and that no play makes for dull workers no matter their relationship or family status.
Besides we are damned if we do, damned if we don't. The very awesome Joan Blades, who is a force in the creation of MomsRising.org, notes that: "It is not right that a single mother makes sixty cents to an equally qualified man's dollar or for a mother to be 79% less likely to be offered a job than a woman that is not a mom." Perhaps this is because women without children are perceived as willing to be chained to their desk and not make pesky requests for time off. But then there's this lovely bit of news:
Research conducted over six years shows that far from bosses and colleagues always being suspicious of a working mother, the opposite is becoming true: it is the childless woman who is regarded as cold and odd.
Well then, I see your cold, odd childless women and raise you a (very slightly) higher unemployment rate for mothers versus women without children. Digging into the numbers, however, reveals that it isn't so much as moms versus non-moms as it is single parents versus married parents and the majority of male parents are married and the majority of single parents are women. So, in other words, no matter how you slice it, patriarchy and ridiculous assumptions about the lives of people and how they should live them trump common sense and the recognition that companies who treat people as humans and not cogs in a machine tend to be more productive and profitable. And you don't have to be a parent to see the folly in ignoring that.
As every one of us has a mother, I think we can all appreciate that motherhood can be difficult, at times thankless and often undervalued, and be grateful to those women who do it well. We all benefit. Sonia Sotomayor pays deep respect to her mother as a strong woman and parent. Motherhood should be celebrated and respected. I understand that a mother will almost certainly have a differently-tuned perspective than I. However the same is true for a woman dealing with infertility while trying to become a mother and is true for a woman who made a deliberative choice to be child-free and is true for a father and so on. However, being a mother does not confer superior wisdom on any issue (except, again, with some limited exceptions, what is right for you and your child). Woman does not equal mother and mother does not trump woman. Nevertheless, too often non-moms hear "MOMS, MOMS, MOMS - you have no value as a woman unless you have a child!" And too often moms hear "you've lost your brain and value as a person beyond raising a child!" No surprise that people can get defensive and overinflate the worth of their status. Still, is it too much to ask for that "moms vs. non-moms" be less of an issue and that there be more respect for our differences in circumstance and choice?
Cross-posted at BlogHer and I encourage you to click over and read the excellent comments there.