Stop “Rushing” to Label Women and Telling them to Stay Home

By Estelle Sobel Erasmus 

Rush Limbaugh recently unleashed somewhat incoherent ramblings against women on his show rehashing yet again the old, tired “The Mommy Wars” where he gave his thoughts on how feminist women are following their natural instincts-finally, according to him– by staying home to take care of their children and tried to incite conflict between stay-at-home moms and working mothers.

First he disparaged Raising America host, Kyra Phillips as “the wife of John Roberts of Fox News,” without crediting her as an award-winning journalist and broadcaster.

Next, Rush brought up the much-discussed and controversial (what else) cover of New York magazine this month, touting Kelly Makino, as the The Retro Wife. The story, talks about the trend of women who are purposefully leaning out of the workplace in droves.

The journalist who wrote the story neglects to mention, however, throughout the mainly anecdotal story that the archaic policies of corporate america when it comes to parenting, and including the needs of caregivers, is part of what is making many women make that decision, not just that they want to be at home. In addition, Dr. Jocelyn Elise Crowley,  Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers, states in her 2008 Sloan Report, 78.8% of stay-at-home moms plan to return to work for pay.

Lisa Belkin had an excellent response to that article  in the Huffington Post, which elaborated on some of the research and information lacking in the New York Magazine article.

Of course, Rush jumped right on the “women should stay home” bandwagon. In his show he said,

“Now, folks, it has become the norm, and now there are things called the mommy wars where more and more women — liberal, feminist women — are deciding that the way to really have it all is to get married, have a child, and stay home and raise the kid. ..So now the mommy wars have erupted and the feminists are upset at more and more women for deciding to let down the sisterhood, so to speak.But increasingly, by definition here, the numbers of women who are betraying feminism are liberal women. All these liberal women, and some liberal guys if they’ve got the guts to say so, act like they’ve come across some brand-new discovery: becoming a mother and actually staying home and raising the child.”

In the quest to sell magazines via incendiary coverlines, Kelly and her complete views was misrepresented by the media

She told the Huffington Post and reiterated to me, “that my reason to leave work-like for many others-was a complex decision, largely based in economics and concern for my children; the description of my home life left out the fact that I help run North Jersey Moms Meetup Group, a non-profit parenting organization, in my spare-time, and like many others-that I feel blessed for the luxury to be home with my little ones; yet feel the sacrifice of my self-hood in this role. Every. Single. Day. Lastly, there’s the fact that I have every intention of a career later, even if it means I need to go back to school to do it. The reason why New York Magazine reached out to me initially is because of my experience with Stay At Home parents (SAHP), but they turned this into a case study and edited out anything that wasn’t retro.”

This is no surprise to me. The misrepresentation of women and mothers in the media is rampant.

An excerpt from my chapter on the misrepresentation of women and mothers in the media based on a chapter I wrote for the book What Do Mothers Need?: Motherhood Activists and Scholars Speak Out on Maternal Empowerment for the 21st Century (Demeter Press, 2013)  just appeared on The Broad Side today. My chapter states:

According to the National Organization for Women, the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States:

Media stories on women, work and family often are incomplete, because the stories report only on the experiences and attitudes of small or elite groups of mothers. Reporters often use these small groups to convey their stories as common to all mothers.

Other ways the media get it wrong:

Framing the difficult options facing a mother as being a personal choice, rather than a result of public policy.

•Rehashing the Mommy Wars; the truth is that most women go in and out of the workforce during the course of their lives, and also while their children are growing up.

•By not recognizing that mothers who want to work, find fewer opportunities because of the inflexible, and archaic (set on a 1950s model of the man being the primary breadwinner and the wife and mother at home) structure of most of corporate America, which still believes that face time is key to getting ahead, even though most parents say the key to work satisfaction is the ability to have flexibility. Unfortunately, there is a gap between policy and practice because the concept of the “perfect” worker does not reflect the realities of modern family (enmeshed in caregiving for both children and aging parents) and society.

•Confusing the “work” of mothering (the activities that take care of a family) with the role of mother.

•Using the word mothering instead of the word parenting.

In the NY magazine article that Rush Limbaugh so happily espoused as a reason women, even liberal women who are feminists should stay home, Kelly’s husband’s role was not a clearly elaborated one, other than saying that he was a management consultant and made a six-figure-salary. But Kelly did shed a little more light on her husband for me, making him a truly full-dimensional person.

“My husband Alvin is incredibly supportive; he dialed back on his career when I needed him to before, and I’m sure he’ll do it again. I think that we have an extremely egalitarian gender dynamic in our home and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”

I am telling the media right now. Stop with rehashing these “mommy wars, once and for all, and giving fodder to the likes of women-disparaging people like Rush Limbaugh.

The real focus of the media should be the issues of public policy for mothers: childcare, healthcare for children, the inequality of pay, flexible jobs, and the struggles and challenges of real everyday life for mothers and caregivers.

Mothers need to be involved in their own advocacy, and find one or many communities to provide support and encouragement as they seek to create change. To that end, as stated in my book chapter:

•If you read misleading portrayal of mothers in the media, including trend stories based on anecdotal accounts that are presented as facts contact organizations like the Women’s Media Center  or MissRepresentation or NOW (http://www.now.org)

•Create a petition on Change.org

•Call, write or email the media outlet or company with your concerns.

•If you feel that companies are off base in how they represent mothers, post your comments on their Facebook walls or Twitter. Use the immediacy of social media to support your cause.

•To find community, join Mothers & More, a national non-profit organization which touts the value of a mothers work whether paid or unpaid, provides opportunities to connect with like-minded women, and offers chances to give back to the community and economically disadvantaged women through advocacy efforts like Power of a Purse, where gently used and new purses are collected and provided to shelters.

• Check out Moms Rising, a group that is aligned with Mothers & More which highlights the issues and provides links to letters you can sign that go straight to policy makers.

•Pay attention to bills on the table (check out www.usa.gov) that will take away your rights and write to your local congressperson via writing to the United States House of Representatives.

•Write about the situation on your blog, or raise the situation to the attention of popular mom bloggers, whose community is one of the most powerful and influential online communities on the Internet.

Kelly ended our discussion by sharing this thought with me, “My greatest fear is that my piece is going to be used by conservatives to encourage women to stay home.”

Let’s use this example of one woman being so terribly misrepresented to start a better conversation, raise awareness and question the stories we are reading, and push for policies that support the real value of the work of caregiving in our society.

Isn’t that the real work we need to do?

 

Estelle Sobel Erasmus is an award-winning journalist and former magazine editor-in-chief who is on the Board of Directors of the national non-profit Mothers & More, a support, education and advocacy organization for mothers which emphasizes the value of a mother’s work whether paid or unpaid.

Her writing was recently featured in the anthology, What Do Mothers Need? Motherhood Activists and Scholars Speak Out on Maternal Empowerment for the 21st Century (Demeter Press, 2013) and in theThe BlogHer Voices of the Year: 2012 book for her article, “We Changed the Conversation,” for which she was named a 2012 BlogHer Voice of the Year. Estelle was a 2012 cast member in the first ever Listen to Your Mother NYC production; and is a 2012 Circle of Moms Top 10 Winner for Best Family Blog by a Mom.

Estelle chronicles her often humorous, sometimes serious but always transformative journey through motherhood, marriage and midlife on her blog, Musings on Motherhood and Midlife. She also writes acolumn about women making a difference for examiner.com and has been featured on The Broad Side, Kveller.com, Circleofmoms.com and Mamapedia.com. Estelle can be found on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

12 thoughts on “Stop “Rushing” to Label Women and Telling them to Stay Home”

  1. Very insightful piece, Estelle. With the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, the discussion is primarily centered on the aspects of leaning in. But, you raised an interesting point about those who are doing the opposite and purposely leaning out. Many headlines on this topic read something along the lines of: “Why Aren’t Women Running the World,” or “All Women Need to Lean In.” But the reality is, we don’t all want to lean in 100 percent of the time. It’s okay if moms or dads desire time out of the workforce to raise their children and then return to work. What professionals “need to do/should do” is not up to society to dictate, but according to each family and their unique needs. –Allison O’Kelly, founder/CEO Mom Corps

    1. Allison,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I concur with your statement completely that we don’t all want to lean in 100 percent of the time. I’ll go even further, to say that ambitious women have always leaned in, but its the unconscious psychological constructs of people in corporate america as well as outworn policies that have kept women from being as valued for their contribution as they should. I still believe that a society that values caregiving would have different policies, and that is not happening fast enough. I would love to speak with you further about ways Mothers & More can partner with your organization.
      Estelle

  2. I wrote a post on Babble that was wholly anecdotal and personal, about my experience as a WAHM, but I knew the challenges I face are largely universal for WAHM’s in general. I didn’t make my decisions in a private vaccuum. I made them in public, in a space that doesn’t give women all that many great choices. I wish my post had illustrated that fact better. It’s one thing to complain and commiserate (which I am excellent at) and another to suggest how we need to address the REAL issues which are not a lack of understanding alone. Until we have the public policy and infrastructure to support and promote change, and a better work/life balance for all, it won’t get any better. Great article!

    1. Thanks so much Ciaran. I read your article and appreciated you sharing your own point of view and what you gave up and what you gained. At the end of the day, it’s policies and economic realities that give rise to the decisions that every woman makes as to whether or not to choose to work for pay outside the home or stay at home, and most go in and out of the job market, according to sound research that was sorely lacking in the NY magazine article.
      Estelle

  3. I stopped listening to Rush years ago. I would like to see more media outlets stop creating and re-heating the Mommy war issue whenever it dies down. It is a cyclical debate that never actual reflects the roles of at home moms and work outside also moms.

  4. I always wonder about anyone pointing the finger at how another family chooses to raise theirs when it comes to working/not working etc. I have been in corporate America, going on business trips away from my first born (literally the week I was back from maternity) and it killed me. I then worked 3 days a week (30 hours) for 5 years after my second was born in a demanding job…the 2 days of the week that I was off, I was “all-in” as Mommy. I now am home for a year. I have done it every way and NONE of them are easy. I feel each path/choice has you looking over the “fence” and wondering or feeling the need for more of what you don’t have in that moment.

    At the end of the day…we mothers are helpng to “make people”. We each have to choose our path and find ways to be ok with it to do that the very best that we can.

    1. Thanks Colleen for sharing the very real path that so many moms go toward. In for a little, out for a little; but all the time dealing with the unpaid “work” of being a mom. If society valued caregiving, than policies would address that, and support it.
      Estelle

  5. Yet another example of women having prescribed roles that they are expected to fill. I feel blessed to be home with my kids 4 out of 5 day a week but I know many women don’t have the option or choose not to – and that is their family’s decision – not anyone else’s.

  6. I think many of us feel conflicted between what we need to do economically, what we feel is the best personal choice for us, and what society says we should do. It is sad to see Stay at Home parenting painted in such a simplistic way….because it is anything but simple.

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