There are only a handful of people who should call me by my most prized, most hard won title -- Mama. If you're not my child, don't go there. If you're a teacher, doctor, or coach and can't remember my name, that's cool, just ask, but don't call me Mom. And that goes double for anyone in public office, political pundits and media commentators. Don't call me a stay-at-home Mom, working Mom, stepmom or single Mom and please, please, don't call me soccer Mom. In fact, unless you sprang from my loins, don't call me Mom at all. I'm an American woman, but I'm not your mother and my reproductive status is none of your business.
"Soccer Mom" and its sister-labels (see above) have become diminutive terms like "little woman," "desperate housewife," or "lady doctor," defining women solely by their relationship to children. This dilutes their adult identities and negates their independent opinions, occupations and lives. It places them in a nurturing, caretaking role and while those are certainly excellent attributes, they're only part of women's identities.
It's not that I'm not delighted to be a mother. I am. Parenting is a significant part of my life, but it's not the sum total of my being and not something that's part of most adult relationships outside my home. When someone asks who I am, I rarely answer, "Mom." Instead I describe other parts of my life, for example, my work as a journalist and nurse. Who are the millions of other women raising children? Doctor, lawyer, dance Mom? How about men working in similar roles? Their breeding status doesn't get anywhere near the same level of attention and adults rarely call men "Daddy."
I became aware of the demoting power of motherhood when a pediatrician patted me on the head and said, "you're a good mommy" instead of answering a straightforward question about how to prevent my baby's recurring thrush infection. He seemed to think being a mother counteracted my medical training and overrode my ability to understand advanced concepts. I got the Mom treatment and a healthy dose of condescension instead.
Maybe this "mommy thing" is just a last bastion hold out from thousands of years of patriarchy. Women's rights have come so far after all; surely we're evolving beyond that. But lately, I have to wonder, especially considering the time-warped arguments being waged over women's reproductive rights.
Last week, while reviewing the State of The World's Mothers (SOTWM) report I had an 'a-ha' moment about the correlation between women's representation in government and women's status in society. The data is clear: the more women in government, the better life is for all women whether they're mothers or not.
In Niger, for example, ranked the worst place on earth to be a mother, only 13 percent of government representatives are women. In Afghanistan, second worst, only 28 percent. In Yemen -- third worst, only 1 percent. In these countries mothers regularly die in childbirth, and women have severely limited freedom and access to healthcare, transportation, money, education and other elements of power that make lives safe, healthy and happy. It's what we've come to expect from undeveloped countries where women aren't respected or employed. So, what's America's excuse?
American women are educated, employed and independent. American mothers are supposedly respected, even revered. They have their own money and make their own decisions. They aren't controlled by religious and patriarchal strongmen like women in Niger, Afghanistan and Yemen. Or are they?
The US ranks 25th out of 41 industrialized countries in the SOTWM report. We're the 16th worst industrialized country in which to be a mother. Not coincidentally, only 17 percent of our government representatives are women. Contrast that with Norway, (the No. 1 spot for mothers) whose government is 40 percent female. While Norwegian women have universal healthcare, paid maternity leave and decent (though not equal) wage equity, American women earn far less than their male counterparts, receive no pay during maternity leave, and have limited access to outrageously expensive health care. Is it any wonder America sucks for mothers considering our rights are represented and controlled by an 83 percent male government?
Here in the most powerful country on earth, women's legislative and voting influence is marginalized. We make up 50 percent of the population, but are still treated like a special interest group. That's how the term "soccer Mom" started. Coined during the 1996 presidential election, "soccer Mom" was a popular catchphrase used to corral and court key swing voters. It quickly morphed, however, from being a potentially empowering phrase to a denigrating one. In fact, in the 16 years since "soccer Mom" became a media darling, women's roles in politics and some of our basic rights have taken a turn for the worse.
Is there a deliberate strategy at play here? Could it be that for the boys to stay in power, they need to keep the girls under control and preferably huddled with the powerless children? Maybe that's why certain religions and politicians have trouble thinking about women as competent adults, capable of making our own decisions when it comes to our bodies.
Why so few American women in government? I wonder if in part, it's because, no matter how strong her platform and resume, a female candidate's motherhood will be magnified and scrutinized. She'll be identified as a hockey Mom, working mom, or stay-at-home mom. When a man runs? Not so much.
Women aren't helping each other out on this either. When Sarah Palin jokes: What's the difference between a pit bull and a hockey Mom; isn't she knocking herself down a few pegs? Since she's comparing women to dogs with particularly bad reputations, wouldn't the word "bitch" do just as well? What would campaign season look like if men's fatherhood were magnified? Oh wait. John Edwards. Oops.
Until we balance gender equity on Capitol Hill and move away from gender-based prejudice, the status of American women will remain low. Regardless of whether we have children or not, want to someday or don't, women have their own identities, opinions and values. Quit clumping us together. Quit treating us differently than men. Quit giving us the mom-treatment. Let's put the battle over reproductive rights to rest. Let's shift the political dialogue to issues that support all women, men and children. Let's elect more women to high-level political positions. And please, please... If you aren't our children, lets quit calling women, "Mom."