by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Lisa Belkin’s 2003 New York Times Magazine article “Abandoning the Climb and Heading Home ” pissed me off.
It still ticks me off seven years later.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Lisa Belkin and her work. She raises lots of important mom-issues in her blog, The Motherlode , on a mainstream newspaper website read by millions every day. Yahoo.
But back in 2003, I failed to see how one journalist’s interpretation of eight women who graduated from Princeton in the late 1980s could possibly capture the complicated, chaotic, joyful and perplexing reality facing the 80 million moms in America today. The subtext to Belkins’ piece infuriated me: “See – all those feminists and hard-working, ambitious women were wrong---when a woman truly has a choice, she naturally chooses to be home mining the joys of diapers, playdates, laundry and cooking homemade organic vegetable stew, because a woman’s place really is in the home.”
Why don't women run the world? Belkin wrote.
Maybe it's because they don't want to.
“No!” I’ve been screaming in my head since the day I read that. “I – and so many of the incredibly smart moms I know -- DO want to run the world! We haven’t abandoned any of our career ambitions! We’ve got tons of killer ideas about how to make our world safer and more equitable and kinder. And the education and skills to make them reality. We’d just like to be able to pick our kids up from school while changing the world!”
Now seven years later, the New York Times has taken another stab, this time presenting more balanced views of the mommy wars, moving past Belkin’s opt-out myth. The occasion was decidedly fact-based: recent Pew Research data that documents the increase in American wives and mothers who are their families’ primary breadwinners. In response, the New York Times presented seven opinion essays by a mix of men and women. “Alpha Wives: The Trend and the Truth ” is a refreshing attempt to dig deeper than two-dimensional trends, myths and generalities, filled with thought-provoking ideas, observations and facts. One of my favorite quotes from the Alpha Wives series:
“Every few years, a report reminds us that conventional wisdom is wrong. The ‘news’ that more wives are out-earning their husbands may surprise those who like to think that women are reluctant workers who are opting out and heading home.”
– Professor Kathleen Gerson
So bravo to the New York Times for trying to provide more balanced coverage of the issues facing American women today. But let’s not let the media replace the myth of blissed-out housewives with a new, equally empty stereotype: The Alpha Wife. Sure, I want to feel good about all I do for myself and my family. But Alpha Wife is just the latest renaming of Supermom. I’m not Supermom. Or a Stepford Wife, a Trophy Wife, or even a simple housewife, since there is, unfortunately, nothing simple about moms’ lives today.
I don’t want to be labelled. I want to be supported – by my husband, my kids, my government and our society – in the natural desire to work, provide financially for my family, and play a meaningful role in my children’s upbringing, without being falsely chastised or falsely applauded by vapid stereotypes. It’s not too much to expect our government and employers and our own families help us out with the practical realities of working while raising kids, instead of analyzing, judging or summing up our decisions as the latest “trend.” Here’s what I mean by real support: Affordable, high quality childcare. Incentives for employers who let parents off-ramp and on-ramp and work part-time. Swift justice when gender bias occurs at work or in family life. Partners who do the diapers and the dishes and carpool without being asked (or begged).
When it comes to a role as important as motherhood, no woman should be told how we should or shouldn’t balance work and family. Motherhood is one of the most unique things all of us moms do in our lives. No stereotype, article or label can capture it. So don’t try -- cheer us on instead.