Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

What Does Mommy Tracked Mean To You?

Over the past few weeks there's been some sniping aimed at Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton because she's been talking a lot about being a mom, that plus the fact that while recently sitting on the sofa with the ladies from "The View," she mentioned that the United States has never had a mother as a commander-in-chief. The first female speaker of the House, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, has also been chastised for loudly championing her background as a mother and a former at-home parent who launched her political career when her youngest was in school.

And then there's ABC newswoman Elizabeth Vargas who plopped down on Oprah Winfrey's couch to explain why, to the chagrin of some critics, she left her prestigious position as an anchor at "World News Tonight" so she could have time with her young family. She now anchors "20/20" where she has flexible hours.

Meanwhile, several A-list actresses - including Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow and Golden Globe winner Jennifer Garner - have publicly said that, for now, they're cutting back on the number of movie projects they're accepting so that they can spend time with their young families.

And what is so wrong with all of that?

There are people who insist that women in positions of power and influence (i.e. - Clinton, Pelosi and Vargas) shouldn't emphasize or mention their roles as mothers, and that women shouldn't make career choices based on their families, lest they be labeled "anti-feminists." However the message that these social critics are sending to working mothers is that in order to be taken seriously, mothers should pretend as if they aren't parents and should hide their children's photos and act as though their families have no bearing on their work lives.

A piece recently posted on the American Prospect's website [1] complained that when Clinton appeared on "The View," she employed a "mommy shtick" that's damaging to working women everywhere by "pandering to outmoded gender stereotypes." The writer seemed concerned that because Clinton and Pelosi identify themselves as mothers and speak publicly about their experiences, male voters will be turned off by all this maternity talk and think less of them. The implication in the piece, and in others like it that abound in the media, is that there's something wrong with being a mother, something that diminishes one's credentials as a professional.

But can't someone be a mother AND be tough AND smart? Does identifying with motherhood automatically make an individual appear weak? These attacks on women who openly proclaim their maternity with pride or temporarily jump off the career fast track and onto some form of a "mommy track" like Vargas, are, in their own way, a form of sexism. The criticisms imply that being IDed a mom is a badge of weakness about which one should be embarrassed.

Sure, we can hope that one day, fathers will play an equal part in the parenting equation, that they'll be dialing back or re-structuring their career ambitions for their families in the same numbers as moms do now, that dads will publicly discuss their fatherhood experiences without shame or fear that they won't be considered professional. But for now, working moms are the ones who seem to be doing most of the talking about parenting, which is only one aspect of their lives.

Author Courtney E. Martin recently wrote a piece in the Cincinnati Enquirer [2], voicing support for a notion promoted by several national women's groups in a response to this kind of thinking. They're advocating a "cease-fire" in the so-called "war" between mothers, the one where women are pitted against one another based on how they handle their careers and their families. Instead of having working moms -- or, for that matter, women with no children -- throwing rhetorical rocks at women who've either adjusted their work schedules or taken time out of paid employment to be at-home parents, Martin wrote, maybe that energy should be aimed at helping to making the American workplace a place that encourages a work-life balance for everyone. "I believe that this revolution is not just about mothers or even families," she wrote, "but about the quality of people's lives."

Perhaps instead of lambasting people who publicly discuss their parenthood as weak, outmoded and old school, instead of simply dismissing those who temporarily take a "mommy track" off-ramp in their careers as unambitious feminist failures, why not just shift that effort into promoting causes that could be helpful for everyone? Ain't nothin' wrong with bein' a mom.

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