Every now and then, I check in at the Mother Lode blog at the NY Times. Today, there was a post about celebrities being "first and foremost" moms. It got me thinking, which I suppose makes it a good blog post.
I wish that this was not even an issue worth thinking about, but I think it is, not because I think we should care how some celebrity defines her life, but because of what it says about how all of us define our lives. Am I "first and foremost" a mom? Or a scientist? Or a manager? Or a techie? (Or, for that matter, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a book lover, a blogger, a traveler, an out of practice fiddler....?)
I am all of those things. At once. At any given moment, one aspect or another is probably dominant, but it is rare that I spend a day where I am "first and foremost" any one thing.
I don't think I am unusual in this regard.
I think the need we seem to have to make women declare their allegiances- are you a mom or a worker?- is part and parcel of the same thinking that makes it so common for me to be asked about how I achieve work-life balance, while no one has ever asked my husband that question. Not once.
And it is closely linked to an insidious type of sexism I've been noticing more now that I have added "mom" to my list of roles. Some people want to explain away the differences in the number of women in certain professions or at the highest ranks in most professions by saying that it is not sexism causing those differences. It is the fact that women become mothers, and that causes them to limit their own careers. So there is no problem, you see, because it is all personal choice.
Well, I call BS on all of it. If motherhood is preventing large numbers women from obtaining their career objectives, that is sexism- unless fatherhood causes the same impediment. The time during which there is an actual, biological difference in the parenting requirements of mothers and fathers is just too short to lay the blame for the large inequities that persist at the feet of motherhood.
None of this is to belittle women (or men) who choose a different path, and don't want to stay in the work force once they have kids. I think that in most cases their list of roles encompasses more than "mother" (or "father"), too, and if it doesn't, that is fine. But can we please stop acting like women who choose to have both "mother" and "worker" in their list of roles are required to choose which one comes first? That is a false choice, and unless you ask the same of all the working fathers out there, it is a sexist one.