The Mother Of All Roles

I was watching the Oscars the other night in bed, trying to stay awake to see my betrothed Colin Firth win that long overdue award, when Natalie Portman won for Best Actress In A Leading Role. I thought her speech was very poignant and sweet. I especially loved the way she thanked her parents for allowing her to pursue her passions at a young age. Her beautiful purple dress only accented that sweet glow that so many mothers-to-be have. She thanked countless others, including her lover, and then said something to the effect of, “And thank you for giving me the most important role I’ll ever play.” Meaning motherhood, of course.

As soon as she said it, a thought popped into my head. “They will tear her apart for saying that,” I thought.

And sure enough, the next morning I signed onto the computer and my Tumblr dashboard was filled with moanings and groanings, people up in arms over Natalie’s outdated and sappy statement. Women everywhere were virtually rolling their eyes and talking about how Natalie, with one simple statement, had just invalidated her entire career by suggesting that motherhood trumps Oscar.

My question is, so what if it does? What if to Natalie Portman, motherhood is the most important role she’ll ever play? Is that somehow wrong?

Why do we get to decide what her priorities are? How is it our business to judge her, to assume that we somehow know better than she does how her successes should be rated? She’s a fully grown adult who has experienced much success and accolades. She’s incredibly intelligent and articulate. I’m guessing that she’s smart enough to figure out her own priorities. I’m pretty sure she’s thought this all through. There is also the fact to consider that Natalie Portman’s father is a fertility doctor, so no doubt she has grown up knowing the struggle some women have to go through to have a child, and I imagine she doesn’t take pregnancy lightly.

What I can’t figure out is why some women are so offended by Natalie’s casual statement in her speech. Perhaps I’m just the most naive, accepting and unassuming person on the planet, but I don’t find it at all offensive, or counter-productive to feminism whatsoever. I don’t think its backward or overly sentimental. It’s her opinion. One I agree with in my own life.

I have a child. And yes, I do consider my role as a parent to be the most important role I’ll ever play. I wear many hats in my life: I’m a writer, a feminist, a survivor, a genealogist, a vegetarian, a wife, a daughter, a friend, a photographer, a cyclist … I could go on and on. I’m many things. Some of those things I find to be bigger accomplishments than others. My role as a parent I find to be the biggest accomplishment, and the one I should take most seriously.

It has nothing to do with being a woman. Notice I did not use the term “Mother.” I used the term “Parent.” Insofar as it comes to our son, my husband and I are on equal footing as parents. We both consider this to be the most important role in our lives. Were he to say as much in mixed company, I doubt anyone would bat an eye. In fact, he’d probably be praised to the heavens for his ability to step up to the task of parenthood, blah blah blah.

Why is this? I could delve deeper into the politics of men and women and parental gender roles, but we all know how it goes. We all know how society works, and how deep it runs. The misogyny when it comes to parenthood is still alive and well. It is still a rare occasion that you see a man on the cover of a parenting magazine. Women still get custody of the children in a divorce 90% of the time. Everywhere you go you hear, “Children should be with their mother.” When a father steps up to the plate, he’s lauded as a hero because apparently that is not the norm for many people. When a woman chooses not to have children, it is assumed she’s either barren or incredibly selfish (see: Jennifer Aniston).

I get it. Women are expected to drop their lives to become parents, to sacrifice everything for their children, to be babymaking machines without much concern for anything else. Anything less, and we’re not “real women.”It’s completely understandable that my fellow ladies would rebel against that tired, hurtful stereotype. For some, motherhood isn’t a desirable goal. Everybody is different; not everyone wants to take that path in life.

I get that. I felt that way myself at one time. The fact that I had a child and enjoy being a mother quite surprises me when I think about it. I get the sentiment of not wanting to have kids. What I don’t get is the judgment of other women who do choose to have children. In various, supposedly feminist internet communities all over, all you have to do is peruse the comments section to see various levels of snark aimed towards women who have kids. Those of us who are parents have to watch what we say lest we be deemed a STFU Parent or a Smug Mommy. If you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t be too terribly excited or talkative about the whole experience because it annoys those who have decided to be childless. Somehow it seems that our status as parents threatens those who are childless – it’s not catching, I promise.

This is something I’ve noticed increasingly in the past few years, and I noticed it before I had my son. There’s an incredible double standard in some feminist communities where children are concerned. If we’re talking reproductive rights or breastfeeding issues, that’s one thing, but when it comes down to actually choosing to have children, bearing them, and then raising them, it’s just not interesting anymore. In fact, it seems to be down right repugnant. It is automatically assumed, it seems, that if you have a baby bump you’ve handed in your feminist card and decided to join the June Cleaver club of domestic stay-at-homes. You are no longer useful to the feminist discourse.

It isn’t the case. At least not for me it isn’t. Yes, I have a son, and in the two years he’s been alive I’ve accomplished more personal goals than I ever did before he was born. I’ve also become more involved in women’s issues and much more proactive. Being a parent makes me strive to better myself. I want my son to be proud of who I am. I want him to see a strong woman who can accomplish big things. I want him to see that and want it for himself. I want to raise him to be the most awesome, considerate, respectful, intelligent and creative man he can possibly be. I’m proud that it is my job to do that. I’m happy to take on the role, and I hold it dearer than all my other tasks in life.

Does that make me any less a feminist? Nope. Does the fact that I say it outloud somehow make me annoying, braggy and smug? Possibly.

Maybe its true, that the moment we have children we become simpering Mommy Factories. Maybe I’m just so blind I can’t see the truth. But honestly, I don’t see the problem here. Strong women accomplish great things. Motherhood is no exception. So I say rock on, Natalie. This feminist thinks you’ll be a great parent.

Image Credit: Courtesy Andrew Evans

By Teri Drake-Floyd

An almost 30-something synestheste, foodie, genealogist and all around proud geek.

24 replies on “The Mother Of All Roles”

THANK YOU! Being a feminist and a mother is simply shameful in too many online communities. It’s shocking that the choice to be a mom is denigrated so readily (Jezebel? I’m looking at you). And, yeah, at 37 with a fulsome career, lovely family, great friends and an active life…being mom to my 2 year old son is my greatest role…my body, my house, my rules.

That’s very true! While she did credit her dance double in interviews, the super-imposing of Natalie’s face over Sarah’s was so seamless that many would think it was Natalie doing the dancing in full-body shots rather than Sarah. I knew that Sarah Lane was her double, but didn’t realize she pretty much did all of Natalie’s dancing that was in full-body shots, I only thought she would be shown from behind or in blurry shots (like in a shot where she is out of focus in a mirror reflection doing turns while Vincent Cassel is in the foreground in focus watching her).

Since it was Sarah Lane’s body and a CGI of Natalie’s face, then why was all the Oscar buzz about her “training for a WHOLE YEAR!” as if her dancing made the role so Oscar worthy?! Her PR firm deserves a nice PHAT bonus.

Yeah, I’m a hater. Enjoy.

I admit it, I eyerolled her statement. Yes, it’s Natalie’s choice what role in her life is the most important, but in a society where daughter, wife, and mother are the de facto roles, it’s not really a role that anyone needs reinforced. And most importantly, coming from a Harvard grad, the line felt trite. I expect wittier things from her.

I think this is an unwinnable battle. Women who are mothers will be criticized for saying that motherhood is the most important thing they’ll do, and women who aren’t mothers will be criticized for saying it isn’t. What we, as a society, and feminists, as a community, need to realize is that all of the choices are valid, and what’s right for you isn’t right for everyone. We have enough problems without attacking each other for our reproductive choices.

Nicely said. Before I had my kids I always said that I’d make sure my career was on equal ground as my kids because I wanted to set a feminist example. Guess what? After my maternity leave was up I quit my job because I didn’t want to be away from my kid. I totally chucked my career because our family was able to get by on one salary (with major sacrifices, of course) and that’s what I wanted to do.

We all have our own ways of doing things. I think women who are able to have awesome careers, artistic pursuits and hobbies and still raise their kids are amazing and I respect their choices. My focus is mainly on my kids right now and I hope people respect that too.

This. Every time I hear someone saying “I don’t want children” all I think is o.k good for you but don’t disrespect me because I chose to have a child. I’ve seen so many lady blogs with commenters who jump at the chance to pipe in about how they dont want children like its a contest. Okay we get it. Anyways I love your essay and I too thought it was sweet what Natalie said at the end of her speech.

I agree that it is about respecting each others choices. I just wish lady blogs weren’t so one sided(in this case the childless side). Very few times do I see blogs praising women who are mothers. All I see is talking down and making women feel bad for their parenting styles or for choosing to procreate.

Oh no I wasn’t talking about Persephone! I love the articles on here about parenting and the womb of one’s own series. This is actually the only lady blog where i’ve seen so many articles on parenting and where the actual writers are parents.

My question is, so what if it does? What if to Natalie Portman, motherhood is the most important role she’ll ever play? Is that somehow wrong?

I think the eyerolling comes from that is what you’re supposed to say, regardless of how you feel while you’re expecting.

If she hadn’t said anything, the entertainment media outlets and the internet would probably have gone after her for not saying something like it. Tromping out accusations and assumptions that she wasn’t happy being pregnant, blah, blah, blah.

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