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onto the computer and my Tumblr dashboard was filled with moanings and groanings, people up in arms over Natalie’s outdated and sappy statement.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