You are what you do

Olivia Rabbitt

Change this old adage around from “you are what you eat” to “you are what you do” and you’ve discovered the average women’s internal measuring system according to this week’s readings. While men are more likely to be defined by their career or interests with their family status pictured as an additional characteristic, women seem to be completely defined by their career and parenting status. From a strictly social perspective women are outwardly judged on their quality of mothering by their peers and spouses. According to Walzer, the defining factors of a good mother boil down to constant physical and mental attention to the child – from acquiring knowledge, to delegating tasks, to constant worrying mothers are viewed as irresponsible and selfish if they spend time away from their child or with their peers. Men are not expected to bear an equal burden in the mental and physical strain associated with raising another life responsibly. Fathers do not feel the same pressure to be constantly present since our society leaves a lot more leeway in the definition of father where as “mother” is often synonymous with “caregiver.

The reading by Hays shows just how deep the social pressures to fit the classic definition of motherhood go. While fathers are often allowed to decide to be a stay at home father or pursue a career (with an overwhelming majority choosing the career thanks to societal constraints on feminine mobility like the wage gap), women may choose to pursue a career, but only in addition to maintaining their mothering role – or else they are seen as bad mothers. I find it particularly interesting to see the difference in what it takes to be classified as a bad father versus as a bad mother. A mother who goes to the gym at night rather than tucks her child might be deemed as inattentive while a father would not be held to anywhere near the same standard. According to Walzer in fact fathers are taught to think of time spent with the baby as a detriment to their productivity and therefore not necessarily beneficial to the family since their main role is to be a breadwinner.

My model in family equity has been my best friend’s family. Both his parents were highly educated and established in their careers when they had children. Recently on a rather long car ride with my favorite couple over 50, the two explained to me the arrangement they worked out when raising their two children. It all came down to scheduling and thankfully they had the ability to have more flexible schedules (a liberty not afforded to many families). The mother would go into work early three to four days a week and while the father took care of the kids in the morning on those days and stayed at work late. She would then leave work early to take over,  and the cycle would flip flop. They both spoke about giving up weekends to work and taking huge amounts of work home with them to make sure they were both present and involved in both their children’s lives and their careers. If only this was more common.

If you have a spare second, google image the word mother. Now google image the word father. i did this and immediately noticed that while mothers are shown with newborns and infants, fathers are shown with toddlers and school age children a majority of the time. This definitely speaks to the gendered expectations of our society.

As a last note, I found this quote from Hollingworth to be particularly telling “If it were possible to become rich or famous by bearing numerous fine children, many a woman would no doubt be eager to bring up eight or ten, though if acting at the dictation of maternal instinct only, she would have brought up but one or two” and couldn’t help but immediately flash to octomom who has often been criticized for only using her children for fame, being an irresponsible mother, and being a nutcase in general.

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3 thoughts on “You are what you do

  1. Olivia, I was really happy to read about the couple you know who had actually managed to have an equal relationship when it came to having a family. One thing that became very apparent in this reading was that we have very skewed perception of “equality” when it comes to family roles. It was sad to hear all of the mothers saying that their husbands were “willing to help out.” Yes fathers have traditionally been responsible for providing for the family economically, but recently there has been a lot of talk about about powerful working women, but if we still think it’s normal for fathers to be willing but still feel very little responsibility for helping out then I think we are far from experiencing equality for women in work and family spheres.

  2. Olivia,

    Your comment on how women are judged as being good mothers or not depending on how much they worry reminded me of how women seemingly cannot win in this regard. In order to be viewed as a good mother, women are expected to spend as much time as possible with their children, and if they are not physically with them, they should be thinking/worrying about them. Yet some mothers in Walzer’s article discussed how they were criticized if they worried too much about their children. So apparently in order to be good mothers, women must strike a perfect balance of worrying enough about their children’s well being but not worrying too much so as not to be seen as “constantly worrying” by their husbands. This is made even more frustrating by the fact that fathers are not expected to worry about their children at all. In this regard, it all falls on the mother.

  3. Luis Ramos

    Like Emma, I was also intrigued when reading about your best friend’s family equity. I also wish that model was more common within our society, especially when both, fathers and mothers, are now working to maintain a family of their own. I mean, it makes me question whether a mother’s role can/cannot be measured equivalent to a father’s role… I know my mom busted her butt waking up every single morning to make my father, siblings, and I breakfast, get us ready for school, drive us to school, run daily errands, pick us up from school, continue doing household chores, cook dinner, wash dishes after dinner, etc, while on the other hand, my dad busted his butt working on construction for nearly 12 hours a day. In that case, how I can I assure that one did more than the other, when both of them did a lot to make sure I was fed and well maintained. That is why I long for that family equity. I want to make sure I am putting the same effort into my family just as my future wife will be. We will have to see if that happens when I have finally settled down and started raising my own family.

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