A friend recently shared an article with me that, although posted almost a year ago, shook a nerve and I felt compelled to write something about it. The article titled, “Disappearing mothers“, by author Katie Roiphe, asserts that the trend of mother’s using pictures of their children as their own personal Facebook profile picture would be a disappointment to the pioneers of feminism. The trend is a “retreat to an older form of identity” and the act is putting women back to lusting over our vacuum cleaners and making home cooked meals for our husbands. Roiphe says putting images of our children is easier than being yourself for all of our FB friends to see. Mothers who use their children’s photos as their profile picture have narrowed their worlds and done an act of self-effacement.
Roiphe is annoyed by a woman who talks on and on about her children. These women do exist. And I, too, have been that woman a few times. However, I have been in the presence of women who have spoken in “very impressive” and “analytical depth” about how her boss is a jerk or about a woman in the office that drives her crazy because she doesn’t replace the toilet paper in the bathroom. I wouldn’t say that these women are any more interesting and I, too, might notice the livelier table of men who are not gossiping or talking about strollers.
Did the author ask that woman who is talking relentlessly about her children, “what are your other interests?” Has the author been a stay at home mom and sometimes felt that her life revolves around her children? Has the author ever struggled with speaking to other women who dismiss her because she is a SAHM and assume she has nothing interesting to talk about? I’ve been dismissed in conversations many times and have contemplated whether I need to boast my education or life experiences to prove that I do have something interesting to say. I’ve learned that people who don’t value a SAHM are ignorant about the responsibilities and dedication it takes to do the job.
I’ve learned that SAHMs come from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences. Many have had previous careers, some became mothers right out of high school, others have PhDs or lived in another country, and they all have a story to tell. It is hard for me to find a SAHM who shares my particular interests in digital media and my work as a fine artist . . . so we talk about our children. We bond with this commonality and find comfort in sharing our experiences as mothers. If another mom asks me, “what are your other interests?” I’m more than happy to discuss them and I will most likely ask in return.
There are plenty of books that discuss the alienation many SAHMs feel while struggling with identity and motherhood. So I don’t need to go into depth about that here. But from my experience as a SAHM, I have struggled with my role as a mother and how I fit within the circles of other women who have careers. But within my circle of SAHMs, we have found the commonality of being mothers.
All of these mothers are on Facebook and, unlike Roiphe’s assumption, most have not read The Feminine Mystique, or The Second Sex, or The Beauty Myth. Her assumption illustrates nominal experience with mothers who devote 24/7 to their children. Even women who are not SAHMs don’t reference these feminist works in my presence even when I mention to them that I’m interested in feminism and technology. I don’t believe this is because SAHMs are not interested in the subject. But discussing feminist texts or what wave of feminism we are on doesn’t usually come up in between diaper changes for a SAHM.
Our parents might not tolerate a world that revolves around our children. But neither do all of the mothers I have met who come from a variety of ethnicities and classes. I’m also sure my mother didn’t have intellectual conversations about the feminist movement but her life was undoubtedly affected by it. More women entered the workforce in the 70’s and 80’s and this allowed my mother to work 9+ hours a day. My brother and I enjoyed growing up with nannies and babysitters. My mother often tells me that women don’t need men, they can do it all themselves and men shouldn’t define a woman. I agree and I also agree that my children should not define me as a person. And my Facebook profile picture tells nothing about myself. It is a simple picture of something I enjoy at that moment. I’ve had a picture of sushi as my profile picture once. I wasn’t in it either, just the sushi. I think I gave up a piece of my identity for some beautifully filleted fish. But I am okay now.
Sometimes I post pictures of my children on FB. And occasionally I do think of how I sacrificed the identity I had as a childless woman who was very focused on herself. I’ve evolved from my former self for the sake of my family and I know that my current role is only temporary and it will change. As a mother of young children there are frequent moments of my life were I am completely engrossed by these precious little beings and my new role as a mother. We are enjoying our time with our children who are only little once and for such a short period of time.
I will plaster my adorable kids’ face all over FB because I am a feminist, a homemaker, an artist, an educator, a volunteer, an activist, an accountant, a cook, an environmentalist, a coordinator and many more roles that I can share and teach to my young daughters. I am proud of my role in their lives and my own. I share my children’s pictures on FB because they are so important to me and being a mother is part of my identity. Most who commented on Roiphe’s article found it to be ridiculous and merely a provocation. As a mother and a feminist, I am empowered by other women who are defending equal rights for women and not attempting to divide them with such an instigative article.