Undead Sexist Cliche: Nothing a woman can do is more important than popping out babies

Way back in 1990, 150 graduating seniors at Wellesley were dismayed Barbara Bush——then the wife of the first president Bush——had been picked as commencement speaker (Alice Walker had been the class’s top choice, but she’d declined).
The objection? “Wellesley teaches that we will be rewarded on the basis of our own merit, not on that of a spouse. To honor Barbara Bush as a commencement speaker is to honor a woman who has gained recognition through the achievements of her husband, which contravenes what we have been taught over the last four years at Wellesley.”
The media response? Not good.
I don’t have any links (the event predated the Internet) but among newspaper and magazine pundits, it seemed everyone sided with Barbara Bush and against the students (that may have something to do with the local paper’s columnists, syndicated or otherwise, tending to the right). And what was really interesting was the stance they took: Not that the majority should have its say, but that the protests were wrong because Barbara Bush was a mother.
That was pretty much it. Barbara was a mother and these girls were obviously too silly and young to realize nothing any woman could ever accomplish was as important as being mother. So there! (one professor, quoted at the link, felt the need to state that being feminists didn’t mean the students were anti-family).
I seriously doubt the students who voted for her did so because she was a mother rather than, well, married to the president. And certainly not because she was some kind of supermom. She didn’t put her six kids through law school while working sixty hour weeks to support the family; she’s a woman of privilege who married a wealthy man. I don’t mean that as an insult——I certainly don’t blame Ms. Bush for Jeb or W.’s hideous political stances——but I’m sure there are millions of mothers who’ve accomplished as much or more.
And, of course, a great many women have accomplishments that aren’t even based on motherhood. Because despite those outraged squeals, motherhood actually isn’t the highest accomplishment a woman can hope for.
Joan of Arc wasn’t a mother.
Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing wasn’t a mother.
Margaret Thatcher was a mother, but I’d say her role as leader of England outweighs any accomplishments in the family arena (please note that I’m talking about importance in “the grand scheme of things,” not how Thatcher or any other woman prioritizes on a personal level).
Countless other women have made a bigger difference as cops, soldiers, politicians, artists than as mothers.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, few people would suggest that a man cannot accomplish anything greater than being a father.
Bringing up a 20-year-old incident may seem pointless, but I don’t think the attitudes have changed much. As Susan Faludi pointed out in The Terror Dream, ever since 9/11, the liberal media have been running stories about how women have realized the hollowness of careers in a world where a terrorist could kill them at any second (I vent about one such example here).
Or consider Caitlin Flanagan, a woman who employs a nanny and a household staff (or has in the past) while writing articles and books about how women should do all their own household chores and never, ever trust their child to a caregiver (details here). Given the blatant contradiction, I can’t see any reason she’s getting published in major magazine markets other than the fact dumping on working women and glorifying mother hood is always trendy (regardless of whether you walk the walk).
In short, I have a strong suspicion that if Bush were asked to commencement-speak again, the media reaction wouldn’t be that different.


Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

8 responses to “Undead Sexist Cliche: Nothing a woman can do is more important than popping out babies

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