Motherhood and family.
Fewer words in our language have greater emotional pull. And pull those words do, in directions I never expected they would when I became a mother myself.
On the covers of celebrity weeklies, moms like Gwen Stefani and J. Lo beam behind headlines like “How motherhood changed me.” In the latter case, it involved dropping her hip-hop nickname and buying another Bentley.
Those who would bomb the Middle East back into the Stone Age have introduced “security moms,” who want nothing more than to tuck the kiddos into a suburban bunker, and to hell with everyone else.
In my experience, inequalities became starker after I became a mother. Despite the rosy glow provided by mountains of smiling baby products, the world suddenly looked bleaker, not shinier. Look at the world I was giving my son: wars and Bentleys. Puzzling over that dichotomy could drive anyone insane.
So stay sane! Chant the mantra: Motherhood. Family. Motherhood. Family. Get that warm, fuzzy glow all over again.
I felt distinctly ill last month when I heard women denounce the satirical writings of Al Franken with the invocation “as a mother…” It is one thing to find decade-old jokes tacky or unfunny or even offensive. Many thinking people do. But why the declaration of motherhood? Try this experiment: Think of your own mother. Your doting, loving, flawless mother. Now imagine her reading Franken’s essay in the January 2000 issue of Playboy magazine (because you know moms only read it for the articles). Feel squeamish? That’s exactly how certain mothers want you to feel. Don’t think about context, don’t think critically. Maybe you shouldn’t think at all.
Motherhood can’t create moral authority. Logicians realize this. But if the word “mother” washes over you, you can remember your mommy wrapping you up against all the nastiness in the world. Yeah. It feels good.
Before I became a mother, I was a writer. I still am. My May column for the Women’s Press took on the debate over Welcoming Schools, an elementary school program to counter gay stereotypes and discuss family diversity.
The piece won “Most Commented” on the online news site Twin Cities Daily Planet, where it was reprinted. The first comments were thoughtful; later words were angry. The mother I called out in my column posted that “I do recognize that [GLBT folks] exist and I have no problem with them as human beings [but] … my religion does not recognize this as good behavior.” In a moment of frustration as well as idiocy, I wrote an entry on my MySpace page on this comment, blowing off steam and dropping F-bombs with abandon. Suddenly I found my personal thoughts reposted on this mother’s formerly anonymous Stop Welcoming Schools blog. Oops.
To fail at keeping my private thoughts private was indeed foolish. But this person attempted to humiliate me publicly by calling attention to my words, not my message. Mothers are not supposed to get angry. That’s exactly how I feel when a group purports to oppose Welcoming Schools on policy grounds, yet takes pains to highlight a lesbian administrator and lesbian school board candidate, and creates a topic heading called “gay agenda.”
Today, that anonymous blog has been shut down, but not before its readers were redirected to the blog of the Minnesota Family Council. Let the feeling wash over you. What could be more happy and safe than a Minnesota family? Maybe a lobbying group that sees homosexuality as “not normal.” The group’s site lumps GLBT “behavior” (their word for sex) in with incest, bestiality and pedophilia. So much for the argument that parents in opposition to the curriculum were only worried about it taking away from valuable learning time.
Getting into bed with the Minnesota Family Council (pun intended) proves that these folks are opposing this lesson plan out of their own homophobia. And homophobia has hurt more people, children and adults alike, than the dirtiest word out there. Ask Lawrence King, the eighth-grade boy who was shot to death in his classroom because he asked his killer, another male student, to be his valentine. Would the words of diversity and support in Welcoming Schools have saved both boys’ lives?
Much has been written about the martyrdom of Lawrence, but the boy who shot him is just as much a victim as he is. Both of these children have been lost forever.
That price is too high to pay. We need to move beyond words, and fast.
Shannon Drury is a self-described radical housewife. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.