The Mother Thing and Why It’s So Touchy

Women who are not mothers face the unique burden that mothers don’t, namely, qualifying themselves as loving women

Mayur Gala

Tyra Banks and Chrissy Teigen opened up a new front in the social challenges associated with fertility talk and motherhood.

The week prior quintessentially deferential British BBC Woman’s Hour host Jane Garvey opened a segment with a confession: discussing why someone has not had children is “a subject I find difficult to raise with people.”

Garvey emphasized that her guest, Kim Cattrall, “wanted to introduce not having children into the conversation.”

Cattrall started tentatively: I am a ‘mother of sorts.’

“It does seem bizarre,” Garvey added, “that there are still people prepared to judge individuals who have not become parents — particularly women.”
Cattrall, best known for her Sex in the City role, went on to light up the social media world for possessing the temerity to state: “I am a parent. I have young actors and actresses that I mentor…”

Cattrall’s claim to parenthood raised eyebrows, but she plowed ahead motivated, it seems, to lay out her nurturing nature to dispel the selfishness or suspicion long associated with women who are not bona-fide mothers.
Women like me fully understand the quicksand Cattrall found herself in.

I also know well the discomfort Banks and Teigen and other women feel when someone poses the seemingly innocent: ‘so, children?’ The question can land like a sucker punch when you’re trying hard but failing to conceive or silently grieving miscarriages.

It’s not easy to find equal footing in today’s mom-leaning society, which seems intent on assigning status or rank based on parenting or nurturing prowess.

Women who are not mothers face the unique burden that parents don’t, namely, qualifying themselves as loving women. That is how we often end up in weirdly defensive positions. We are all but required to demonstrate that we are ‘mother-like’ in order to be accepted as the lesser of equals.
An equally important question is why Cattrall — along with others in her position — feel compelled to showcase maternal qualities and side-step more loaded labels like ‘childless’ or ‘childfree. ’

You could fill a stage with actresses and celebrities — Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Aisha Taylor, Jennifer Westfeldt and Helen Mirren immediately also come to mind — who have found themselves in the spotlight about motherhood, or the lack of it to be more precise.

Is not being a mother so odious that women must be forced to explain or equivocate their lives?

It is not just rough on the red carpet. Cattrall gratefully noted, “I am so glad that I am not in a political job because I would be judged even more harshly…the misogyny is rife in this area. It’s like, well, you’re not really a woman — you didn’t experience childbirth.”

She makes a good point. Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard have been maligned and deemed ‘heartless’ for not being mothers. Meanwhile, knowing full well the “street cred” that comes with all things maternal, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton routinely plays the grandmother card as a means to soften her image.

You don’t have to be an actress or a political figure to witness the judgmental attitude directed at those who are not parenting, and that worries me for the current and next generation.

Those who are parents in today’s society get a free pass. ‘Oh, she’s a mother? Ah, he’s a father?’ They are, by default, better people. Those who are not? Well, there must be something inherently suspect, even cold or unkind about them.

Society’s preoccupation with those who are mothers — while second-guessing those who are not — took me back to my days as a girl in the 1970s and the complexities of growing up in a society struggling to define new opportunities. I recall listening to Kermit the Frog sing, “It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green” and wanting to be part of a more inclusive society.

My wish for children growing up today is that they one day might find themselves in a world less concerned about labels and roles and more focused simply on being good, caring and compassionate people.

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Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos is the author of the award-winning memoir Silent Sorority: A (Barren) Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found and the ebook Finally Heard: A Silent Sorority Finds Its Voice.