Original article appeared in Folio Weekly
SALON debuted the feature Mothers Who Think decades ago, claiming to be the first “to explore the subject in all its gritty detail.” Their “Mamafesto” targeted contemporary media, which “would convince you that, like Pooh Bear, mothers are creatures of very little brain,” and outlined a plan to combat it—no chirpy how-tos on topics like postpartum yoga, all sharp, diverse essays on status, equality, chaos and career.
The topics made me think, for sure, but they weren't what I couldn’t stop thinking about. That title was.
Mothers Who Think?
Instead of what exactly? Mothers Who Don’t?
The phrase annoyed me in a vague but visceral way, like wearing a shirt inside out, and since I was writing about online media for a local paper at the time, I had a good place to bitch about it.
The semantics of “mothers who think,” I wrote, are the redundant twin of “working mother.” That we reserve the term “work” for paid labor points to our contempt for the tasks of motherhood. If you want to enrage a stay-at-home parent who doesn’t hold a “paying job,” go ahead and ask if they’re “working.”
"Mothers who think" points to a parallel cultural failing, the struggle to meld parenthood and intellect in our shared imagination. The implications aren't subtle. Isn’t childcare a waste of brain power? How much skill could it take? And you don’t have to look far for answers. Just check out how teachers are paid. That’s the real-time value of nurturing kids.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Not much has changed for the better since the early oughts, and what's changed for the worse was unthinkable then. I’m not sure when SALON stopped featuring Mothers Who Think, but I had good solutions for their bad semantics.
Mothers Who Think?
Try Mothers Think.
Try Moms Work.
Now, the fact that awkward terminology had worried me at all seems so simple and naive. And the real-time value of nurturing kids? That's hard to focus on when motherhood itself is government property. Forget undervalued--the price is your body.
I suppose, though, words still matter. But so my daughter never becomes someone's real estate, her flesh just a mortgage owned by the courts, only one phrase can be on my lips.
When to be parents.
How to be parents.
To speak it aloud, to be forced to repeat it? Outrageous.
Sometimes I shout it instead.