The misrepresentation of women and mothers in the media is rampant. One article about the so-called phenomenon of the “retro feminist wife” is only the latest example of how the media claim to have identified versions of 21st century womanhood that are really just exaggerated caricatures designed to sell magazines and books.
According to the National Organization for Women, the largest organization of feminist activists in the United States:
Media stories on women, work and family often are incomplete, because the stories report only on the experiences and attitudes of small or elite groups of mothers. Reporters often use these small groups to convey their stories as common to all mothers.
Clearly generalizing gender roles can result in even more discrimination for women and mothers. Other ways the media get it wrong:
•Framing the difficult options facing a mother as being a personal choice, rather than a result of public policy.
•Rehashing the Mommy Wars; the truth is that most women go in and out of the workforce during the course of their lives, and also while their children are growing up.
•By not recognizing that mothers who want to work, find fewer opportunities because of the inflexible, and archaic (set on a 1950s model of the man being the primary breadwinner and the wife and mother at home) structure of most of corporate America, which still believes that face time is key to getting ahead, even though most parents say the key to work satisfaction is the ability to have flexibility. Unfortunately, there is a gap between policy and practice because the concept of the “perfect” worker does not reflect the realities of modern family (enmeshed in caregiving for both children and aging parents) and society.
•Corporations like to talk about work/life/balance, and the media picks up on that; but that is not the case, especially in this economy.
•Confusing the “work” of mothering (the activities that take care of a family) with the role of mother.
•Using the word mothering instead of the word parenting.
According to the Women’s Media Center, the underlying, unspoken themes of mainstream media coverage on women, work and family encourage gender discrimination by reinforcing existing cultural biases, such as the belief that women are more caring and less competitive than men and are less willing to make the personal sacrifices required for success.
So how can we address (or fight back) against blatant misrepresentation?
Framing the problem correctly is a first step to policy change. As previously mentioned, the real focus of the media should be the issues of public policy for mothers: childcare, healthcare for children, the inequality of pay, flexible jobs, and the struggles and challenges of real everyday life for mothers and caregivers.
Mothers need to be involved in their own advocacy, and find one or many communities to provide support and encouragement as they seek to create change. To that end:
•If you read misleading portrayal of mothers in the media, including trend stories based on anecdotal accounts that are presented as facts contact organizations like the Women’s Media Center or MissRepresentation or NOW (http://www.now.org)
•Create a petition on Change.org
•Call, write or email the media outlet or company with your concerns.
•If you feel that companies are off base in how they represent mothers, post your comments on their Facebook walls or Twitter. Use the immediacy of social media to support your cause.
•To find community, join Mothers & More, a national non-profit organization which touts the value of a mothers work whether paid or unpaid, provides opportunities to connect with like-minded women, and offers chances to give back to the community and economically disadvantaged women through advocacy efforts like Power of a Purse, where gently used and new purses are collected and provided to shelters.
• Check out www.MomsRising.org, a group that is aligned with Mothers & More which highlights the issues and provides links to letters you can sign that go straight to policy makers.
•Pay attention to bills on the table (check out www.usa.gov) that will take away your rights and write to your local congressperson via writing to the United States House of Representatives.
•Write about the situation on your blog, or raise the situation to the attention of popular mom bloggers, whose community is one of the most powerful and influential online communities on the Internet.
I believe it is the bloggers who will bring forth a new generation of politically involved women (and we have to be involved, it’s a matter of our survival). Bloggers are giving motherhood and the invisible work of motherhood a voice heard like never before in the history of our culture (since Gloria Steinem, my idol, created Ms. Magazine).
Case in point: The Susan G. Komen backlash. In early 2012, when the Susan G. Komen foundation was going to withdraw their financial support from Planned Parenthood (the money went to fund breast cancer screening for low-income women) the blogosphere moved into action. A Google search for blogs with keywords, Susan G. Komen and Planned Parenthood, delivered 63 million sources (from all types of media).
The bloggers blogged and people’s voices rang out against the foundation and Nancy Brinker (its founder) on a variety of social media including Facebook, Twitter and Google +. The combined media onslaught was enough to get the Foundation to reverse their decision.
Over the next few years, women should be starting up new foundations to give women a voice in “corporate America” policy, government and the national stage. We are in a revolution; at stake is our value. So let’s sound the clarion call to action and rise up and be heard. Because as we have always said and continue to say at Mothers & More: “Together, mothers are powerful.”
Excerpted from the chapter Rebelling Against “Mom”:Finding Fulfillment Beyond the Media’s Myths of Motherhood by Estelle Sobel Erasmus, from the book What Do Mothers Need? Motherhood Activists and Scholars Speak Out on Maternal Empowerment for the 21st Century (Demeter Press, 2013), edited by Andrea O’Reilly.
Estelle chronicles her often humorous, sometimes serious but always transformative journey through motherhood, marriage and midlife on her blog, Musings on Motherhood and Midlife. She also writes a column about women making a difference for examiner.com and has been featured on Kveller.com, Circleofmoms.com and Mamapedia.com. Estelle can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, but is holding off on Instagram for now.