Unless you’re my kid, don’t refer to me as “mommy”
In adding the prefix to jobs and hobbies, we’re looking down on the work and activities that mothers take part in
Original story for the Toronto Star on Oct. 13. Read online version here
Recently, I overhead a conversation between friends in which one told the other that I have a “mommy blog.” It’s a term I’m familiar with, but had never considered it might apply to me, and I found myself offended without really understanding why.
“I don’t only write about motherhood,” I thought to myself. “And even if I did, why does my blog need to be qualified?”
I’ve now become sensitive to the word “mommy.” It’s one that I (usually) relish when uttered by my kids, but makes me cringe when used by adults, and I’ve finally put my finger on the reason: It’s belittling.
Think about all the ways “mommy” is evoked as a prefix these days: Mommy group, mommy blog, mommy yoga, mommy’s night out, mommy juice (wine), even mompreneur. There’s an implication of triviality in these usages, maybe even ridicule. As if women who are also mothers spend their days wiping noses, scouring Pinterest, and de-crusting sandwiches. When do you ever hear of a “daddy brewing session,” “daddy crossfit class” or “dadpreneur?” Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast where the host referred to my own Facebook mother’s group as a “mommy” group with obvious derision. He was interviewing a local shop owner who had been criticized in our group for having poor customer service. The podcast host was discussing her decision to fire back at the group on her company’s Facebook page.
Many women in our group were angry at how the host belittled our community, and all mom groups in general. There was a sense that we had all been trivialized and mocked, reduced to a group of bored, snarky gossips. No one in our group was interviewed.
Certainly, that’s what the term “mommy” does — it intellectually diminishes women simply for being mothers.
Research on sexism has shown that there are indeed biases against women when it comes to motherhood, says Alison Chasteen, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto who specializing in stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination.
“Some studies have shown that stay-at-home mothers are viewed as warm but incompetent,” Chasteen says. “This can result in their being treated with condescension.”
Another study found that working mothers were viewed as being less competent than female colleagues without children. Working fathers, on the other hand, were not rated as being less competent.
“As a society we are still entrenched in very traditional gender role stereotypes,” adds Alexandra Rutherford, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at York University. “And motherhood continues to be completely devalued compared to almost every other thing (people) accomplish in our society.”
“I worry about how mothers may internalize this kind of language,” she says, adding that another “really damaging” term is ‘mommy brain’ to describe forgetfulness.
Of course, there are legitimate factors affecting a new mother’s ability to function (hormones, lack of sleep, stress, need for multitasking). But Rutherford says the focus on “mommy brain” patronizes new mothers by suggesting that their brains are defective, while fathers’ brains are perfectly fine.
The term “mommy” is part of a bigger problem of subtle bias — or what experts call benevolent prejudice — toward mothers. I’ve seen it manifested in all sorts of ways.
Before kids, when I met someone for the first time they invariably asked me what I did for work. Now, people will ask that question of my husband, then turn to me and ask me if the kids are sleeping through the night. As if parenthood has negated my career, but not his.
A few months ago we were playing a board game with friends. One of the participants had to guess a profession, and the clue was something along the lines of “a job gets ridiculed for being simple.” The guess (which was incorrect, but reflected a common societal view) was “stay-at-home mom.”
There was an awkward silence as eyes turned to me. I’m at the tail end of maternity leave, but for all intents and purposes I’m a stay-at-home mom. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I should get a medal every day.
Motherhood is only one aspect of our lives as women, and not necessarily the one that should define us. I think of the women in my Facebook group. I think of their compassion, humour and intelligence, their various backgrounds, opinions and interests.
To lump us all together as “mommies,” with no regard for our individuality, is a disservice to all women tasked with the important and difficult job of raising children.
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