Allied Against the Mommy Wars and for LGBT Rights

July 30, 2006

Editor’s Note: Thank you, Dana, for such a thoughtful and timely diary! FYI, Dana has an equally well-written blog devoted to parenting and LGBT issues at Mombian.

Last night at the BlogHer conference in San Jose, Amy and I watched the documentary “Motherhood Manifesto,” based on Joan Blades’ book. We were blown away and pumped up to partake in mommy advocacy for universal healthcare, quality and affordable childcare, and most importantly — job flexibility and more free time for all. Earlier in the day in response to a question I had about the so-called conflict between SAHMs and working moms, Joan said (paraphrased), “Many moms who are home do plan to return to work. These issues are important to them, too.”

Like her book, which she co-wrote with Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Joan’s film was balanced in that it included both conservative and liberal voices who agreed that mommy concerns were universal — although no lesbian moms were depicted. One quote that caught my attention was by GOP operative, Frank Luntz (paraphrased): “Both parties have it wrong in that mothers care most about healthcare and education. They want more free time. And this vote is up for grabs.” Wow.

Still, as Dana pointed out, we must make sure these rights apply to all mothers, including gay people who are unjustly not allowed to wed.

It’s time to pressure our officials who, except for one California legislator mentioned in the film — who also happened to be a single mother — have remained mum on this subject altogether. If you haven’t already, please sign up at Joan has a lot of good ideas to bring moms together, including having concerned citizens like us host “blue-red” parties at our homes, show the film, get the word out, and get more women — and men! — involved. (Fathers and domestic partners are our natural allies.) She is also accepting suggestions on how to change the film. Perhaps include at least one lesbian household? This could be a good opportunity to show the rest of the country that, yes, gay people are not only sons and daughters, but parents, too!

Also, please sign the petition on the website, calling for a media ceasefire of the “mommy wars.” While at times entertaining, the flame wars are divisive and take away from the real story that we have much more in common than separates us. -Elisa

(Crossposted with slight modification from my blog.)

Like most observers of a war that doesn’t directly involve them, I thought I was safe. The "Mommy Wars" pitting employed mothers against stay-at-homes, accusing the latter of betraying feminism, didn’t seem to apply to me. While I was indeed a stay-at-home mom, I thought that by doing so as a lesbian I was transforming the institution, and thus had a special protection against any claims of feminist sell-out.

Now today’s New York Times points out the opinion of playwright and City University of New York professor Sarah Schulman:

As a teacher, she said, she sees a lot of younger gay people, especially women adopting the heterosexual fantasy that even Barbie has distanced herself from—"that someday they will meet the right person and they will get married and they will have children." She fears that lesbian mothers are embracing a "poverty model" and taking themselves out of the running to be the next George Sand or Emma Goldman.

Oh, please. Let’s stop the lesbian version of the Mommy Wars before it starts. A quick tour around the lesbian-mom blogosphere would show Schulman that many of us are creating our own types of family roles and relationships, not merely imitating a tired heterosexual stereotype. Furthermore, far from stifling our creative juices, motherhood gives many of us an inspirational jolt. One example of both points is the well-written essay collection Confessions of the Other Mother: Non-Biological Lesbian Mothers Tell All. Several of its contributors continue to delight and enlighten us with their blogs on lesbian parenting. Whether their work will be compared to Sands or Goldman is a matter for history to decide, but they are not "taking themselves out of the running."

While Schulman may be lending credence to the media-hyped “Mommy Wars,” organizations like Moms Rising, the Motherhood Project, and the National Association of Mothers’ Centers (NAMC) are calling for a cease-fire and a refocus on issues that can really help moms, such as improved childcare and healthcare benefits, expanded after-school programs, and more flexible work schedules.

All good things. For me, though, a large part of the burden associated with being a mom stems from my unrecognized relationship to my partner. We pay extra taxes on the health insurance I receive from her employer. This means less for our son’s college-savings account, not to mention the everyday necessities. I cannot contribute to an IRA while staying at home, like women with employed husbands can. This means I may have to go back to work sooner in order to save up for retirement. And we’re among the lucky ones, with a court order stating that we’re both the legal parents of our child.

Despite their claims to be fighting for the rights of all mothers, there is little, if any, information in the above mothers’-rights sites about lesbian moms. Expanded childcare, healthcare, and family leave options are only good, however, if a mom is recognized as a mom and can partake of the options. It’s unfair, too, if some mothers are taxed on those benefits while others are not.

It seems to me, therefore, that there is an opportunity here for both lesbian and straight moms to join together to improve the lot of all—really all—mothers. Part of this will involve working towards parental and relationship recognition for lesbian moms. Part of it will involve addressing common needs.

How do we begin? With a dialogue. I make no claims to brilliant solutions here, but I do know that women working together are a powerful force. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.