Monday, May 12, 2014

Playing the Mom Card

As I was still trying to shake off the Voldemort Day hangover this morning, I ran across an interesting post on the New York Times’s Motherlode blog. Guest blogger Bettina Elias Siegel was recently named to an online women’s magazine’s list of the “Top 15 Most Important Moms in the Food Industry.”  But when a fellow food-policy advocate – a childless/free woman – responded to her tweet about the award with the comment, “Congrats. Does having a cat count?” it ignited a Twitter debate about the fairness of recognizing “moms” over women without children (or, for that matter, fathers). 
Siegel admits the term “mommy blogger” drives her nuts, since it’s often used by critics in a disparaging, minimizing manner.  However, she acknowledges, “sometimes I even quite knowingly play the Mom Card to advance my goals,”  even though her professional credentials alone would more than qualify her to comment on food policy matters.  
“Motherhood and activism often go hand-in-hand for a reason,”  Siegel argues.  “From Mothers Against Drunk Driving to the Vietnam-era Another Mother for Peace, to the post-Sandy Hook Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, mothers have often been the “accidental activists” who have led our country forward. But for many founders of these and other successful, mom-led campaigns, the personal became the political only when a societal problem affected, or was poised to affect, their own children. 
“In my case, the flaws in our food system didn’t truly hit home until my own children came along… Motherhood doesn’t lend me any special moral authority in addressing those issues, but it has driven them home in a uniquely profound way… a child’s primary caregiver (and in our country, that’s still almost always the mom) can share insights that others can never acquire firsthand.”  
I would agree that having a personal stake in the issue at hand can be a terrific motivator. When did any of *us* pay much attention to infertility or pregnancy loss (or the marginalization of the childless/free perspective, for that matter) until it happened to us, or at least to someone we were close to?  
But I don't think that moms or parents have a monopoly on (or even a great inclination toward) this kind of insight & motivation & activism. Many activists & influential public figures don't have children -- some as a deliberate choice, in order to fully devote themselves to their chosen cause(s). (Gloria Steinem, Mother Teresa, Oprah Winfrey and Ashley Judd spring to mind, off the top of my head. Heck, even Anna Jarvis -- the founder of Mother's Day -- did not have any children of her own.) 
As one early commenter noted, “Where I think the "Mom Card" label probably chafes some people is when it's used as a "trump card"-- as in, I'm a mother so my opinion counts more.” 
Read the whole column -- what do you think? When (if ever) are moms justified in playing the “Mom Card”?  


  1. I think it depends on how it is used. If it is being used to explain ones stake in the issue and to use common ground to garner more support than its fine. I know a lot of women with kids hear "I'm a mom..." and they pay more attention to the message because if it effects one mom it might effect them. But I don't think they should limit themselves to the mom world. If they truly want broad based support for their issues they need to figure out ways to include/recruit child-free women like me too. After all, according to moms everywhere, we child-free women have more free time and money to support a cause.

  2. Four years into the game of motherhood, I'd like to report that I'm appreciative of those women who don't have children who take up a cause. I do have the time to get involved in my kid's school life and activities, but I have little time for much else. I think being a mum gives you a perspective that is invaluable and unique but it certainly does not trump any other viewpoint or experience. Frankly, I think society pays a lot of lip service to motherhood in general. They praise it and marginalize it simultaneously.

  3. I completely agree that we should be joining forces instead of separating moms versus non-moms. I feel like playing that card, regardless of intent, is an act of exclusion, much like "You're not a mom, you don't understand." I think it is demeaning as well, to both the person who's using it as well as anyone else who wouldn't play that card.

    I also agree that motherhood is praised and marginalized simultaneously - you're only allowed to do "mom" things, take up "mom" causes, act like a "mom." once you break out of that stereotype, people aren't as accepting.