On Mother’s Day, the comments floating around the internet, at least the comments attached to actual identities on Facebook and social media, universally praise mothers. “Mom, I love you!” “Mom, you’re the greatest!” “Mom, you’ve done so much for us!” And they post touching stories and pictures. It’s lovely.
Then there’s the dark anonymous internet where this gets passed around. Watch it. I’ll wait.
It’s okay to laugh. It’s funny. Misogynistic humor is the best humor.
So men say one thing when they think women are listening, and another when they are alone. I am a man, I know it happens. And this funny video, and it is funny, encapsulates every snide comment that men will make to each other when we don’t think women are listening. The fact that it is hilarious, and it’s Bill Burr, the philosopher poet of our generation, or perhaps any generation, validates our opinions, maybe even giving us the courage to repeat it out loud.
Men, I need to have a word with you all. Have a seat here, and let me explain something to you I feel you are not understanding.
This particular bit uses the comedic device of taboo and double entendre. Bashing motherhood as the hardest profession is taboo, of course. He also twists up the word difficult focusing solely on the physically demanding. In debate, I suppose one might call that a red herring, as it has no bearing on the argument. We are comparing two things linked only by the double meaning of the word “difficult.” Haha, I get it. That’s funny. Men, stop repeating it. You’re embarrassing yourselves.
Now look over here. Right here. I’m not going to explain this again. Motherhood is difficult, but not for the reasons that Bill Burr says, and not for the reasons you might think.
Motherhood is hard, because for so long, women didn’t have a choice about it, and still have only limited choices to this day. No matter a woman’s gifts, whether she posses the abilities and talents to be a math wiz, musical prodigy, skilled artist, brilliant linguist, promising scientist, skilled engineer, extraordinary doctor, principled lawyer, or honest public servant, she is tacitly corralled into being a mother. Our entire society is tipped toward that end. It may be inclined less than it was in previous decades, but don’t kid yourselves; women have fewer choices over their destinies than men do. They are bullied to think something is wrong with them if their life’s purpose does not include children, that if they pursue career over family, there is something wrong with them.
Men do not have this problem, do they?
Lots of smart fantastic motivated talented women are raising children instead of doing something else. Or perhaps they are also doing something else, trying to have it all, but not advancing as well as their male peers, who are more “dedicated.” There’s nothing wrong with raising children, of course, but the problem is that women are coerced into giving up their ambitions and having their identities subsumed by their precious talented children, so that they may as well be invisible and frequently are.
Here, mothers, I have a special present for you. Have a special day. We’ll called it Mother’s Day, and everybody will recognize you for your hard work. But the work isn’t hard physically, it’s hard because we make you give up yourself to do it. May as well call it happy womb day!
I could stop there. But why? I can’t identify a problem and not propose a solution. Most of the focus has been on women’s empowerment, helping women recognize their rights, their abilities. There’s the “Lean In” crowd. It’s all good, but I want to tack in another direction, one that addresses the simple fact that it’s a man’s world.
Men, managers, decision makers in business and in the general workforce do the following:
- Help women juggle the responsibilities of parenthood with your workplace expectations – provision some plan for dealing with single parents, whether it be day care, activity buses, maternity/paternity leave, flex time, whatever. Treat woman and men as equal care providers. If Bill’s wife is giving birth, find out what their situation is and propose that Bill take some paternity leave so that she can get back to work faster. It will benefit us all in the long run. Make sure Bill is not impacted negatively for his paternity leave.
- When another man leans over to you and says, “Will you look at the tits on that one,” to describe a female colleague, call him on it. Set the tone of the culture in your workplace. Previously you might have remained uncomfortably silent, but now I say to you, step up, even if it’s your boss – especially if it’s your boss. If it’s your boss, make an HR complaint about a hostile workplace culture. And it is hostile, maybe not to you directly, but don’t kid yourself, that toxicity will get you sooner or later.
- If you are a father, take on as many traditionally mommy roles as you can. Balance your wife’s life so that she can achieve her dreams and not sell them to only be a mother.
- Advocate for the equal participation of women. If you are a manager, mentor a woman, advance her career, take chances on her. Don’t expect that the issues that affect women are theirs alone to bear. They are yours to bear as well. Take up arms against these barriers as if they affected you and take a bullet for one of your female fellows. The internet likes to call this “white knighting.” I like that, do it. Be somebody’s hero and help them enrich the world.
If there’s anything I hope you take away from this little piece it’s this: She loves being a mother, but that’s not all she is. When society (men) expect that women be mothers and only mothers, that’s what makes it the most difficult job.