Stop Using ‘Mommy’ As An Insult

mom with an opinionOn Tuesday, we published a post decrying the decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. The post received negative and positive feedback which is not just okay, but encouraged. Mommyish is about conversation, after all, and disagreement is a big part of that. But what shocked, saddened, and deeply pissed me off was the number of people who told the author to “stick to our mommy blogging” and shut our mouths:

“I thought this was a mommy page not Fox news or NBC.”

“You should really stick to blogging about mommy stuff and keep your opinions to yourself about everything else.”

“Lost this follower. Stick to your mommy blogging.”

“Stick to your mommy stuff.”

“Stick to blogging about poopy diapers and keep your uneducated opinions to yourself…This is a page about your boring life as a mommy and you’re trying to get a larger audience by being controversial.”

“Wow, think you should stick to your mommy platform.”

“Unfollowing you ignorant twat.”

What shocked me most is that the all of these comments came from women. I am taken aback by the fact that we now use someone’s motherhood as a way to insult them. It’s important to note that no one said anything like, “stick to blogging about motherhood,” because the word “motherhood” confers the kind of respect that comes with using adult words. No, the choice of the word “mommy” is deliberate. Just as it is associated with how very young children talk to their mothers, it is also used to infantilize women.

Heather Havrilesky wrote a must-read article for the New York Times about the word “mommy.” In it, she talks about how motherhood has become an all-encompassing identifying term for women, and how that affects the way our voices are heard:

Somehow, as we’ve learned to treat children as people with desires and rights of their own, we’ve stopped treating ourselves and one another as such. But that’s not hard to understand when the reigning cultural narrative tells us that we are no longer lively, inspired women with our own ideas and emotions so much as facilitators, meant to employ at all times the calm, helpful tones of diplomat.

What is a “mommy” issue? Is there such a thing? Certainly topics like “poopy diapers,” as one of the above commenters offered, is a parenting issue and not a “mommy” issue? Unless, of course, by referring to diapers as “mommy” issues one is intentionally referencing the idea that women who are mothers should be at home changing diapers and feeding babies, and not concerning themselves with anything else that might be going on in the world. (Spoiler: that’s exactly what that is saying.)

Are mothers not supposed to be concerned with current events like the ones in Ferguson? Some of us – writers and readers of this site –  are raising black children. Some of us have children who will grow up to be young black men, and who are, according to a study by ProPublica:

…at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts 21 times greater, according to a ProPublica analysis of federally collected data on fatal police shootings.

That makes Ferguson relevant to mothers. I would even say that it’s relevant to “mommies” as well.

The word “mommy” is attached to things these days as a way to make them adorable and unthreatening: “mommy blog,” “mommy friends,” “mommy book club.” That word infers that there nothing serious is going on here — it’s just mommies. And all mommies know about is being mommies. As Havrilesky put it in her essay:

…some combination of overzealous parenting, savvy marketing and glorification of hearth and home have coaxed the public into viewing female parents as a strange breed apart from regular people. You might feel like the same person deep inside, but what the world apparently sees is a woman lugging around a giant umbilical cord.

We aren’t going to get anywhere as women if we use motherhood as an insult and a way to try to shame other women into silence. When we do that we not only devalue what it means to be a mother, but also the viewpoints of the millions of women who are mothers. Surely those commenters can’t be supporting a return to a culture where women’s questions are answered by a pat on the head and an admonishment not to worry our pretty little heads about the complexities of the world. They probably aren’t thinking that far ahead. They just know that using the word “mommy” in that context diminishes and shames, and that is all they are after.

We write about motherhood, and therefore we write about the world. If it affects the world, it affect mothers. If it impacts lives, it impacts children. And whether it’s larger issues like Ferguson or smaller issues like the new Beyonce album, mothers are going to have opinions on it. And they are going to share them. Because mothers matter, even if we’re just mommy-ish.

(Photo: Racorn / Shutterstock)

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