Mothers Are Feminists Too

Mothers are feminists too. Why would anyone doubt that?

Back in 2012, a debate in the New York Times was printed under the headline, “Motherhood vs. Feminism.” Really? We have to make a choice?

Writing in Ms. Magazine, Natalie Wilson said, “Raising children to be pro-peace, consumer-conscious and actively anti-sexist/racist/classist/heterosexist/able-ist can be just as vital as marching on Washington.”

Sunday is the 100th anniversary of Mother’s Day. It’s important to remember that the holiday does have feminist roots. The abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe was best known for writing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but according to,

She was instrumental in creating Mother’s Day, which she envisioned as a day of solemn council where women from all over the world could meet to discuss the means whereby to achieve world peace. They would also convene as mothers, keeping in mind the duty of protecting their children.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe published “A Mother’s Day Proclamation” as a call to action. Watch a clever reenactment of the poem here.

Following an intensive lobbying campaign by peace activists and campaigners for women’s rights, Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day in 1914.

A lot of people say that Mother’s Day is one of those “Hallmark holidays” that don’t really exist in the calendar, and I can certainly see their point. The commercialization of Mother’s Day doesn’t enhance anyone’s idea of family. But there’s another way that society is “dumbing down” motherhood that we must name and shame.

It’s the notion that a woman can’t be a mother or grandmother and also a strong and powerful leader. A perfect example of this ludicrous logic is the whispering campaign taking place right now against Hillary Clinton.

As usual, Jon Stewart was right on the money when he called out the media’s obsession with the question of whether being a grandmother would impede Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign or ability to do the job. Stewart pointed out that no one asked the same question about Mitt Romney, who at the time he ran for president had 18 grandchildren.

Meanwhile, Michelle Obama was called “a feminist nightmare” by Michelle Cottle, writing in Politico, for having the temerity to be a highly accomplished professional who also called herself the “Mom in chief.” Cottle quoted Leslie Morgan Steiner, the author of Mommy Wars:

“Are fashion and body-toning tips all we can expect from one of the most highly educated First Ladies in history?” Observed Steiner, “I for one have seen enough of her upper appendages and her designer clothes, and read enough bland dogma on home-grown vegetables and aerobic exercise, to last me several lifetimes.”

It’s always a mistake to try to force women into one stereotype or another. Real life isn’t an either/or equation — Hillary Clinton can be a loving grandmother and an outstanding political leader. Michelle Obama can take on a public role of mothering two wonderful girls and be a high achieving, powerful intellect.

You and I can be mothers and feminists.

So how does a feminist celebrate Mother’s Day?

Just like everybody else.

Originally published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on 05/09/2014

One response to “Mothers Are Feminists Too

  1. I will tell you how a feminist celebrates Mother’s Day, by advocating for gender equity in child support and child custody awards. If women (and I am one) really want respect and equal pay, with that comes an expectation of equal time spent working, equal expectation of child support requirements to pay and equal expectations of fathers getting full physical and legal custody–which is a GREAT thing for children. There is NO evidence that single motherhood is good for children. There is considerable evidence that children in divorced situations who spend more time with their fathers do better in school, are less likely to be pregnant as teens and are socially more adapted–and this is particularly true for daughters. If we really want to be feminists, we need to advocate so that VAWA does not take children from their fathers and that child support is no longer an incentive for women to sit home and not work while men give up more than 50% of their take home pay (yes, no work means equal pay and no taxes, but only if you choose to rob your children of their father–and no, this almost NEVER happens the other way).

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