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Mommie Dearest: The Year In Motherhood Headlines

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Motherhood is one hot topic. From magazine covers that pushed people’s buttons to daily headlines on both news and gossip sites, moms were praised, targeted, and questioned.

While most headlines were pure click bait, some were actually attached to insightful, thought-provoking pieces. As we head into 2013, let’s take a look back at the good, the meh, and the ugly when it came to motherhood in mainstream headlines from 2012:

The Good:

  • Katie Roiphe’s “In Defense of Single Motherhood” via the New York Times August 11, 2012. While I’m certainly not Roiphe’s biggest fan (in fact, I take massive issue with much of what she’s written), she nailed it with her piece on single motherhood.
  • Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer gives birth and immediately returns to work (Multiple sources with multiple opinions). The hoopla over Marissa Mayer’s pregnancy pulled me in two separate directions. On one hand, it’s wonderful to see a woman in a corporate position of power continue to handle her work responsibilities while also being a mother. We certainly could use more representations of that. But on the other hand, very few people live Mayer’s reality, which I’m sure includes round-the-clock childcare for her baby that allows her to continue to work. I don’t think Meyer should be either overly praised or lambasted for her maternity leave choices. Yet it would be awesome if somebody in such a privileged position could at least bring attention to the work/home challenges many women face and continue the conversation about how to get more mothers to a place where going back to work as quickly as Mayer’s did is an actual choice.

THE MEH:

  • Kate Middleton Is Pregnant! (The Huffington Post literally has an entire subsection devoted to it). I know I wrote I wished Princess Kate could have some space, but this wouldn’t be a true list of motherhood-related headlines without a quick nod across the pond. So, yeah — the Prince and Princess are expecting a royal bundle of joy. Can we move on yet?
  • The New York Times “Motherhood vs. Feminism” May 2, 2012. As part of their “Room For Debate” series, the Times decided to pit two sure-to-cause-a-ruckus topics against each other: motherhood and feminism. And here I thought the two were able to exist simultaneously. Silly me.
  • Breastfeeding. In case you were concerned, there was no shortage of headlines related to breastfeeding in 2012. Whether it was a professor nursing in class or soldiers in uniform, folks had things to say. From New York City’s new formula related regulations in hospitals to Facebook banning pictures of women breastfeeding, women on both sides of the heated debate felt the pressure, and nobody really came out victorious. This is just one more in the string of mother-centric issues that could stand to have thoughtful, policy-focused discussions, and instead we get numerous headlines that focus on toddlers who still nurse.

THE UGLY:

  • Time Magazine’s “Are You Mom Enough?” May 21, 2012. I have many, many thoughts on this cover, and have ranted about it plenty. But for me, it boils down to the fact that Time magazine purposefully fed into the tired “mommy war” phenomenon with both the cover photo and title of their article. If the magazine was truly concerned about whether women are “mom enough,” maybe they could have investigated why we’re one of only four countries without any form of mandated, paid maternity leave, or why we don’t have working paid sick leave policy in place, or why there aren’t better accommodations for women who want to pump when back at work, etc. Instead, Time purposefully put a controversial picture on the cover (regardless of whether it contributed to the media-driven mommy wars) in hopes of increasing sales, which they did. The cover was the best selling issue of the year, and actually doubled the number of subscriptions regularly ordered in a week.
  • 109 different headlines about Jessica Simpson’s baby weight via Jezebel, September, 2012. My stomach literally turned with each headline I read. Headlines obsess over who is pregnant in ways that range from shaming to adoration. Through it all, there is a hyper-focus on their changing bodies. From growing breasts and bellies to whether the moms-to-be have gained too much pregnancy weight or not enough, almost no one is immune. Then, nine months later and the same women are subjected to the plethora of headlines that focus on their bodies in a different way. The amount of body shaming and perpetuation of body image issues that are already rampant in our society that weight these headlines and articles down give me a serious case of the sads. P.S. Expect round two of this nonsense in less than nine months.

What I found as I flipped back through the headlines of 2012 was that it was really freaking hard to find positive posts on motherhood, especially in mainstream media. There are lot of great blogs or less mainstream sites that provided thought-provoking pieces on various aspects of motherhood, but the big news outlets seemed to push through articles that stirred up controversy and conflict. And it’s no wonder that the mommy wars persist with headlines like “Mad Mom: January Jones Eats Her Own Placenta” or “Does Modern Motherhood Undermine Women?”

My hope for 2013? I want the red herring headlines to die down, and for publications to focus on the actual pressing issues that impact families: maternity and paternity leave, earned paid sick time, flexible work schedules, access to quality, affordable health care, access to quality, affordable childcare, etc.

What mother-centric headlines jumped out at you in 2012? What do you hope to read more/less of in 2013?

Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamafesto.

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