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Shaping the pro-mother agenda
MMO interviews Joanne Brundage of Mothers & More

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MMO: As the founder and Executive Director of Mothers & More, you’ve had a number of opportunities to interact with the media. In general, do you feel mainstream media coverage of mothers’ issues is fair and accurate?

J. Brundage: Overall, I consider the media to be one of Mothers & More’s most effective partners in giving voice to mothers’ issues. And perhaps that is not all that surprising, given that so many mothers work in journalism. These issues really resonate with many of them and are of personal interest. They “get it” because a lot of them live it. (In fact, on several occasions, journalists who have written about Mothers & More subsequently joined as members.) Overall, print media (including “virtual” print) especially, and newspapers specifically, do a great job of covering and accurately representing our issues and concerns.

And in the last couple years, the media inquiries Mothers & More has received have been more and more focused on the meatier issues concerning mothers. Our board president, Kristin Maschka, has also been asked to give more and more radio interviews, again, often to talk about the complexity of mothers’ issues.

The only medium that still falls short of the mark on a regular basis is mainstream television. This seems to be the last bastion of sensationalism, oversimplification and resistance to delving into issues in any depth. And that is really too bad, because like it or not, America is a TV viewing society. If the content and depth in lots of the better print articles we’ve been involved with ever made it on a TV show like Oprah, we might be talking tipping point. But we’re not sitting by the phone, waiting for her to call.

Once in awhile a news show or news magazine will do a fairly good piece, but that’s the exception to the rule. And, other than PBS, is there a single talk show that makes any attempt to deal in depth with complex issues? And, not coincidentally, television producers that are actually mothers themselves are few and far between. Almost every producer I’ve ever talked with over the years was a single, childless woman in her mid to late twenties. And no wonder. Sounds like television production is a grueling, 24/7 job itself— there’s no room for anyone who has caregiving responsibilities.

So, in a nutshell, fair and accurate? In print and radio, pretty good. In television, no way.

MMO: In her new book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, journalist Judith Warner describes Mothers & More as part of a “burgeoning motherhood movement.” She also suggests “Too much energy is being expended on seeking validation— a recognition of mothers’ ‘value’… and of motherhood as ‘the most important job in the world’.” In your mind, is there a distinction between the “motherhood movement” and the “mothers’ movement”? Are the core beliefs and values of your organization “pro-motherhood,” or “pro-mother”?

J. Brundage: It seems like there are two perspectives on mothers’ activism. One is the motherhood-focused way, to position mothers’ work as morally and spiritually superior and not to be sullied by comparisons with market work. And at the same time, this perspective ties the value of mothers’ work to judgments about the right and wrong way to raise children, and focuses primarily on “what’s best” for children. So, mothers are put on a pedestal at the same time as they are valued only in relation to how much or how well they “mother.”

Mothers & More takes a very different approach, which you might call the “mothers’ movement” or “pro-mother” approach. We do not assert that mothers have intrinsic value as mothers, but rather, that the work they do as mothers, does. We look at mothers’ unpaid caregiving work as equal in social and economic value to market (paid) work and recognize mothers as a group of individuals who pay unfair social and economic penalties for doing this work.

We look at the work of caring for children as important societal work that deserves tangible recognition and support from our public policies, from workplace structures, from community support systems, so that the individuals who do this work— primarily mothers— have a fighting chance to accomplish their caregiving work along with everything else they want and need to do to take care of themselves and their families.

So, this is an important distinction and one that we, who desire positive change in this area, must make clear.

To me, this is a painfully simple concept (which, however, is completely counter to our cultural perceptions)— that unpaid caregiving work is real work of great social and economic value. I believe that if we all really and truly “got” that; believed that, our society could not help but make a substantial shift to a better place. Sort of like waking up one day and realizing the world was round, not flat. Kind of changed everything.

MMO: What are some of the challenges you’ve encounter in your efforts to mobilize Mothers & More members to take action on their own behalf? What are the predictable points of resistance, and how do you think they can be overcome? Do you think it will ever be possible to get a full-scale grass roots mothers’ movement off the ground?

J. Brundage: I’ve touched a bit on that in my previous answers. As noted before, a lot of our members feel that they are personally and completely in charge of and responsible for their lives. And they are loathe to accept any intimation that they may be “victims.” So we’ve found that many members are open to sharing resources and ideas for improving their lives, one mother at a time, but are uncomfortable with the idea of advocating for themselves as a part of a bigger group, or when that work may be considered “political,” even if it’s just political with a small “p.”

Then, even among those members who acknowledge there are external things that need fixing, many worry that tackling these issues will create differences of opinion and friction within the membership. Women don’t want to threaten the friendships with the women they have met and bonded with. And a related issue, some members just feel it’s “unseemly” to do or say anything externally that may be perceived as negative or bitchy or whiney. It’s one thing for members to share their “real stories” with one another, but many members are not comfortable going public with these feelings and experiences.

And then there’s that overall, deeply-ingrained cultural “given” that I think we all share, consciously or unconsciously, that mothers must be selfless and put themselves last. To do otherwise— in other words, to advocate for one’s own needs at the same time as we care for our children— is almost unthinkable. Somehow, being a “good” mother and taking care of our own wants and needs seem mutually exclusive. This is why, within Mothers & More, we have spent a lot of time and energy on consciousness raising (by reinforcing a positive message that you can be a loving mother and still look out for yourself) over issues identification.

Still, our membership is in a decidedly different place in its interest level in, awareness of and comfort with these issues than just a couple of years ago. Many of us ask one another, “what is the tipping point?” but none of us have come up with an answer. Sometimes, I think we’re so close to this that we just can’t see it.

If I didn’t think this grass roots movement was inevitable, I wouldn’t be in this job. I’m in it for the long haul, and so is Mothers & More. When I’m feeling pessimistic, I think about Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who spent most of their lives working to get women the vote, and didn’t live to see the day. Yet, it did finally happen. Now, I am not so patient that I’m okay with the possibility that I won’t live to see this happen. But I am committed to continuing to work on it as long as there’s breath in my body. And I am utterly convinced it will happen. It has to.

MMO: In your opinion, what’s the next big step for the mothers’ movement, and what role will Mothers & More have in the movement’s future?

J. Brundage: Ah, the next big step! That’s the $64,000 question. I don’t know what the next step will be. All I can say is, the wave just continues to climb higher and higher. There is clear acceleration in the number of books and articles and public dialog about this new “problem with no name.” The public seems insatiable for discussion and reflection about the state of mothers and motherhood. Even some seemingly “fluffy” signs, such as the great popularity of the TV show “Desperate Housewives” is an indicator. And it is notable that an article like “The Opt Out Generation” by Lisa Belkin in the New York Times got the most letters to the editor in response that the Times has ever seen. Likewise, the recent Newsweek cover story featuring Judith Warner’s new book, Perfect Madness, received over 600 letters. Something is afoot and it’s only growing bigger.

Our hope is that Mothers & More is one of the drivers, if not the sole driver, of the movement. We feel we are uniquely positioned, as the only nationally-coordinated membership organization addressing the needs of mothers, to provide the structure and the womanpower that will be needed to initiate, support and sustain such an effort. As is clear from the way we have made decisions in this area in the past few years, though, we feel it is critical for this to happen from the bottom up rather than the top down— as a grass roots initiative. But we would love to have some company in moving this forward, from individuals and organizations. A social movement is bigger than any single organization involved in it, no matter how central its participation.

mmo : march 2005

For more information:

Mothers & More web site:

The Mothers & More POWER Plan (in .pdf)

Related articles:

The Motherhood Problem:
On “Perfect Madness” and other matters

Review and commentary by Judith Stadtman Tucker

Morality or Equality?
Maternal thinking and the social agenda

By Judith Stadtman Tucker

The political and ideological grounding
of the 21st Century Mothers' Movement

For the 2004 Association for Research on Mothering
Conference on Motherhood and Feminism
By Judith Stadtman Tucker (in .pdf)

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