|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?
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
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.
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,”
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
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
mmo : march 2005