On Friday I went to a taping of a TEDx Women’s event in Jerusalem. I looked forward to the event for weeks, being a fan of TED, anticipating all the wonderful people I would meet, attending an “event”, all good things.
I also had a bit of trepidation. You see, I don’t like “women’s” events. I don’t live in a women’s world; I have 6 boys, love competitive games, and like science. I don’t like high-heeled shoes, wearing perfume, or focusing on fancy jewelry. I don’t even like flowers! Besides not liking women’s events, I don’t even consider myself a feminist. Something about the word bothers me. Now, I was raised on the religion of the Democratic Party and am pretty liberal in my world view. I believe in equal rights regardless of religion, race, sexual preference, and yes, even gender, but I consider myself to be more of a humanist rather than a feminist. Why do I need to limit my views on equality to women?
And yet, here I was, signed up for TEDx Jerusalem WOMEN. And I was excited. I even considered signing up for the open mike session. Because of my busy schedule in the days leading up to the TED event, and my indecision about what exactly I would speak about for 5 minutes, I didn’t apply. I came up with about 5 topics I thought I could speak about for 5 minutes: the international book project I started, building community through cooperative summer camp, sharing my story to empower Millennials and others to take control of their lives, and so on. But as I sat through the TEDx event, a strange uncomfortableness started to creep up on me and a realization that the 5 minute open mike segment that I needed to give was on none of those topics.
The TEDx event consisted of a mingling of 3 main speakers, 4 taped segments from the main TED event in Los Angeles, a comedian, a singer/songwriter, and 9 open mike speakers. There were 18 women speakers in all and not one of them spoke about Motherhood. Sure, many spoke about their challenges in combining raising children and having a career, but not a single one spoke about the choice which some women make to put their previous occupations on hold and to simply be a mother.
I became pregnant while in graduate school. I had been married for over a year and the time was right for starting a family. I had completed my bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, summa cum laude, and was then studying Physical Organic Chemistry in a PhD program at Carnegie Mellon University. I was raised as part of Generation X, with the world-view that I could do it all. I could have the high-powered job, the advanced education, the active, healthy family life, the involvement in my community, and be independent. I very much wanted to have children and assumed that they would be put in the best day care, while my husband and I went off to work, sharing quality moments as a family in the evenings and on the weekends.
And then Rafi was born. I discovered that I knew absolutely nothing about being a parent – and I am not talking about the nuts and bolts about feeding and bathing and holding. I am talking about the emotional response I had to him. I actually really loved him, and he loved me (this was a big shocker to me – did I mention that I didn’t like children prior to becoming a mother??). I was exhausted by taking care of him – no one told me about the exhaustion. And I was learning things about myself and my world at a rate which could not be matched by any doctorate program.
But, I was committed to going back to school. My professor was waiting for me. And when Rafi was 10 days old, I went to the office for my first office hours. My professor was really understanding for the first few months and gave me things that I could mostly do at home, with only the occasional foray into school. At the age of 4.5 months, Rafi went into full-time day care, the best in the neighborhood, from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. My husband and I shifted our work schedules to extend our days because even those hours were not sufficient for our occupations. And as time went on, I became more and more miserable.
Finally, when Rafi turned 1 year old, I decided, with the encouragement of my husband, to make a switch in my occupation and become a stay-at-home mom – not because I had nothing else to do, but because I had nothing else I wanted to do. I finished my master’s degree (the consolation prize) in 6 months and took up my new occupation – stay-at-home mom.
Even the name “stay-at-home mom” is bogus because we did anything but stay at home. I embraced my new occupation with a passion, seeking out professional peers who would lend encouragement and give advice when I was facing some new challenge. They supported my right to make decisions about my parenting and lifestyle. It was great! Yes, there were some challenges, things I had to give up, hard decisions that needed to be made. That is part of life. But I was immensely more happy in my parenting occupation than in my previous occupation.
Through the 20 years as a stay-at-home mom, I grew in skill as my children grew. I became an expert on teaching informally because when I saw gaps in their educational experience, I tried my best to fill them. I became involved with building community because I wanted my children to be surrounded by others (adults and peers) to round out their world. I taught interpersonal skills as I interacted with them intensely. I became an advocate when my son became very sick. Any quantitative quality with which you could measure an employment environment was met by my new occupation. Even financial goals were met, as my husband was able to fully focus on developing his career, knowing full well that all at home was being managed.
I ran into a glitch in my otherwise flawless story when I encountered the outside world, and often feminists were the worst. There is no greater conversation stopper at a social gathering than answering “I’m a mom” to the question of what your job is. Stereotypes rule these social situations. Apparently, moms are not that interesting. Apparently, moms are not that intelligent. Apparently, moms have nothing to contribute in any social setting that does not involve their children.
People think that you took the easy way, or have some sort of charmed life, drinking coffee at the cafe and getting your nails done. They think, “What does she DO all day? Doesn’t she go crazy? Doesn’t she want to better herself?” Men think that all of your thoughts are around “female” topics, and they aren’t interested/comfortable with those discussions. Women whose occupation is outside of the home may have feelings of guilt, thinking that they should be at home with their kids.
But feminists tend to be the worst. They look at you as a failure. They have children and a career; what’s wrong with you that you can’t do both? They are advancing the cause of gender equality and you are stuck in the last century. What a pity.
What a pity, indeed. Instead of being an advocate for choice, feminists are really just falling into the anti-choice dictates of the past, mimicking the idea that some choices are ok for women and some aren’t.
So I was disappointed by the TEDx Jerusalem Women event. Disappointed that even among ourselves, we don’t stand up for the occupation of being a mom. That no speaker spoke about the challenges and joys of an evolving life – first academic, then mom, then something else.
That those who purport to organize an event dedicated to women’s rights, ignore the most female right of all – the right to choose to be a mother.