Thursday, May 6, 2010

Sade vs. Beyoncè on Motherhood

This week Sade and Beyoncè both released videos portraying themselves as housewives doing what I hate to call, “women’s work.” In full 50s pinup girl regalia, Beyoncè asks, “Why don’t you love me, when I make me so damn easy to love?” While washing windows, attempting a burnt dinner, and in one scene, sloppily downing a martini, she sings a song of a mother who has perhaps given too much of herself. Sade, brings a more nostalgic feeling to mother’s work, singing an ode to fathers as she happily washes dishes dressed in soft, sexy silk. I wish I could feel like that when I’m faced with a sink full of dishes.

For the most part, roles for mothers within the household haven’t changed much since the 50s. When women have children, it is usually she who is stuck with the housework and childcare. For mothers, there are very few other options and even the most feminist of us find ourselves falling into these traditional roles. French author Stendahl once wrote, “All geniuses born women are lost to the public good.” I can’t tell you how many countless mothers have told me that they’ve given up writing, singing, painting, dancing, higher education, or other passions in order to keep their homes and raise their children. I’ve spent years now telling myself that I’ll finish [fill in the blank with abandoned creative endeavor] after I wash the dishes, or after I fold the laundry, or after the bathroom is clean. Or better yet, I’ll pick up where I left off next year when my daughter is in school full time. However disappointed, most mothers I know who have put their ambitions on the sidelines or even retired them completely seem to come to the conclusion that they have made the right choice for their children. And so it goes. We lose a genius. Having to make these choices between children and creativity or children and career is not much different than having to make a choice between paying rent and eating. They are not really choices. More so, it is a lack of choices. And we are constantly asking our women to make this choice.
 With mother’s day on the horizon, I have to say my feelings are more Beyoncè than Sade. And I don’t think I’m alone either. I know few mothers who smile upon a pile of dishes or do laundry with such dreamy looks in their eyes. Many mothers I know are resentful and angry about what they’ve given up for motherhood, turning their rage against the only logical person they know to blame: their men. I am not impervious to this unproductive thinking. However, we, as mothers, can’t wait for some miracle Netherlands-like legislation to pass that will pay us for our labors of love, nor can we wait for our men do their fair share, but we can stop telling ourselves that our dreams are not important. Writer and feminist Clarissa Pinkola Estès tells us that art was not meant to be created in stolen moments only and we must love our creative lives more than cooperating with our own oppression. Part of the reason we’ve given up so much is because we convince ourselves that our passions and ideas are not worthy enough to see through to fruition. We kill our ideas before they get a chance to breath. We develop no concrete method to hold ourselves accountable to our artistic progress and projects mysteriously disintegrate. But if we put ourselves at the helm of our own destiny, there can be no one else to blame. Then maybe we might find ourselves happy to do the dishes! This doesn’t, however, mean that the men are off the hook. This mother’s day, don’t stop at praising Mama’s sacrifices with flowers and candy, make a commitment to support her dreams so she doesn’t have to sacrifice so much, because chances are, she has.


  1. excellent article.
    and i loved that beyonce video -- it's a work of political art.
    she's doing all this to get Him to love her.
    meanwhile, he's obviously not.
    and she's mad as hell, becoming crazy as hell, manic, and incredibly, tremulously sad.

    i'm tired of this trick bag of trying to raise kids and support a family in this country.
    i know we inflict some punishment on ourselves by our "standards"
    but come on -- no one is even TRYING to have a spotless house.
    we're just trying to be SANITARY.
    bottom line is that without structural support for our lives and resources, we have no real choices.
    for example, why did i have to take off half day work on friday, just to follow up on updating my home insurance, car insurance, car registration and wash 4 loads of clothes??
    now when i took the time off i'd thought i'd have time to exercise.

    please make sure you do a small part for us to get better policies by supporting a group like

  2. @amina's mama. thanks for reading and commenting. i will check out i agree there needs to be structural support for families so that we don't have to make absurd choices like, arm or is clear that for all the talk of "family values" our country clearly doesn't value families.