When non-American women are introduced, their professional position, job title, education, and achievements are mentioned. The same is true when women introduce themselves. Whether they appear in the media or in other professional settings, they are labeled and label themselves as professionals and experts in their discipline, their reproductive choices not being mentioned, as they are something that belongs to the private sphere not to be discussed publicly. Americans, however, tend to define women through procreation. Not only does the media label women this way, but also women tend to picture themselves as mothers whether is it relevant in the situation presented or not. Also, the emotional term of “mom”, not the biological term of “mother” is used in relation to a stranger.
Some of the examples are article authors’ introductions in the media: Jane Smith, mom, wife, lawyer or Jane Smith, mom of 3, author, doctor, the term “mom” often being capitalized in the middle of a sentence. Where European, Latin American, or African media focus on the characteristics relevant for the information presented, the American ones not only bring up the person’s private information on her reproductive choice, but also put it in the first position, before all the achievements she had to work so hard for. Another example are news articles like: Washington Mom Sues the State Over (here comes the reason completely unrelated to her status as a mother) and further down the article mentions that the woman in question also happens to be a highly educated professional in a prestigious field. Why not a “Washington Scientist” then?
This way of defining women seems to be so deeply rooted in the culture and so strongly and persistently drummed into women’s heads that they do not seem to notice that there is something wrong here. While their European counterparts would protest against this gender discriminating approach, American women not only do nothing about it but also internalize it as a way of defining themselves, regardless of their scientific or other achievements. I have never encountered this approach in other societies, not even when talking to a civil society activist in a remote Angolan village who had a baby in a scarf attached to her back. She never mentioned anything kid-related in a professional interview even if her society is known as conservative and kids are very important in her culture.
American women not only introduce themselves or let others introduce them as “mom” but also label their cars this way. Proud Army mom, proud Air Force mom, volleyball mom, swim mom, gymnastics mom, insert-any-sport-discipline mom, are widespread in kid-obsessed America. When I first saw a bumper sticker “hockey mom” on a vehicle, I was still very innocent about the kid-obsessed culture. I thought this meant that the car owner plays hockey and happens to have a kid as well. When my friend corrected me, I was shocked that the person in question defines herself through the kid or as an attachment to the kid. All of us, not only successful professionals, have certain qualities that distinguish us from the others, like fast knitter, sunflower grower, or pet rescuer. If a person has a need to be exhibitionist about her privacy, it can be done in a thousand ways, not necessarily through the kids. At that time, however, I had no idea that in kid-obsessed America there is no life besides kids.
When trying to buy a book from an online book store, I was struck by lightning. A book review started: “As a busy mother of 3…” This one at least was not as emotion-loaded as the ones using “mom” instead of “mother”. But anyway, the book subject matter was not even distantly related to kids. At that point I skipped to the next one. I have no reason to read a review written by someone who has no identity apart from reproduction. People can be busy with many things, not necessarily by having a kid. However, it looks as though in this kid-worshiping society women were programmed to be walking wombs that do not exist without a kid and cannot imagine that it could be any different.
Another story comes from a supermarket. I could not find an item so I asked about it. I was told: “see that mom at that aisle? It is right there”. The salesperson labeled a complete stranger she knew nothing about just because that lady happened to be with a kid. Maybe she was a sitter, an aunt, an elder sister, any other relative or a friend? No, she was described with the emotional term of “mom”. If I asked the same question anywhere else, I would get an answer: “see that person in a red sweater and blue jeans?” or “see that woman with long brown hair?”. Not in kid-obsessed America. Here a woman is described as a “mom”.
The most shocking comment to me was what my non-American friend heard from a salesperson in a women’s clothing chain store in New Jersey. My friend is a highly achieving professional and out of the blue she was told the following about her successful career: “when your husband makes you a kid everything will end”. She was left speechless. Very assertive as she is she could not say anything in self-defense because in her worse nightmares she would not imagine that not only a woman may say something like this to another woman but also as a customer she did not expect this level of disrespect from a salesperson. The same actually happened to her in a doctor’s office in the same state when she was told something very similar by a nurse. Similar to my reaction to the bumper sticker, she was then new to the kid-obsessed culture and too shocked to act. Coming from a modern European city she could simply not imagine that a Western society can be so backward. Now she says she would definitely sue both companies and make sure that the two women would be fired.
What other Western society has an expression of “career woman”? In modern societies a career is a normal part of life for both men and women and no labels are used because there is no need for them. In this kid-obsessed society, however, women are nagged by friends, relatives, coworkers and complete strangers about their reproductive plans, and patronized or condescended based on their answer. It seems like in America uteri are public property, open for anyone to look into and comment. Strangers, instead of talking about something neutral like weather, literature, music, or art, nosily interfere in women’s privacy and reserve themselves the right to make negative remarks or even harass women who say they are not interested in procreation. On the other hand, these women are unable to defend themselves from aggressive interference or even are afraid that any self-defense would be impolite (and what is the intrusive interference if not a lack of basic manners in its extreme version?) and end up cornered and humiliated.
The American society needs to stop treating women like attachments to a kid and learn basic manners and respect. American women need to be much more assertive in defending themselves and more willing to show that they have identity, personality, and achievements apart from a kid and that these characteristics are equally or more valid in comparison with procreation.