The New York Times has launched a series: “Mothers That Teammates and Families Both Need.” I was impressed that the first story in the series on mothers in the WNBA succeeded at presenting great facts and expert advice. On the first read, I was really excited about the possibility of women at the margins, mainly mothers of color, getting coverage. However, a project that explores the plight of mothers that prioritizes the needs of teammates and families over what moms need is a surefire fail, fail, fail and here’s why.
While the writer gets her investigative-journalism on and reveals that 11 moms play in the WNBA, she unfortunately goes on to frame these players’ decision to mother as something the WNBA has had to “cope with.” This is ludicrous because it is in fact WNBA mothers who are coping with the WNBA’s insensitive policies. Several lines later, we are informed that these women work for an institution that does not provide on-site child care at domestic events, when other Associations such as the LPGA extends this basic courtesy. But because what teammates and families need are of primary concern to the writer’s project, it becomes out of scope to ask these mothers what they need to be equally successful at career and motherhood without the angst of being separated from their kids.
This business of putting the needs of mother’s lower on the totem pole shown up in other areas too. When the social psychologist, Susan Newman, weighs in with her expertise, she discusses what is in the best interest of the child, not the mother:
As your child gets older, you are role-modeling your passion for what you do, you are role-modeling that a career doesn’t mean you’re always behind a desk, you’re role-modeling an independent life.
These tenets of passion and independence are only important insofar as they can enable mothers to become good role models. There is no commentary by Newman on how the stress of managing the role of mother and player with little to no support from the WNBA can negatively impact women in the long run or possibly serve as a deterrent for players who want to have children. The article concludes with McWilliams-Franklin’s daughter exonerating her mother’s career decision as if her validation of her career is necessary. And in the final sentence, we have McWilliams-Franklin filled with joy from the presence of her daughter, instead of a scene that demonstrates how hard it is for mothers to balance career and motherhood.
I recognize that the daughter’s perspective and the needs of an institution that enable women to play a professional sport is important. And as a writer, myself, I know the frustration of being criticized for the article you didn’t intend to write. But as a feminist, it is important to deconstruct articles that attempt to marginalize the needs of mothers when the subject is motherhood. The message that rings loud and clear in this article and in the anti-choice position of the abortion debate is very similar: mothers don’t matter and women don’t matter in the way that society and children do. This article demonstrates that it is not enough to cover a woman’s story when the subject is motherhood. Because this set up ensures that the voices of mothers in the solution are buried.