On Sunday when accepting her Oscar, Natalie Portman thanked the father of her unborn child for "the most important role of my life." She was, of course, referring to motherhood.
This comment spurred quite a reaction from Mary Elizabeth Williams, a writer for Salon.com. In the article, she says: When you're pregnant, especially for the first time, there are a lot of amazed and awed moments in between the heartburn and insomnia. But is motherhood really a greater role than being secretary of state or a justice on the Supreme Court? Is reproduction automatically the greatest thing Natalie Portman will do with her life?
She goes on to say: Why, at the pinnacle of one's professional career, would a person feel the need to undercut it by announcing that there's something else even more important? Even if you feel that way, why downplay your achievement? Why compare the two, as if a grueling acting role and being a parent were somehow in competition? And remind me -- when was the last time a male star gave an acceptance speech calling fatherhood his biggest role?
Motherhood is important. So is work. And you don't have to backhandedly downplay one to be proud of the other.
I'm amazed that such a beautiful comment from a young, soon-to-be mother would offend someone so much that it would result in such an article. However, let's examine. Admittedly, many women no longer see motherhood as their primary role (which is a shame), but even so, why would it be so offensive to one woman to hear another woman revel in this role? Why get so defensive? What is Mary Elizabeth scared of exactly?
If it is true and motherhood is Natalie Portman's greatest role, then maybe it is also Mary Elizabeth's (who based on her book, The Imperfect Mom: Candid Confessions of Mothers Living in the Real World, must also be a mom). If it is Mary Elizabeth's greatest role, than maybe she feels some guilt about her own professional aspirations outside of the home? Well, Mary Elizabeth, you don't have to feel guilty for wanting to accomplish something professionally. And, it is your personal decision/responsibility to decide how to balance that with your own children. But, that doesn't mean that you have to devalue someone else's delight as she looks forward to this role.
This blog is typically about politics, but the part that often gets left out of our public discourse is the need for a strong values-based society - one that is rooted in the types of values that children in a solid, stable home grow up surrounded by. This type of upbringing leads to responsible adults who don't commit as many crimes, who become good fathers and mothers, who live responsible adult lives and pass those values to the next generation.
And, the primary key to this strong society is motherhood and fatherhood, working together as a unit with women primarily focused on raising their children. I know that by saying this, women of my sex throughout the world think that I've moved Women's Lib back 200 years. They may also be offended that I didn't say that fathers should primarily focus on children (or even that ideally we need both a mother and father, but that's a discussion for a different day).
Holding such a view, though, is not a knock to women's lib. In fact, it is acknowledgement of it. As a woman, I believe that women should have all opportunities available for men throughout society. I can't wait for the day that we swear in a woman President. Margaret Thatcher is one of my heroines.
But, even with all that is out there to accomplish, women have something that men will never have - the ability to bear new life. So, Mary Elizabeth, are you actually saying that there is a role that competes with having a child and watching him or her grow into a kind, principled, and accomplished human being largely due to the many years of hard work, tears, laughs, and prayers that you've put into shaping this life? Is it possible that a greater role is out there? An Oscar? The President of the United States?
No there is not.