April 06, 2007

Saints and Sinners

I have been riveted by the History Channel lately. Perhaps it's my late mother-in-law channeling through me. She was a history major; quite a lady. I am now living in the house she built and called home for 45 years.

Last night, the show focused on the speculation about Mary Magdelaine. Two Marys feature prominently in Christian culture - one a virgin, the other has been portrayed as a reformed prostitute. It got me thinking about women's identity in the present tense.

What polar opposites of stereotyping do adult women suffer from today?
The answer can vary depending on the setting you find yourself in, and what your personal experience has been. On the career ladder, women are often polarized as aggressive or passive. In the not so distant past, popular media has portrayed us as either knocking their heads against the glass ceiling (b****s), or as the ones answering the phones. Is there a confident, capable woman in between? More and more examples of the latter are cropping up in Hollywood and our awareness, thanks to more women in the workplace.

The experience of modern women is best represented as a continuum. At one end, we have SAHMs (stay-at-home-moms) and on the other are Purple WomenTM. There's a lot of room in between, and either end is hard to match up with a strict definition. There's a lot of room for self-definition.
Some readers of this blog have confessed to me that they don't like to be narrowly defined by whether or not they have given birth.
They don't identify themselves as childfree. That's one reason why I created a new color moniker for myself and whoever wants to adopt it!

What is the question?

That is the answer.

The question I ask is,

What lies in between

Career Women and Mothers?

I propose there are Purple Women™.

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twiga92 said...

This is definitely me. I don't see myself as a Career Woman even though I work full-time. And obviously I'm not a mother. That in-between is where I am. Purple Woman!

M said...


This is so long sorry. It's basically its own post and I prob. should have written it as such on my own site. Sorry to take up so much space here.

I was confused about a main point of the post. I didn't know if you were stating this line as your opinion or as saying that this is society's view and that you don't agree with it: "The experience of modern women is best represented as a continuum. At one end we have SAHMs (stay-at-home-moms) and on the other are Purple Women." My response is based on my interpretation that you were stating the idea as one that you believed. If you weren't making that statement as your own personal view, then please read my comment simply as a response to those who do think that way:

To say that one extreme is SAHM and the polar opposite is Purple Women reduces the entire experience of a women in modern society down to whether or not she's had children (and possibly whether or not she has a career). This type of paradigm is one reason I don't like to identify as childfree, as I don't define myself or my life in any way by whether or not I'm choosing to be a parent or by what my job is, etc.

To me, considering being childfree as part of my identity is no different from parents whose identities are completely wrapped up in being parents. I just don't believe that that is what makes us who we are in this world. The paradigm presented in this post, to me, still makes life all about having children (and about work to some degree as well), and each woman is defined by her relationship to parenthood.

I consider my life and myself to be about so much more than having (or not having) kids and careers. I don't see myself (or others without kids) as being on an oppsite end of a spectrum from someone who has had kids, because to me who people are in this world is not about whether or not they are parents. It is about who they are as people, who they are inside and that is not something that can be determined by checking to see if someone has children or not.

Saying Purple Women is not the same as "childfree" or that is a broader term with room for self definition sounds like a good idea, but if the concept is presented as being on the opposite end of the spectrum as motherhood (as it is in this post: "The experience of modern women is best represented as a continuum. At one end we have SAHMs (stay-at-home-moms) and on the other are Purple Women"), it's hard for me to distinguish how "Purple Women" is really any different from "childfree."

It seems it is still defining one group by its relationship to the other, and both of those groups are being defined by their relationship to having children (as I said above we may be in agreement about this whole point, and I might have just misinterpreted this portion of your post).

Also, the question "What lies in between Career Women and Mothers?" suggests that these two roles are somehow mutually exclusive, and I don't see that as being true at all. I thought that was part of what feminism in modern society was all about, choosing any combination of those roles that you could make possible for yourself and your family. Just plain old motherhood, or a career, or both, or both but at different points in life, or a plethora of other possibilities and combinations.

Not only can mothers be career women, and great ones at that, but those who are not mothers do not have to be career women at all. They don't even have to work period, do they, in order to be "childfree"?

This may be a tagent, but I don't like how the concept of being "childfree" is associated, not just by parents but also by those who don't have kids themselves, as being about career vs. motherhood, sleeping in vs. being up all night with baby, indulging oneself vs, sacrificing everything for children, having financial freedom vs. being strapped trying to afford children, traveling the world vs. being stuck at home on a kid's schedule, and so on.

Perhaps these are the options of a certain demographic of "childfree" people, wealthy ones for sure, but this is not what making the decision to not have kids is about for many people (me included). There are endless reasons not to have kids, many of them having absolutely nothing to do with having or not having a career (or even with doing whatever you want vs being tied down to a child).

I guess I don't like the stereotype that has formed around what it means to be childfree (If I remember correctly, I think I noticed it even in that SF Chron. article) and presenting having a career as a choice on the other end of the spectrum from motherhood in my mind feeds right into that stereotype. That idea ignores all the people who have chosen to not have kids who cannot be considered career women, who maybe don't care about a career at all, who don't work at all, etc. And of course it ignores the idea of successful career women who are also successful parents, and there are many of those in our society too.

I'm not sure if my comment is making sense, as I have a terrible headache that is impeding thought and my ability to communicate clearly. Obviously, I do feel a connection to the childfree "movement" but I guess to me that is not the same thing as seeing the issue of not having had kids being in any way a part of who I am, nor do I feel it puts me on an opposite end of a spectrum from those who have children. I might have a lot in common with those who have kids and may even identify much more with some parents than I do with nonparents.

These are just some of the reasons I don't like to label myself childfree, Purple Women, or anything else like that. I am not defined by my decision to have or not have children, by my work or lack thereof, nor do I believe in the steroetypes that our society holds about both groups. Using one term instead of another, even if it's a broad term with flexibility, still to me feels like a label, and in this case, one that is still defined by women's relationship to having or not having kids and one that more often than not still is associated with stereotypes and expectations that often don't apply to me. I prefer to say I do not have kids, whic is a fact, rather than saying I am "childfree" (though I have said that about myself for convenience in wording I admit).

Sorry this is soooooooooo long and sorry I wasn't quite clear on your meaning in the post. I should maybe not have replied since I was uncertain of your meaning, but the topic was too interesting to me not to reply. Thanks for bringing it up.

Teri said...

Twiga, M - Glad your following along!

If you think you're a Purple Woman, then you are one. I think we all start out purple, some of us simply evolve into parents, some in other directions. Some Purple Women are step-parents. Some parents whose kids have left the next become Purple again.