Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Mother, may I?

Not too long ago I asked where the moms were in a post about a dads and daughters event in California aimed at getting girls interested in sports.
I found them. They seem to be getting a lot of press these days; all these moms who get pregnant, give birth, and continue their careers in sports. A few years ago it seemed like everyone on the US Women's National Soccer Team was getting pregnant and coming back to the game. Now the discussions are all about tennis player Lindsay Davenport who retired, had a baby, and came back to the tour and has had great success in her endeavor. And of course there's Brenda Frese who gave birth to twin boys six weeks ago and is back pacing the sidelines at the NCAA tournament. (Well she was back. UMD lost to Stanford last night--another big blow to my bracket. *sigh*)
I didn't really mind at first all the pictures of Davenport and son Jagger, or of a pregnant Frese in her office chair on the sidelines, all the interviews with both about motherhood and sports. But it's gotten a little out of control and I am still trying to figure out exactly what irks me about all the rhetoric around these two stories in particular.
Part of it is the heteronormativity (Pat Griffin does an excellent job deconstructing this aspect of the rhetoric around Frese) and reification of gender roles. We see the husbands of these women in the stands but don't hear a lot about what they do to contribute. I hear more about Davenport's mother who comes to a lot of tournaments, and her nanny. Frese's newborns, of course, didn't make the trips to the tournament but her husband did. So we see all these segments about Frese and motherhood (and there are a lot of them) but I haven't heard who's at home actually taking care of these babies. So we see Frese changing diapers and bouncing and coddling babies and are meant to think that balancing career--even a high-profiles, high-stress career like coaching DI basketball--with motherhood is easy and even a joy, except for the emotional distress that comes when she has to leave her babies behind. And she must express enough of this to be seen as a "good" mother; one who does not care too much about her career.
I am also a little disturbed by the segments that ESPN has been airing that show the players holding and feeding and cuddling the babies. On its face, it's cute and depicts the team as a family (made all the more so by the fact that the female coach is now a real mother). But it also attempts to portray all these young women--many of whom are black, and don't think that doesn't matter--as inherently nurturing. And so like their coach who is tough and fierce on the court, they all are portrayed as having a softer side. Yes, a feminine side. Add babies, stir, and *poof* femininity amidst all the (masculine) aggression and competition that sport allegedly engenders.
There's also this lovely opener in an article about Davenport that not-to-subtly implies that once a woman has a child, she is tied to it for life--it owns her:
Thank you, Jagger, for letting us borrow your mom for the most intriguing match of the first three rounds at the Sony Ericsson Open.
Thank you for sleeping through the night - usually - so your mother, Lindsay Davenport, can catch a few winks before facing No. 2 Ana Ivanovic today.

Meant to be cute but again the mother-child, no father in site, your career is always subject to the child's whims kind of sentiments. The rest of the article continues to employ the annoying trope.
Check out this article, though, for a story about mothers I actually like. More on this one later.


Diane said...

The publicity about Lindsay's return to relative fitness so soon after giving birth (and Jagger was a problematic birth) is, in my opinion, legitimate. But like you, ken, I want to say "enough!" about the rest of it.

At least it got them to lay off of Sybille Bammer for a while. And of course, they were as silent as corpses about Tzipi Obziler's new baby.

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