Why mothers?

I recently talked to another documentary filmmaker–a man–about the difficulty of getting both distribution and festival screenings. He liked the film very much, but suggested that we rewrite our synopsis. He said that the line “women artists and mothers” made no sense to him. Why mothers? He said it was like pitting artists against those with brown hair or left handedness (I am paraphrasing here. Please don’t think I am quoting.)

It was an interesting point of view. On one hand, he “got” the film–the “work” of mothering is different than the work of “parenting” or even “fathering.” There is an implicit “self-sacrificing” element in mothering that, I would argue, is absent from fathering. I think he would agree. Yet, somehow, we could not talk about this.

I think that there is still less conflict between “fathering” and work than “mothering” and work. Traditionally, to be a father means to provide-materially for one’s family. So, what’s the problem? Every bit of time away from the family can be seen as “doing for” the family. Whereas, for women, the creation of family life–the daily caring for, feeding, cleaning up after, laundry, listening to, getting kids to and fro, paying attention to both their physical and emotional needs–this is work that we have yet to define as work. It is exhausting, overwhelming and endless and no one gets a paycheck for it. So, in the eyes of society, still–it is not quite “work.” Even though we all give lip service to the value of raising children, many of us still suspect that women should be able to succeed at “real” work at the same time.

I do know that after five years of interviewing our wonderful women and our experts, of following these lives and of editing and re-editing this film, I no longer have any problem claiming myself as an “artist.” Interestingly, my three boys and my husband seem to see me differently because of making this film. My oldest son told me that watching me do something that I’d never done before–make a film–gave him confidence that he too could work in a creative field, that he too could dream up his own work.

What a gift.


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