POV: We must recognize Michelle Wu’s motherhood in her historic Boston mayoral victory | BU today
The election of Michelle Wu as Boston’s new mayor is historic. Wu’s election, as NPR noted, “broke a 199-year streak of white male elected leaders.” Much of the local and national coverage of Wu’s election also documented Wu’s historic intersectionality in terms of race and gender. Boston.com wrote that Wu, who will be sworn in as mayor on Tuesday, November 16, “To become the first woman, person of color and Asian American to be elected Mayor of Boston,” while the New York Times writes: “Michelle Wu is the first woman and the first person of color to be elected mayor of Boston. “
But this focus on Wu’s victory lacks an additional shaping factor in her identity: she’s also a mother who insists that being a mother is another central shaping factor of her identity, politics, and life. campaign. Until her motherhood is also acknowledged in these intersectional descriptions, the historical nature of Wu’s victory will remain incomplete and dishonor her commitment to making mothering both visible and a key factor in who she is as a politician and Mayor-elect of Boston.
Of course, there have been women politicians who are mothers — Hillary Clinton, Wu’s own mentor Elizabeth Warren — and historically women have advocated for social policy as mothers or have done what academics call maternal calls. As Seth Kovan and Sonja Michel suggest in their book Mothers of a new world, As large-scale welfare programs and public policies emerged in Western Europe and the United States, many women claimed new roles for themselves and began to make appeals for favor of women and children. In short, many women “have transformed motherhood from private responsibility in Public policy. ”Crucially, however, maternal appeals were based exclusively on mothers defending and calling for public policy for women and children as mothers and not as multidimensional women advocating in the public sphere.
In the 1980s in the United States, many privileged and educated women began to benefit from the large-scale social changes that resulted from the 1960s and 1970s. Sadly, many of these women were told that to be successful they had to. either renounce motherhood, or keep motherhood invisible or secondary to their professional life and only part of their private identity.
While I was preparing for a doctorate in the late 1980s and early 1990s, my master’s supervisor and my doctoral supervisor were both childless women. Both told me that they had been told, both explicitly and implicitly, that “successful” academics were not hampered by family responsibilities. In fact, my master’s advisor told me that she made the decision not to have children in order to become a successful academic.
Lucky for me, however, neither of them discouraged me from becoming a mother someday. But I’ve been advised throughout my career to wait until I get tenure, advice, I might add, that many graduate students continue to hear today. Equally important, and especially early in my career after I became a mother, as with other professional women, I felt a pressure to separate my “private” and “professional” life. After I turned my intellectual interest in feminist thinking and writing towards motherhood, however, I began to resist these pressures to remain silent about motherhood, to resist separation from motherhood as a determining factor. of who I am as a human, teacher, thinker, and writer.
What’s exciting and important to me about Wu, then, is that she resisted this model of mothering-not-one-of-the-central-factors-of-my-identity. . She embraced the idea that her lived experiences of caregiving, first as a daughter, then as a mother, are central to her identity as a human and a politician and, as such, must be made explicit and visible. Indeed, in my reading of Wu, she has been clear and straightforward about how her experiences – as a woman of color, as an Asian American, and as a mother – informed her leadership, politics and political decisions. On her campaign website, under “Meet Michelle,” Wu describes herself, “I am a mother, daughter of immigrants, and I firmly believe that we can solve our deepest challenges by building community. In her last passage in this section, she writes: “This work is deeply personal to me. As a mom to Blaise and Cass, I feel every day the urgency of families fighting against the system to get along and build healthy, safe and resilient communities. “
During her time as city council chair and in the midst of a 2017 re-election campaign, three months after the birth of her second son, Cass, Wu wrote an op-ed titled “President of the City Council: Why I bring my baby to work” for CNN. “Women in particular are often asked to choose between being a mother and being a leader,” he said. “Without adequate political support, too many women face not only financial obstacles to reconcile motherhood and leadership, but also cultural stigma. After fully acknowledging that she understands how privileged she is and that many parents do not have the same options as her, Wu continued, “By bringing my baby to work, I am happy to visibly remind how complicated and difficult it is to be a working parent.
We must not forget that motherhood was also a determining factor in the candidacy for mayor of Annissa Essaibi-George (CAS’96). In her second campaign ad, titled “Teacher, Mom, Mayor,” Essaibi-George said: “I will be the teacher, mother and mayor who will do it. And in her concession speech, she praised Wu, saying she was proud that another mother was Boston’s top official, adding that she wanted Wu to “show the city how mothers got there. takes”.
In praising and defending the type of visible motherhood that Wu presents, I am not discussing a “natural” connection between women and mothering, where motherhood is the most important basis of female identity. Rather than being instinctive, rooted in biology or innate skills, I suggest that Wu models and makes her mothering visible as one of the key, but not the most important, ways in which she is a leader.
In doing so, I think Wu is modeling a motherhood driven by intelligence and the maternal work involved in caring for others. When we use the term maternal work in my reading of Wu, in fact, I also think and draw inspiration from the works of the scholar of motherhood Andrea O’Reilly, which argues that any individual or person who engages in mothering work, which is not limited to cisgender women or privileged mothers, must include “anyone who assumes the work of mothering as a central part of their life.” My celebration of Wu is a celebration of this type of visible motherhood and motherhood labor rather than a celebration of motherhood rooted in cisgender, biological, or essentialist views of motherhood.
I advocate for a particular kind of maternal ‘getting things done’, modeled by Wu and celebrated by Essaibi-George, which leads to advocacy for family support that families, especially mothers, continue to have. need. As Wu also noted in his editorial on CNN, “I know many parents don’t have the options that I have. It motivates me more to fight for better solutions, especially for moms who don’t have the ability to bring their babies to work or the resources to make other arrangements.
In other words, Wu maintains that her lived experiences motivate her to fight back and find better solutions for others, especially those who do not share her privileges and resources. Wu’s maternal embrace is different from the kind of maternal embrace Rep. Lauren Boebert recently modeled on her YouTube channel, Bullet Points with Lauren Boebertironically, the day before Wu’s election. In the video, Boebert insisted that the fact that she gave birth in a truck was also somewhat of an argument against support for parental leave, against support family that caregivers need. Indeed, after criticizing Pete Buttigieg for taking paternity leave for two and a half months after Buttigieg and her husband, Chasten, welcomed two babies, Boebert said: “I am a mother of four children. I gave birth to one of my children in the front seat of my truck. Because as a mother of four we have things to do. No one has time to take two and a half months of maternity leave. We have a world to save here.
There are so many problematic assumptions here that deserve another editorial. But I’ll just use Boebert’s “argument” as a warning about what not to do and to point out that Boebert’s neoliberal, ultra-mom maternal embrace and the suggestion that “good political mothers “getting things done on their own, based on their own determination and individual will, is not the kind of motherly embrace that I see in Wu, nor that I encourage us to recognize as important to her as well. Wu’s historic victory.
On the contrary, I see and support a ‘getting things done’ mother rooted in a visible maternal embrace that motivates political leaders to be community-oriented rather than individual-oriented and to strive for family support including states. -United desperately need it. .
Lynn O’Brien Hallstein is Professor of Rhetoric at the College of General Studies, Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development, and Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning; she is a maternity scholar and a mother.
Disclaimer: O’Brien Hallstein does not live in Boston and did not vote for Boston mayor, and she has never met Michelle Wu.
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