Is anyone else struck by the way that men and women in both the print and broadcast media describe women athletes who happen to have children as (to paraphrase) “an Olympic athlete and a XX year-old mom!” in a tone that suggests they’re saying something like “an Olympic athlete and a XX year-old two-packs-a-day smoker!” or “an Olympic athlete and a XX year-old liver transplant patient!” Why does anyone think that motherhood necessarily erodes or competes with athletic talent? Of course, not every mother physically gives birth to her children, but even for those who do, childbirth and its aftermath doesn’t necessarily alter the body in ways that would affect athletic performance. (And, if a woman is an Olympic-level competitor before she has children, her level of fitness means that she would be among the likliest candidates to snap back from pregnancy and childbirth extremely quickly.)
NPR did it again this morning in reporting on the women’s marathon gold medal winner, Romania’s Constantina Tomescu-Dita. The reporter declared “she’s a 38 year-old mom who made it look easy!” And U.S. women’s swim team member Dara Torres is almost always described as a “mom”in any reporting on her comeback efforts. (With both Tomescu-Dita and Torres, the reporters seem equally amazed at their “advanced” ages, too, which are history-making but–do we really think of 40 as enfeebled any more? U. S. Olympic weightlifter Melanie Roach’s motherhood is also heavily featured in the reporting on her, although she is still a relatively dewy 33. The fact that reporters and the media are making such a big deal out of female parenthood suggests that culturally we’re still very invested in the notion of women’s bodies’ weakness and delicacy compared to men’s bodies. I haven’t heard any male athletes being described in breathless terms as “dads,” although my study of this subject is admittedly accidental and anecdotal.
Finally, what’s with the word “mom,” instead of “mother?” This seems to be an appropriation of the expression “stay-at-home mom,” or “full-time mom,” which are almost never rendered as “stay-at-home mother” or “full-time mother.” To me, it sounds grating, because “mom” is a name, not a job, and not a word that should be used with the indefinite article (as in “a mom.”)
18 Responses to “Motherhood and the construction of women’s athletic talent”