Until this morning, I couldn’t figure out why Liza Monroy’s piece, “I Was Asked to Leave a Women’s Empowerment Seminar for Bringing My Baby Girl,” bugged me so much. Putting it altogether, I realized she committed one of the worst sins of feminism: Monroy equated being a woman with being a mom.
Monroy was a booked speaker at a conference, but she was asked to take her baby out of the room. In the most whitest and privileged essay I’ve ever read on Jezebel, she chronicles her experience at the event, including the detail that she brought her babysitter with her.
“Where is the babysitter?” she asked without a hello. And I realized the stress was about me.
I looked down at Olivia, on the verge of falling asleep in her wrap. Taken aback, I pointed toward the back of the room, toward the spot we’d found next to a back door so Olivia could be rapidly removed should crying happen.
“I heard the baby during the talk,” she continued. “I can’t have her interrupting the speakers.”
“She made two peeps and I took her out,” I said.
“You can’t have the baby in here.”
“I was going wear her in the wrap and hand her to Angela when it’s time for the panel.”
“Oh, no, sweetie,” my friend said. “No, no, no. The babysitter is supposed to stay outside with the baby and bring her to you in the breastfeeding room. This is a day for people to get away from kids.”
Well...yes. Babies and children aren’t always welcome in certain environments even though adults are: cargo holds, factories, horror movies, shooting ranges, the roofs of buildings, etc. Monroy completely disregards that fact has always been true as long as humans have been reproducing.
Monroy doubles down further into her essay.
I’ve since decided to do things differently next time, in order to help create the kind of world I want for my daughter, one where she can truly make all of her choices. If—when—this happens again, I will stand up for myself, for mothers who find themselves in similar situations, for our girls. I won’t feel ashamed and leave, baby in tow. I’ll say, “I respect your wanting to get away from children for the day, but it’s become important to me, once I became a mother and realized how much women have had to sacrifice, to have Olivia with me. If she makes noise, I’ll see to it that she’s removed from the space with minimal disruption. It’s because of my feminism that I brought her here.”
This not feminism or women’s empowerment in the least; this is using feminism to do what you want while throwing the cause under the bus. Monroy is quietly equating being a woman with being a mother when she talks about women’s sacrifices.
When she stands for “mothers who find themselves in similar situations,” is Monroy also standing up for the women who don’t have children who are also taking care of elderly relative(s)? When Monroy wants a flexible work schedule, is she also taking care to see that her childfree coworkers aren’t negatively affected? Does she pick up the slack when a woman without children wants to take an afternoon off for an unspecified reason? When she was at the conference with her baby, did Monroy not wonder about all the people there who would have liked to have brought their children too and possibly save money on a babysitter? What about the attendees who would have preferred to stay home and care for a sick pet? To this day, my “feminist” mother maintains that, “Asking for an afternoon off to go to a movie isn’t the same as going home and taking care of a sick child. When (!) those women have kids, they’ll understand the difference!” Would Monroy agree with that?
Most importantly, does Monroy understand that her decision to dig her heels in on an issue that conveniences her personal life undermines all women’s desire to be taken seriously in the workplace and not just seen as a working mom?
Defining women by our reproductive abilities is the type of garbage we’ve been putting up with since the dawn of humanity. What’s worse is that the single and/or childfree woman is a neglected demographic by both parties along with poor and minority women.
Unlike fighting for basic civil rights and equality, asking for perks, such as bringing your child to work-related events, does require a sacrifice from other people who aren’t in similar situations. Rarely are those sacrifices paid back in kind. Mothers aren’t the only group that need flexibility; all workers in the American workforce do. By creating and accepting flexibility for one group and not the entire workforce, we are quietly passing judgment on women who aren’t mothers. That is bullshit.
Monroy would do well to not only learn appropriate environments for babies but also how women who do not make her personal choices live. That’s feminism.