Olympic Moms! and why I kinda hope my kid is ordinary

When Mashable tweeted this video as “This Olympic Moms Video Will Make You Cry,” I – naively – thought, “YAY! MOMS THAT ARE OLYMPIANS!”

Whoops:

This is about the moms who raise Olympians. There are so many more of those than women who compete in the Olympics and are also mothers: In 2008 there were 16 mothers who competed out of the 286 women who represented the US.  In 2010, 207 total women competed and 15 were mothers.  There was even one pregnant Olympian (the second ever).

This video is irksome. These women give everything so their child can go on to be an Olympian. They aren’t shown in any capacity other than as mothers or in any other realm than the domestic sphere. They may have husbands or partners (based on final shots of them in crowds watching and crying over their Olympians). They make also work for wages in order to help financially support their families. I don’t know.

This is to not downplay how damn hard it would be to be the parent of an Olympian. You hear stories of years of separation, financial strains and mortgaging mortgages, broken families, etc. It is an extraordinary feat for *many* people when a single Olympian makes it to the top of the podium. I can’t begin to imagine the number of people and hours and dollars that go into that accomplishment.

But P&G is selling a product with this commercial. They want me as a mom to feel good about myself and my consumption and my role as the domestic martyr so that I go buy Duracell batteries. They are playing hard into gender stereotypes I hate while eliciting emotions that come from a deeply personal place – my relationship with my child and my hopes for his future. So, while they say this commercial is about moms of Olympians, I know that I’m supposed to say, “BUT I SACRIFICE FOR MY CHILD, TOO and HE’S WORTH IT because he is a true success in my eyes (and, therefore, the eyes of everyone who matters to me).”

I think what bothers me most about this commercial is that after watching it, I thought to myself: “If that is what is means to be an Olympic mom, I kinda hope my kid is ordinary.” Because I’m not sure I want my entire existence and life worth defined by my child’s success (or, lack thereof). Don’t get me wrong. I want my child to succeed (preferably as the member of a cool indie band that breaks just enough that he gets to do world wide tours but doesn’t starve). But whether or not he does, I still have worth in this world beyond that.

Why are fathers and their lives and their worth NEVER framed the way this P&G commercial frames the lives of mothers? [Spoiler alert: patriarchy. See also: kyriarchy.]

And a final thought about children and their journey to the Olympics: as Rob Quigley wrote to me on Twitter after reading this, “These kids get no childhood. I’d rather my kid be ordinary – and happy.” Whether these children are more or less happy than my child, again, I can’t judge from this commercial. The only experience that P&G cares about is the mom’s/mine. And it collapses success and happiness – they are the same thing here. We are supposed to feel that this journey was worth it, the sacrifice is worth it because it is a happy one that, in the end, trumps whatever hardships have come before it (almost all those hardships, in this commercial, were the mother’s or were jointly shared by her). Well, maybe they should make a commercial about the fourth place finishers and their moms.

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