The most frustrating fact about New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante’s Sunday column, “After Hurricane, a New Calling for Mothers” is not that it’s sexist. It’s that it so easily could have avoided being sexist. People? Volunteering to help other people, because they have the time and resources to do so? Great! Newsworthy! Heart-warming! But Bellafante (and her editors, who deserve honorary Decrees) decided it was critical to their journalistic project to insult and exclude fathers. To say nothing (literally, never mentioned) of alternative parents of any kind. Twice nominated, once victorious: This Decree’s for you, Ginia.
Bellafante’s writing on gender has been criticized before, first in 1998 when her Time cover story about feminism’s failings earned a vitriolic (and deserved) response from Erica Jong, and most notably in 2011, when her Game of Thrones review claimed women wouldn’t watch the quasi-historical fantasy show if it didn’t have such explicit sex scenes. In that review, as in her Sandy relief article, Bellafante seemed to be aiming for empathy but landing on alienating and offensive. She called the show’s pandering to sex-crazed women “patronizing,” but failed to see how calling the entire fantasy genre “boy fiction” was just as problematic.
This Sunday’s column, too, had good intentions: to point out a cool, philanthropic bevy of New York mothers. But what the column actually did was tell non-moms they’re useless. Bellafante’s writing was eyebrow-raising from line one, but the real Carnival de Douche happens in the rest of the lede:
God could not be everywhere, as the proverb goes, so he created mothers. Fathers misplace their children at the supermarket; mothers miraculously transform tofu to make it palatable to 3-year olds. Mothers grow indignant when the world isn’t as it should be. They carry placards and mobilize, often seeing themselves as the only custodians of sanity and efficiency left.
Oh, dads. Maybe all those commercials were right about you! If only you could figure out how to get your shoes on, I’m sure you’d be able to remember where you left your kids. But don’t worry too hard. There’s likely a Brooklyn brownstone empty-nester captial-M Mom taking care of them, wherever they are, feeding them uber-palatable tofu on the drive from Park Slope to Queens, where she’s building a refugee center with her bare hands. You just trip over your own feet all the way back to your man cave and relax. Mama’s got this one.
In addition to the more glaring shortcomings of Bellafante’s piece, it’s worth noting that the magical unicorn mothers don’t make out all that well, either. Unless you think getting called a “Real Housewife of Relief” is a compliment. On a deeper level, too, women being pegged the Only Capable Caregivers In All The Land does not actually do anyone any favors. In that model, moms are expected to be one-dimensional baby whisperers, and everyone else is expected to continue on their debauched or doofy way, depending.
People sharing their time, money, and energy with those in need is entirely worth a Sunday Times profile. Using such a worthy topic—or any topic ever—as a platform from which to abuse another group of hard-working, caring people is shameful. And no, saying “It was a…..JOKE!” on Twitter does not an apology make. Do better next time, Bellafante, and start by doing better now.