Yesterday, Republican nominee for POTUS Donald Trump released a campaign video about his plan for paid maternity leave. In it, his daughter Ivanka, who has become Donald’s stand-in for “women,” explains the plan for him. Unsurprisingly, the very first thing out of her mouth is kind of a problem: “The most important job any woman can have is being a mother.”
Using “any woman” here is just a nicer way of saying “all women.” What that sentence really means is that Ivanka — and by extension, her father, whose platform the video was created to advertise — thinks that all women should have children, because it’s “the most important job for them.” Of course, this line of thinking isn’t exactly reflective of American women’s lived experience: More women today are either putting off having children or choosing to not have them at all. Saying that women’s most important job in life is motherhood suggests that women without children are lacking not just children, but a true calling in life.
By declaring motherhood the most “important” job, we’re also forcing women to organize priceless parts of their lives by value. First Lady Michelle Obama has famously said that raising her daughters is her proudest achievement during her time in the White House, and that makes sense: Creating two people out of thin air isn’t easy, and it’s right to feel extremely proud when you don’t, as she said, “mess up your kids.”
But the reality is that we rarely ask men to rank their jobs in life: Is being a father more important to Keith Richards than being in the Rolling Stones? I have no idea; I didn’t even know he had children until three months ago. The question itself is an impossible test for women who have children: Which do you value more, your kids or your job? The trick is that there’s no right answer, so no matter what your response is you’re wrong.
Of course, being a mother can definitely feel like a job sometimes. It is, in base terms, labor. There is extra laundry and cooking and cleaning up. The hours are longer than anything even my forefathers saw in the mines. But many of the people who tout motherhood as their most important job aren’t single mothers juggling a kid and an actual paying gig: They’re not people who worry about the cost of day care or health insurance. In short, they’re people like Ivanka Trump.
Still, if Ivanka wants to say that motherhood is a job, I’m happy to agree with her. Because if it is, then I assume Trump’s maternity plan comes with the bare minimum of benefits for its workforce: universal pre-K, affordable and high-quality child care, and health insurance. Throw in a salary and a retirement plan and I’ll change my business cards to “Mother” right away.