Sisterhood Blog

New York Tabloids Shame Mayor's Wife

By Elissa Strauss

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Earlier this week the New York Post ran a cover featuring Chirlane McCray, the First Lady of New York City next to the banner headline: “I WAS A BAD MOM.” I am so glad they did this.

The Post article was a summary of the profile of McCray by Lisa Miller in New York Magazine, which they saw as something that was “bound to horrify most moms” and “shatters the carefully crafted image of de Blasio’s close-knit family, which helped vault him into office.”

And now here is what McCray actually said, reprinted in its entirety so that it is clear just how far the Post strayed and why Mayor De Blasio demanded an apology:

McCray had always imagined a life with children, but as with so many women the reality of motherhood — the loss of independence, the relentlessness of the responsibility — was difficult. “I was 40 years old. I had a life. Especially with Chiara — will we feel guilt forever more? Of course, yes. But the truth is, I could not spend every day with her. I didn’t want to do that. I looked for all kinds of reason not to do it. I love her. I have thousands of photos of her — every 1-month birthday, 2-month birthday. But I’ve been working since I was 14, and that part of me is me. It took a long time for me to get into ‘I’m taking care of kids,’ and what that means.”

By the time Dante was born in 1997 — the same year de Blasio started working for the Clinton administration as a regional director for HUD — Chirlane had mostly assumed the role of the default parent. She stopped working full-time for several years, and even when she resumed, it was she who was usually at after-school pickup at 6 p.m. “The kids came first,” she says.

So why am I glad about this horrible mom policing? Because it showcases in broad daylight the stubbornly retrograde attitudes that still exist about motherhood. Women receive messages all the time, from advertising, celebrity magazine’s coverage of moms and even from respectable press outlets like the New York Times, about how much they are expected to sacrifice for their kids — and not feel bad about it. But rarely are these messages so overt, so direct, and women are left to struggle with figuring out which messages are coming from without, and which are coming from within. With this public-shaming of McCray’s words, feelings of ambivalence, that I promise many, many women share, it is made all too clear that these messages, the projections of responsibility, shame and guilt, are largely coming from without.

If you read this column regularly, you know that I write often about the many ways in which women continue to take on the practical and emotional burdens of parenthood and why this needs to change. Like anyone passionate about a cause, I am at most definitely at risk for seeking out and aggrandizing examples of the ways in which women are unfairly taxed with family matters, while fathers continue being heroes when they “babysit.” You know, the whole believing is seeing thing.

So when McCray explains what is a perfectly normal case of struggling with dual-identities and a loss of independence when she had her daughter and she is quickly, and quite publicly, condemned for it, it confirms how real this problem is and how much work is left to be done. Thank you tabloids for validating my work. Really. I have a purpose.


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