If you haven’t seen the hit HBO summer series "Big Little Lies," fall is the perfect time to curl up by the fire and prepare to binge-watch. The series is a murder mystery, told through the investigation proceedings of five central female leads and the community at large. The drama centers around the lives of those five mothers as they grapple with the aftermath of everything from school bullying to divorce, infidelity to partner violence and rape.
Actress Reese Witherspoon helped create, produce and acts in the series. She plays Madelyne, a woman so consumed with her own unrealized ambitions she redirects them into an obsession with "helping" her community in a variety of toxic ways. Witherspoon's performance captures the underlying rage of someone living by society’s rules without knowing why, someone trapped by a narrow definition of what it means to be a "good" woman and mother.
I personally loved her performance, and apparently so did a lot of people because the actress has continued to receive several awards for her portrayal. Just this past week, she accepted an award from WSJ Magazine for “Innovator of the Year” largely due to her role in producing the series. And her acceptance speech went viral within 24 hours.
In it, Witherspoon, talks about the need to tell women’s stories. Her passion is evident, and for the most part I agreed with her message. But there’s one area where I think Witherspoon gets it wrong. After acknowledging the need for more quality content by and for women she quips, “and I’m not talking about mommy blogs and 14 ways to cook a turkey.” Woah. You can’t say you’re working toward empowering women and then disparage them — all in the same 30 seconds.
Witherspoon is right: Women are sorely underrepresented in entertainment, in business, in politics. Women should have a seat at every table and every opportunity a man has to reach the top levels of success. Seeing more women on screen and seeing more variations of women’s stories is absolutely a good thing.
Reflections on motherhood shouldn't be mocked ... Those stories help countless people feel less alone.
But it’s also important to recognize and validate the work women around the world are already disproportionately doing, tasks that have traditionally been seen as "women’s work" and therefore as less than: housework and emotional labor. Witherspoon’s comments undermine that goal. Everyone eats so caring about "14 ways to cook a turkey" isn’t inherently less important than caring about the stock market. And blogged reflections on motherhood shouldn't be mocked with a tone of dismissive disdain. Those stories help countless people feel less alone as they navigate their role as parents.
Plus, it’s possible to care about what food you feed your family and the impact of partner violence or global warming at the same time. As mothers, we are expected to seriously consider every detail about caring for our families while, at the same time, we're told that doing so isn't serious work. That attitude can only change when people with privilege and a platform like Witherspoon work to create more opportunities for women in positions of power and recognize the range of contributions of all women as valuable to society — bloggers and home cooks included.