Last Sunday night, Glenn Close accepted the 2019 Golden Globe for best actress in a drama. In her speech, she honored her late mother, Bettine Moore Close, and her comments have since gone viral.
Through her tears, Close said “I’m thinking of my mom, who really sublimated herself to my father her whole life. And in her 80’s she said to me, ‘I feel I haven’t accomplished anything.’ And it was so not right.”
At this point, I thought she was going to say something like, “Mom didn’t realize she’d actually made the greatest accomplishments any person could hope to make in a lifetime. She raised five happy, balanced children, had a fulfilling marriage and died at the age of 90, surrounded by her loved ones. She left a legacy of warmth and affected hundreds of us with her spirit.”
But instead, seventy-one year old Close used her mother’s distress as grounds to argue for Women’s’ Equality – a platform as old as Close’s acting career which she pointed out began 45 years ago.
What Close actually said about her mother’s legacy was:
“…women, we’re nurturers. That’s what’s expected of us. We have our children and we have our husbands, if we’re lucky enough, and our partners, whoever. But we have to find personal fulfillment. We have to fill our – you know, follow our dreams. We have to say ‘I can do that and I should be allowed to do that.’ ”
I don’t understand where Close’s statement came from or why she felt compelled to make it. Women today know we “can do that” and we are “allowed to do that.”
In fact, we’re so confident and have so much opportunity that we actually have guilt and anxiety for not seizing it all. If we choose not to climb the ladder – if we don’t want to be a VP or launch our own business even though we know we could – speeches like Close’s tell us we’re failing.
Close attempted to make the words of a woman born in 1924 relevant to the lives of women born almost a whole century later. We live in a very different time and a very different world than her mother did. As a 35-year-old woman in Corporate America, I can tell you I do not face the same limitations that Bettine Moore Close did when she was a mother in the 1940’s.
Those of us who were born in the 80’s and 90’s (including Close’s daughter, actress Annie Starke), were told incessantly as children that we could “be anything we want to be!” We’ve never felt limited purely by the fact that we’re female. And yes, we’re thankful for this freedom. But we’re also tired of being constantly reminded of it and urged to “follow our dreams”.
Perhaps Close and others from her generation continue to pressure us to “Lean In” out of fear that women will lose our hard-earned equality if we don’t capitalize on it, out of anger for having been repressed for so long, or simply to honor those who fought for our opportunity.
Whatever the reason, the message of “you owe it to womankind to climb the ladder, even if you don’t want to” has average women in Corporate America feeling overburdened and burnt out.
In addition to her overbearing “women’s rights” cry, Close’s comments simultaneously gave a huge slap across the face to mothers everywhere, especially those who’ve sacrificed a professional career to devote themselves to raising their children.
As a mother herself, I don’t imagine Close intended her comment to mean that motherhood is invaluable. But intentional or not, that’s exactly how it came across. When her mother confided in her that she felt she never accomplished anything, rather than pointing out how impactful it was to have raised five children (including a famous Hollywood actress), Close propped it up as an example of disappointment.
It’s this kind of underappreciation for the importance of parenting that has our modern society so misguided and overly-focused on professional success in the form of titles, money and power.
For women who are mothers and have professional careers, messages like Close’s tell us that our role as a mother pales in comparison to our professional accomplishments.
Apparently society will value us for our impressive resume, not for putting decent human beings into the world. So modern working mothers feel pressured to put work commitments before our family; missing a kid’s soccer game for a last-minute work meeting, responding to emails at night rather than engaging with our spouse.
I think I prefer the wisdom of another famous woman, Mother Teresa, who said “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.”
We all know that Bettine Moore Close’s generation didn’t have professional opportunity – we didn’t need Close to remind us of that unfortunate reality. But that injustice was corrected decades ago. So when you keep reminding me of how it used to be in the 1940’s, scaring and guilting me into achievement 80 years later, forgive me but I don’t feel like standing and applauding your tired battle cry.