When Netflix released a video tribute to moms in the entertainment industry on social media last week, Kelly Greenway had mixed feelings.
“To the mothers who work like mothers. The ones who hide your bump for fear of losing your job. The ones who show up proud and pregnant. The ones that pump in your cars and squeeze into stalls. And give the director’s chair new meaning,” says the narrator, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” actress Melissa Fumero.
“The ones that come back with stitches, pads and backaches after giving birth and are asked, ‘How did you enjoy your time off?’ The ones that fought for a chair, a trailer to nurse, or child care on location, we see you,” the tribute, titled “Motherhood in Focus,” continues.
“I definitely appreciated the acknowledgment of all we have to go through. But I’ve always been a person who sort of feels like the lip service is not enough,” said Greenway, who is an executive producer in unscripted lifestyle television.
“I don’t need a Wonder Woman cape. I need a more supportive system to be a successful working mother,” Greenway said.
Netflix did not respond to a request for comment about the video.
“In the business and in other industries as well, I really reject the term ‘working mom guilt’ because they — the universal they — want women and working mothers to internalize this feeling of, ‘I feel so torn and this is so hard and if I’m doing a good job at work, it means I’m not doing a good job with my kids,’” Greenway, a mom of two, said. “And the more you internalize it, the less likely you are to say, ‘Wait a minute, this is your problem, not mine.’ The system is broken. I don’t have anything to feel guilty about.”
For Greenway and many other women, the video unearthed complex feelings about how hard it is to be a working mom in any industry. Especially right now, when women — who inevitably shoulder a greater share of family responsibilities — are being forced out the workforce at unprecedented rates.
The video was striking for scenes rarely depicted on-screen — large or small — of women stripped down to breastfeed, pumping milk or working while children play underfoot on set.
Amanda Gore, a makeup artist, called the ad “very powerful.”
“I felt it was a good representation of what we all have to go through,” she wrote in an email from the set of her current TV show. She wishes they had been “able to show all of the juggling we have to do to get child care at strange hours.”
Sarah Jane Glynn, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who focuses on work and family issues as well as gender and the economy, worried that the tribute glossed over real inequity issues by framing women as legends.
“Mothers are so denigrated and treated so badly by our culture that it makes sense to create counternarratives about how moms are superheroes who work harder and do more than anyone else,” she said. “But in the same way that the Spice Girls yelling about girl power in the 1990s didn’t stop me from getting paid less than my male co-workers when I entered the labor market, I am not sure that this narrative is ultimately all that helpful to working mothers.”
Glynn pointed out that hiding a baby bump for fear of losing one’s job is “not a sign of strength.” Rather, she said, “That is women experiencing employment discrimination and having to go to great lengths to ensure that they are not illegally fired from their jobs.”
While Netflix is known for having one of the most family-friendly leave policies, the women featured in the video do not work for Netflix. Many people in film and television work freelance jobs from project to project and work for studios or production companies only while a show or film is in production. Netflix spokesperson Sarah Jones says the company offers unlimited parental leave, but most parents take between 4 and 8 months.
When Greenway had her children, she went without a salary for as long as she could, which was about five months. She could afford to do that because her husband was working.
“It's great that Netflix has that policy and it's great that other companies might have that policy, but the people who are actually out in the field and going job to job — I never had that luxury. After both of my pregnancies, it was basically how long can I afford to not work?”
This speaks to larger policy issues that affect all U.S. workplaces, Glynn said.
“Birthparents returning to work with stitches, pads and backaches after giving birth shouldn’t be applauded for their work ethic — they should be allowed to access adequate paid parental leave so that they can stay home and recover from the physical trauma of having had a human being emerge from their body. Why should parents — mothers or not — be expected to constantly skip bedtime with their kids ‘even if it breaks you?’” Glynn said, referring to a line from the video.
All of the issues that were touched upon — being open about a pregnancy without fear, having a place to feed a child, having child care — require that Americans “radically reconfigure how we conceptualize work,” Glynn said.
For television writer and producer Liz Tigelaar, the video hit home.
She remembers being pregnant while shooting for Hulu’s “Casual.” She and her wife had just undergone a long journey with IVF. She says she was fortunate the timing worked out: She gave birth while the show was in postproduction.
Seeing the tribute brought back memories of trying to pump while cramped in a portable toilet once she returned to work.
But now, just coming off running Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere,” she says she experienced motherhood as central to a TV show — both thematically and in staffing — for the first time.
Seven out of eight of the writers were women — already a Hollywood anomaly — and most were mothers.
“[Motherhood] is a layer added to you as a human that gives you even more to offer,” Tigelaar said. She says seeing those experiences in the video montage really do fill her with pride. “Moms get it done, and look how amazing everyone is. It’s hard and we do it. We took on something that added to our depth and complexity and strength.”
Glynn said that while the intention was to point to that strength, she was concerned about the message many of the scenes sent, especially those showing breastfeeding or pumping.
“Normalizing breastfeeding through open and honest imagery can be very powerful. But the voice-over concerns me because I don’t want people who are breastfeeding to have to pump in the bathroom and there are actually federal laws to prevent people from having to do that,” she said.
When Ursula Burton, an actress, director and producer, was on the sitcom “The Office,” she was a breastfeeding mom playing a breastfeeding mother on the show — and she says she still had to pump in the closet. Even though she had “a great experience” on the show and says it was a supportive environment, there were no accommodations for her.
Even seeing such images of the reality women face is “a big step forward,” she said. But she and her four sisters — who also run a production company together called Five Sisters — have been discussing the video since they first saw it.
“Ultimately, this is still framing the entire conversation as a women’s issue, as a mother’s issue, that children are women’s responsibility. The mother’s responsibility, not the father’s, not a social responsibility. … You can’t just keep saying it’s a woman’s responsibility to raise children.”