The current form of maternal martyr, I discern, is not the one I remember from childhood but is, nonetheless, an interesting inversion of this one.
The form of maternal martyrdom I remember was undertaken by those mothers who had renounced everything to be at home with children. They were legion and they were known to be suffering. They were suffering yet honorable, since they were married to men with jobs who, ostensibly, loved them. These things were very important.
We were told we should finish college and work for a year, because we would then be in a position to marry men with yet better jobs. If, on the other hand, we got married in high school, we would not be well supported and we might be abandoned. If, worse yet, we had children without being married, we “could not” go to school or work and, I concluded, would face a grim and obviously short life on the street.
Now, though, the model maternal martyr seems to be the single mother in college, putting herself through school on loans. I know this because these mothers wear invisible badges of honor like the earlier forms of martyr mother I have known.
They are virtuous because they did not consider abortion but are bearing their cross, and because they are heroically continuing in school, financed not by welfare but by loans they are using that way instead. They are top martyr people because they are single mothers in school, just as the top martyr people were once married mothers at home. Top martyrs are, of course, entitled to many benefits; from professors these martyrs appear to want:
1/- admiration for martyred motherhood,
2/- easy grades,
3/- child care during class.
I feel like writing a public service announcement to this kind of student. It would say:
1/- I know you are a mother but requirements are the same for all students,
2/- I know you are a single mother, that you lack family support and that the father of your child is irresponsible, and I am sorry that you have this situation; however it does not sound romantic to me and I do not admire your fortitude dealing with it so much as wonder that you chose it,
3/- I can help with child care during a departmental social event, but not during class.
Be all of this as it may (and in a practical sense, I will deal nicely, and I am not nearly as ill tempered as I may sound), the point of this post is an analytical one: I have now identified the currently fashionable form of maternal martyr.