Not Quite What I Expected

Wilson Diehl

Wilson Diehl
Seattle, Washington, USA
March 09
You can find more of Wilson Diehl's work on Babble, Salon, and her blog, She's also published some poems in some places and made a short film called "How to Go on a Man Date." She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Iowa and teaches writing at Hugo House in Seattle.


Editor’s Pick
MARCH 29, 2011 2:55PM

Am I supposed to be offended when someone calls me a MILF?

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For as long as I remember, I’ve considered myself a feminist. When I was a baby and my mom asked, “Are you my girl?” I apparently replied, “No. Woman!” I might not have known or been able to articulate the word “feminist,” but I’ve always gotten the gist. So how is it that now that I have a baby of my own, I love being called a MILF?

I grew up with Democratic parents in the liberal college town of Iowa City and quickly latched onto the notion that misogyny is bad and women can do a lot more than they’re given credit for. I believed women ought to be treated well and paid well and generally respected and revered—possibly even simultaneously. My politics may have also had something to do with my mom having attended Wellesley (with Diane Sawyer and Hillary (Rodham!) Clinton), though the “You go, girl!” effects of that experience were largely counterbalanced by my mom’s, um—how best to put this?—willingness to put everyone else’s needs in front of her own. Maybe I simply had an internalized sense of equality, a desire for fairness where I felt it missing.

In elementary school I confronted my math teacher over what I perceived to be gender bias in his pattern of calling on students, and in high school I wrote essays on the importance of various insignificant female characters in whatever Classic-by-a-dead-white-guy we’d just read. I minored in Women’s Studies and spent a lot of collegiate time and energy cultivating a romantic interest in girls. In addition to a 3-year stint in a lesbian relationship, my feminist credentials include donations to NARAL and Planned Parenthood, employment with an organization called Reel Grrls, an inability to laugh at myself, and a deep-seated belief that men are, as a rule, nincompoops.

But when a 22-year-old college guy called me a MILF recently, I wasn’t offended or outraged—and it wasn’t because I wasn’t paying attention. I was thrilled. Not “guilty-little-pleasure” thrilled but genuinely and overtly pleased. It didn’t even occur to me that a “good” feminist wouldn’t take the term as a compliment.

Two old friends and I had converged on Chicago from the coasts, gleefully leaving behind four sneezy children and three apprehensive husbands for the weekend. Thanks to the children, we had colds, too, and had to take turns coaxing each other to head down to the hotel bar instead of tucking into bed early with a bag of lozenges to watch Glee on Hulu.

We’ve never exactly been partiers, these two friends and I. We met in elementary school orchestra and solidified our friendship in the early nineties in a high school club called “Students Against Intolerance and Discrimination.” We organized symposia on gay rights and AIDS awareness and campaigned for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Iowa State Constitution. We spent the rest of our time eating slightly stale pretzels and trying to figure out how to make people take us seriously. Lobbying the administration to change the signs on the bathrooms from “Girls” to “Women” was a frequently visited topic.

We ate lunch together and collaborated on homework and had sleepover parties at which we watched PG-13 movies and consumed copious amounts of Coca-Cola and Cheetos. We didn’t drink, we barely danced, and only one of us dated in high school—and by “dated,” I mean she began a serious relationship with a guy who would become her husband. While they attended prom together, the other two of us hitched a parental ride to Chicago for the weekend where we went out for dinner and stayed up until midnight so we could pick up a copy of the next day’s newspaper the moment it hit the stands.

It was miraculous, really, that the three of us were awake at 10pm on a Saturday night, dressed in not-too-badly-baby-stained clothing, drinking hot toddies, and engaging in ever-so-slight flirtatiousness with the two college guys perched on the giant leatherette ottoman opposite ours.

As the mother of a toddler, I was in serious need of flirting—even the ever-so-slight variety. It had been forever since I’d been made to feel interesting and compelling, much less kinda sexy.

The bigger and burlier of the two guys regaled us with charming tales of high school football and taught us how to use Twitter (late bloomers and late adopters!) so we could become his followers. The other guy—skinnier and more metrosexual-seeming—was more reticent, perhaps because the woman who was supposed to meet up with him wasn’t showing. Perhaps hanging out with three married 35-year-old moms from out of town wasn’t the evening he’d had in mind when he’d donned his best form-fitting Banana Republic oxford in an elegant shade of charcoal and matching charcoal-and-black striped tie? I did get out of him the fact that he likes attending poetry slams even though he’s not a poet himself, and he encouraged me to perform some of my own poetry sometime, but mostly he kept his eyes on his cell phone, no doubt willing his lady friend to Call now, please, dammit.

I’m not sure how it happened, but before long both my traveling companions had whipped out their cell phones and were showing the guys pictures of their kids.

Mortified, I swatted at the phones and hissed at my friends to stop it. It wasn’t like I actually wanted to hook up with one of these guys. I just wanted—needed, even—to know that I could.

I don’t know who I thought I was kidding—like they weren’t going to notice our wedding rings or our post-partum belly flab or the sleep-deprivation-circles under our eyes and instead were magically going to assume we were single, childless, and a decade younger than we actually are. Why did I think if they knew we had children that would be the end of the flirtation?

Just in case the point hadn’t been clearly made, one of my friends said, “We’re oooooooold.”

The burly guy laughed while the skinnier one communed with his cell phone.

I started feeling bad for the guys. They were sweet and semi-engaging and clearly looking to get something else from their evening, but they were too Midwestern to say anything or to simply get up and leave. “We should stop monopolizing your time,” I said, finally. “You have places to go, girls to chase!”

The skinnier guy seemed to perk up at the idea. The burly one smiled and said with utter conviction, “No way, man! You all are MILFs!”

We smiled back at him, and one of us—I won’t say which—might have leapt across the ottoman to give him a hug.

“That was so fun!” I gushed on the way back to our room.

“They were sweet,” said one friend.

“Yeah,” said the other. “I had such an urge to put a sweater on both of them!”

“Totally!” the other friend laughed.

A sweater? We weren’t that much older than them—not old enough to be their mothers. Was I completely desperate and/or a total floozy for enjoying the tiniest hint of sexual tension with these guys—or with the one guy, at least? “He called us MILFs!” I tried again.

“Yeah…That term grosses me out,” the friend who had spearheaded an effort to bring an anti-apartheid exhibit to our high school said. She paused thoughtfully, then added, “Maybe because I didn’t want to sleep with the guy?”

Of course not! He was too young, too burly, too into football and Twitter. I wasn’t attracted to him in any way other than his attentions made me swoon. It was a revelation that a cute college student might want this slightly-poochy body housing a mind whose sexiest thought of the day for the past two years has been, “Mmmmm—bed!” I didn’t want to sleep with him, but man did it feel good to be considered “F”-worthy.

Somewhere along the way I’d internalized the wildly sexist notion that moms are inherently unsexy. Maybe I could be a hot 35-year old married lady, but a hot 35-year old married mom? Yes, moms get to be loving and cozy and forgiving, but damn is it nice—necessary, even—to be noticed and wanted for something other than a kleenex or a spare sweater.

I get that it’s not fair that dads get to be “F”-worthy without having to have a special acronym to point it out. I get that it’s not good to be valued as a sexual commodity. I get that the term MILF is crude, particularly when spelled out. But what if the guy had said, “You women are so strong and powerful and obviously successful in every realm that means something to you, and I respect and revere you so much—it would be an honor, a privilege, and a joy to bring you intense, visceral momentary happiness, if that appeals…” Would that change things?

Back in our hotel room, my friends and I tucked ourselves into bed, surrounded by piles of kleenex and baggies of lozenges and numerous cups of water. We turned out the lights, pulled the blankets up under our chins, and dreamed about whatever it was that each of us was needing to dream about that night.

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Great writing. What I would give for someone to call me a MILF right about now.
Any situation that requires THIS much explaining ...
My mom hates when I call her that.
I've been called that before and never found it offensive. Remaining a hottie after becoming a mom is an important part of identity.
go with the power!
Enjoy it while it lasts, I say.
Someone called me a MILF and my response was, "What's a Milf?"
Um ...a naive and awkward moment.
as tina turner pointe out
what's love got to do with it?
for that matter respect for intelligence?
or beliefs?

we all have social ienties but we all are still animals in need of reproductive partners and therefore the ability to attract tose partners.

being a brilliant and caring person does not prohibit indulging in the animal within.
Your writing is excellent as always, and I know this bit was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but I have to say my immediate reaction was to feel offended/somehow belittled at the "stint in a lesbian relationship" part. For me, it's life, not part of how I established my feminist bona fides. Maybe I'm reacting more to other women I've known who have handed me the "I was a lesbian too before I grew up and married a man and became a real adult" line, than to you. I'm not sure. I just wanted you to know, because I perceive you as well-intentioned, that that kind of referencing can be read as disparaging or as contributing to the "it's a phase" mentality. On to your main question: I would probably be offended and flattered at the same time if someone called me a MILF (in my case, the M would have to stand for Middle-aged-woman, since I'm not a mother). I get the impulse to be flattered. On that point, I say, go with it. What's the harm?
amusing story.
oh yeah and what does your husband think about all that?
I guess thats kind of the point-- hes invisible....
I think context matters -- in passing, the phrase "MILF" is harmless, and as you know, thought-provoking -- almost like a shouted "Woohoo!!" Or a "Mighty Fine!" from a stranger. If I were dealing with co-workers, or others I have more than a passing relationship with, I'd find the term offensive and worth "controlling" via at least a casual discussion about appropriate boundaries.

Our own feelings about being evaluated (especially positively) are more complicated. I look at it this way. Whether you're gay, straight, bi or all directions in between, we all want to be attractive to whichever sex we are ourselves attracted to. As long as the appreciation doesn't reach the level of threat or harassment, just walk on, knowing those hoots will end soon enough and it won't be a problem any longer.
I guess I have a version of Nick's comment. I don't think you needed all the feminist "street cred" or desexual-izations (the tissues, hiding under covers, the glee). I thought feminism brought us some freedom to fuck and be fucked and the power to say whether we liked to be viewed as sexual or not. A mother is a grown woman, huh. I liked your tongue in cheek tone.
Oh man, I love the MILF label too. I once got it in a Trader Joe's. It made my month!
If memory is correct that can mean a lovely time.
Yup, wanna be a milf too. I warn you, when your sons' friends start being teens, at least we can be sfilf...

Btw, I loved the staying up til midnight to get a copy of the newspaper!
If someone ever calls me a FILF I'll have to point out that I have no known offspring.

Compliments are nice even when you have doubts about the source or motive.
First time I heard I heard the term, "MILF" was when my youngest was in high school. Some male friends of hers made this remark of me. Didn't seem cool by the look on my baby daughter's face. Would she throw up?!

Then, the Sex and the City gals made the term. "Cougar" seem plausible or responsible for my behavior. Or so it would seem.
Oh! You're from Seattle?! Me too! Hanford Street. Dr. Shanahan delivered me. Kindergarten came. Mercer Island till age ten. Then the Golden State. We cool?
I don't know, somehow I don't want to be reduced to an acronym, especially one that has its roots from porn sites (at least that is what I've been told by a few porn-using men). Hot? Sexy? All round 'doable'? I could probably even go there. But, a term for a woman that is couched in her breeding and fuckability status just seems a bit too Tweetable to me.

But, I laughed all the way through the piece. :) Nice to meet another Seattlite. Can you believe this rain? Ugh.
I find it's always nice to know you've still got it, no matter how old you are.
Old school feminism missed the mark when dealing with women's quest for beauty and male approval.
When I first had the honor of being called a MILF, at first I was ridiculously flattered, but then I was like "oh sh*t, I've moved into that place where even my sex appeal (or whatever's left of it) is being discussed in regards to my being a mom. My momness is now as obvious as my skin color, and apparently I am no longer seen as an individual, but as one who has given birth to another, my identity inextricably linked to my uterus's output. How the hell did we get here? In any case, here we are, and sister -- I am happy that you received the honorable title. Better to be considered a MILF than a MI(wouldnot)LF, yes? This made me smile amidst some of my recent mid-life darkness. To witness it: Congratulations again :)
I love these lines:

as a woman going through an, um, arid spell in her marriage, I was in serious need of flirting—even the ever-so-slight variety. It had been forever since I’d been made to feel interesting and compelling, much less kinda sexy.

That hits home. I've told my husband that I am going to sleep with the first man who thinks what I say is interesting and worth listening to. It hasn't happened yet. I don't know what my husband thinks -- maybe he didn't hear me (again).
Oh, I hear you. Since moving back to Latin America (where I've enjoyed plenty of attention in the past), this time with a family, the only man who has hissed/whistled/commented was walking behind his wife and baby and had a kid on his shoulders. Now everyone oohs-and-ahhs over my kids instead, which is gratifying, but so not the same thing.
I love this! Was laughing out loud the whole time, particularly in the descriptions of elementary-school and high-school you and company!
On my birthday my son's 28 year old friend called me a MILFTTTD( mother i'd like frequently to take to dinner). I love that kid!
I guess I would hope you would think of yourself as a WILF - Woman I'd Like To Fuck. (Not me, per se...)
I like the story, but don't get it. It seems like showing strangers pictures of your kids in a bar is sort of weird. it seems like being so wrapped up in being a Mommy that your friends infantilized these young men afterwards is weird.
I'm trying hard not to be too critical here - but I am childless by choice and go out and have fun with my friends who are WILFS - even the MILFS. They leave it behind. sometimes we spend four minutes talking about the spawn, but mostly we're out, together, as women in relationships who want to flirt. . We also go out with -**gasp**husbands, boyfriends and partners! Again - the point is to have a few hours away from the hard job of parenting. Wilfs and MenILFS, I suppose. We also have single friends who join us - SILFS. My point being, in my particular group of friends (and I'm older than you), these labels are so stupid as to be demeaning.

And I DO think MILF is more about "Mrs. Robinson" and several movies that feature teenagers masturbating to a bikini clad, well, MILF, then about the term being generally applied to a certain demographic. Look, it's a stupid offensive term that I laugh at - but applying it to yourself as some sort of a compliment seems strange.
You're a WILF - let's call it WOLF and that will get rid of the stupid term Cougar. Are you with me?
I chuckled at (and identified with...) every word. You rule. . .and so does that lovely boy who (innocently & unexpectedly) made an exhausted mom/woman's night. . .
@vzn: interesting observation. I remember that stage of marriage/fatherhood: my awesome wife who seemed repulsed by me; the sense of desperate worthlessness. Fortunately, as the kids navigated high school, my (still awesome) wife came out the other side of the funk and seems to realize that I really do adore her and never stopped doing so. I ALWAYS found her sexy and desirable, but for some reason she seemed unable to acknowledge it. Reading this piece actually brings back that knot in the pit of my stomach that I used to feel when my wife acted as if the father of her children were some excrement on the sole of her shoe that she couldn't scrape off on a curb somewhere. Now, I am sure glad I hung in there, though I almost did not. Wilson, I am glad that young fella made you feel good; I wonder how badly your husband might have liked to have that chance.