Several weeks ago, on my first appearance on Raising America, I was asked about a topic I hadn’t prepped for: whether moms in fact are guilty of judging each other in the “mommy wars” and whether blogs are in large part responsible for this.
On the screen, a big title reading MOMMY WARS (which to me, read like MOOOMMMMY WAAAAARRRRRRS!!!) kind of set me off.
So instead, I answered the question I wanted to address.
“I really hope we can stop using the term Mommy Wars,” I said, “which is so inflammatory and loaded. The idea of ‘judging’ a colleague or someone with the same job isn’t limited to parenting. Just walk into any office in America.”
(Or something like that, that was probably far less succinct. You know, live TV. With surprise questions. Hard.)
Also, I wasn’t given a second soundbyte for rebuttal. If I had, what I would have said is, “you know where these so-called wars exist most of all? In the mainstream media. Outrage is good for ratings.”
Fortunately, Isabel Kallman said that very thing on Twitter while I was sitting on live TV squirming. Because she rocks.
And now, here we are again! Watching this tired topic all replayed again, as it tends to do, only this time in New York Magazine’s incendiary (surprise!) article on The Retro Wife. Also known as The Feminist Housewife in the meta data. (Uh…which is it? Answer: Which is better for page views?)
It opens with your classic inflammatory, suck-you-in, totally anecdotal, one person’s POV meant to tip the annoyance-to-outrage scale of passionate readers:
[Kelly] believes that every household needs one primary caretaker, that women are, broadly speaking, better at that job than men, and that no amount of professional success could possibly console her if she felt her two young children—Connor, 5, and Lillie, 4—were not being looked after the right way.
Kelly also happen to keep a list of her husband’s clothing sizes on her iPhone, cooks for him, and gives him frequent massages, which are the kind of details meant to create maximum shock and awe you when she reveals she’s (gasp) a self-defined feminist.
Good for Kelly! Yay Kelly! I could not be happier for you that you have found the path that makes you happy. Your husband is one lucky fella, and I bet his dark-washed jeans fit just swell thanks to you.
I can feel that way (and I’m not being facetious) because I’m imagining that instead, the paragraph was written this way: Kelly believes that she should be the primary caretaker, and that, broadly speaking, she is better at her job than her husband. That’s not some blanket statement about what all parents should or should not do, feel, act, be. It’s about Kelly’s choice. For her own family.
I’ve written before that if you want to put an end to the mommy wars it comes down to being secure in your own choices. When you are at peace with yourself, you are at peace with those actions of others that don’t actually affect you.
Team Working Mom vs Team Stay-at-Home-Mom stuff aside, I will concede some helpful (if well-trod) info in the article. Like the research that women are happiest in relationships with egalitarian division of household labor. Or that at the same time, the majority of men don’t actually participate in the household the way mothers do, regardless of whether both parents work. Also that in more cases than not, women take over the household duties, letting their partners rise to their own levels of incompetence–although I don’t know if that’s because “sexism is internalized” as the article suggests, or because women are wired to find satisfaction in certain kinds of tasks and accomplishments.
Or? Perhaps they just truly believe they are better at organizing the underwear drawer in a way that our kids can actually find their underwear each morning should their partners be lacking such skills.
My issue overall with this article, and so many like it, is that the narrative needs changing. Desperately.
We need to talk more about how we can support the various choices that mothers–parents–make for their families. We need to talk about why the US is the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid leave for new mothers. (Though hey! We’re in the good company of Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.) We need to talk about paternity leave. We need to talk about why women shouldn’t have too many photos of their kids on their desks if they want to be taken seriously. We need to talk about why, when fathers go back to work after the birth of a baby, not a single colleague will look at him with sad eyes and ask, “so…who’s taking care of the kids?” And then, voice lowered to convey maximum sympathy, “oh…are you okay with that?”
And yeah, we need to talk about the number of women who find themselves totally screwed when they want to return to the workforce after a few years off to raise kids. It’s Kelly’s hope when her children are older. And I hope it happens for her.
[infographic via huffpost. Telling. And embarrassing.]
I am tired of articles about “feminists” and who is allowed to call themselves one, as if there’s some sort of Feminism Review Board (FRB) helmed by some greying first-waver that analyzes your choices and hands out accolades accordingly. I’m tired of hearing that stay-at-home mothers are wasting their education, or that working mothers are all inherently models of progressive perfection.
I am more interested in actually embracing the ideals of feminism, as I see them: choice for all women, and all mothers, in part enabled by legal and institutional changes that we desperately need. Like equal pay for equal work; better day care options; more investment in social programs that disproportionately take care of women; more support for single parents; more support for dads who commit to being primary caregivers; better public education options for all children.
Also, we need to stop talking about “choices” as if they’re all choices. And I include myself here too. In a tough economy, a woman’s career is not necessarily something she could give up if she just sacrificed a few more lattes and that third vacation home.
Here’s one new narrative. It might not be sexy, and it might not sell magazines, but it’s real. Every day, I have a front-row seat to stories of women, mothers who have reinvented themselves through entrepreneurship and passions. Who are finding ways to parent and work, finding fulfillment in both on their own terms.
I’m seeing authors like Asha Dornfest and Christine Koh; publishers like Rana DiOrio; web developers like Rebecca Levey and Nancy Friedman; entrepreneurs like Nina Restieri; world-changers like the ONE Moms; and tech innovators up the whazoo.
Yes, there are trade-offs. Mothers cannot possibly do it all. But please know this, New York Magazine: Each and every one of these mothers adore and love and care for their children no less than those mothers who stay home full-time.
They are not more or less feminist.
And most of all, they are not at war with anyone.
Update: Both women portrayed in the article, Kelly and Rebecca Woolf, have refuted the magazine’s portrayals of them. Considering I had already corrected the characterization of Rebecca (scroll way the F down in comments; it was about number 6) I’m not surprised at all about Kelly. Go on with your bad stay-at-home self, Kelly! Sheesh. And they say blogs can’t be trusted?