What She Said!

This is a really smart, reasonable discussion of Elisabeth Badinter’s new book and its place in the so-called Mommy Wars.

Allen offers a cogent summary of foundational conflicts within the feminist movement. Then she uses that history to explain why we seem to get so bogged down by this whole working mom thing.

The problem with framing the mommy wars in terms of choice is not just that only highly educated, affluent, mostly white women have a genuine choice about whether to become über moms. … The problem is also that under current social, economic, and cultural conditions, no matter what one chooses, there will be costs:  for stay at home mothers, increased economic vulnerability and dependence on their spouses, which can decrease their exit options and thus their power in their marriages; for working mothers, the high costs of quality child care and difficulty keeping up at work with those who either have no children or have spouses at home taking care of them, which exacerbates the wage gap and keeps the glass ceiling in place.

Yes!!! What she said.

I have had a big turd-in-the-diaper-sized problem with most discussions about working moms. Allen’s article helps me understand more about why when most people talk about motherhood I want to flee and hide out with the orangutan family at the zoo.

The mommy wars were built into 20th century feminism’s ways of understanding women’s history. And now the intellectual legacy of reductive thinking about motherhood is a big big problem. We just can’t think straight about motherhood in society.

For example, “Mommy Wars” is a typically infuriating term, and it tends to frame the discussion. It’s like a punch in the gut in the sewer on a hot hot day.

In two little words you get to infantalize grown women. You get to rob them of public life by confining them to a few narrow functions in their most private moments at home. Functionally erasing everything about them but their identity as “mommies.” And then you get to judge them just for being mommies, all preoccupied with mommyness. AND you get to make the debate about ways that women are fightin’ mad AT EACH OTHER—really really mad, with guns and bombs and drones—instead of mad at a society that traps them into sham choices and then judges them for it.

Like, some women may not be able to breast feed. And give it a decent try. And move on to formula, which is just fine. Some other women get judgey mcangrypants about it, arguing that formula will reduce the IQ points or grow a flipper or something. And then Badinter says NO! Your La Leche League Mafia has destroyed my autonomy, sexuality, and identity with its insistence that i suckle the needy needy baby thing like a sow.

But everyone is missing the point.

Focusing on these so-called choices distracts us from what really matters: most women can’t really choose one way or another. They have to work for $$$. Or they have to stay home for $$$. Their kid is suited to a Dr. Sears thing, or their kid is suited more for a strict boundaries type thing. People lose jobs, or change jobs, or try to get new jobs.

Those that can freely choose whether or not to work after having a baby are lucky.

And meanwhile, this fuss about warring mommies is all the power women have left. All we can do is validate the so-called choices that we felt both forced to make and judged for making. And “war” seems to be the only way we’ve been able to do it.

So if you also get fired up about this stuff, I recommend you read Amy Allen’s column.

And avoid reading anything about how whatever parenting choice you make will make your child dumber, or more likely to go on drugs, or, you know, autism.

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2 thoughts on “What She Said!

  1. Inder says:

    This whole “mommy wars” thing makes me so angry. It’s basically privileged women arguing with other privileged women about parenting styles that ALL require a whole lot of resources to pull off. (Or maybe they’re not really arguing at all – maybe the media just wants us to think they’re arguing? Most real life moms I know are a lot more open-minded about parenting styles than the media would have us believe.) Meanwhile, little progress is made to support mothers or parents in general in the real world, never mind to address the problems of ACTUALLY neglected children in our own towns and world-wide.

    I have news: It’s not a parenting style (or breastfeeding, or whatever) that oppresses women – it’s our whole freaking society that oppresses women. Unfortunately, this news doesn’t seem to sell print the way the “mommy wars” does. Can you hear those snapping and popping sounds coming from my brain right now?

  2. Elizabeth says:

    I know. It’s like Cat Fight! Mommies! in the media whenever anything like this comes up. I’m not going to read Badinter’s book because reviews make it seem pretty disappointing in exactly these ways: too much vitriol against La Leche League, not enough discussion about the ways that the French government’s support of families creates a significantly different culture of child-rearing. Not enough asking “why?” behind all her praises of the French mothers’ autonomy.

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