Monday, March 06, 2006

How Did She Make It Through High School

-- and why does she continue to re-live it?

I can't help but wonder this about the writer every time I read another Mommy Wars article in the media. The most recent article, Moms at War, comes courtesy of The Washington Post. As I looked at the headline, my first thought was "not another article on this tired old subject." Then I looked at the author info at the end and saw that the article was adapted from an anthology. This issue is so old they are compiling anthologies on it. They probably have college courses on it in Women's Studies. Imagine the syllabus.

The author of article and editor of anthology, Leslie Morgan Steiner, is on sabbatical from her current job as an ad exec with The Washington Post. Interesting. The anthology is "Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families." Isn't this just sort of dressed-up cat fights for the intelligensia?

Back to the article, her hand-wringing is mystifying to me, she admits to a nice work arrangement and life and motherhood seem to be going just fine for her (hey, the preschool teacher compliments her on her mothering -- alleluia!). She seems to be crucifying herself on the opinions, real or perceived, of others. This is where high school comes in -- surely all her encounters in high school could not have been positive and supportive of her -- her academic standing, style of dress, extracurricular activities, choice of friends, boyfriend or lack thereof, etc. High school is a great place to learn and practice how not to care about what others think. One would think she would have evolved to the point where, as an educated, self-determined woman, the opinions of other people matter very little to her. The people whose opinions seem to strike her most deeply are not those of her loved-ones and friends, they are her neighbors and the other moms at the preschool. Where is her perspective?

What I know for certain, because I see it almost every day, is that working and at-home moms misunderstand and envy each other in the corrosive, fake-smiling way we women have perfected over the eons.

Real nice, feminist view of women there. Ironic because later she picks on men as having undesirable traits:

Aren't moms ultimately united in our quest to stay sane, raise good kids, provide each other with succor and support, and protect humankind from the overly aggressive, overly logical male half of the species?

I'm not seeing how this author's portrayal of the behavior of moms is preferable.

Motherhood in America is fraught with defensiveness, infighting, ignorance and judgment about what's best for kids, families and women.

And where would we be without the suggestion that we adopt groupthink?

Wouldn't we be far better off if we accepted and supported all good, if disparate, mothering choices?

Couldn't one also argue that should all support Bush in the war on Iraq? Wouldn't we be far better off if we accepted and supported all good, if disparate, efforts to promote democracy and end terrorism? I suppose what is "good" is a matter of personal determination, in foreign policy as well as in mothering.

She describes herself saying, "[i]n one day, I rocketed from damning the holier-than-thou stay-at-home moms to damning those snotty working ones." If this kind of instability is indicative of how moms feel, I question her assertion that working moms can change the world.

At-home moms might arguably appreciate the working moms staying late to get the big promotions, fighting to increase women's presence on company boards and the front page of the Wall Street Journal and campaigning to win elections.
A thought-provoking argument, to be sure (as in "what the hell is she talking about?"). Are most working moms accomplishing this? Another consideration -- there may be working women doing this, but there are also a lot of at-home moms who also do their parts to contribute to "campaigning to win elections." They may be more suited to grass-roots efforts because they may be able to incorporate it into their daily routines more easily.

She continues:

Without the money, the power and the loudspeaker that successful careers bring,women will never have the collective bargaining power to make the world better for ourselves, our children and all the women who can't leave abusive husbands, the ones who wear veils, the moms who earn less than minimum wage cleaning houses and don't have choices about birth control or prenatal care or any other kind of care.

There is just so much wrong there. How did women ever win the right to vote if they weren't in the workforce? Of course I need to review my history here, but I'm wondering if the working moms were the women most intrinsic to winning this right. Perhaps the author could have been a bit more sensitive to the feelings of people other than herself with the comment about veils. I'm sure she was referring to women who are forced to wear veils, not those who choose to do so out of religious devotion. As if marketing Splenda in South America is accomplishing this lofty goal anyway. I'm not sure what her point is about the moms who earn less than minimum wage cleaning houses, I guess working women help them because they employ them (and I know plenty of at-home moms who also employ them).

I suppose this snippet occurred during a break from making the world a better place:

I ran into another working mom in the hallway and spent 10 precious minutes commiserating by the water fountain. The conversation went like this:
"How are you?"
"Well, I was up at 3 a.m., nursing the baby and writing a PowerPoint presentation for the VP group that I have to give in 15 minutes. How are you?"
"Oh yeah, no sleep here either. Last night Morgan kicked me all night, Tallie peed on me, and when I woke up at 5 a.m., Perry wanted to have sex."
Sounds to me that she, just like many others (women, men, moms, dads), is simply trying to survive her busy life. I remember the working moms from my office, they seemed to spend a lot of time talking about daycare and browsing the Pottery Barn Kids catalog. These government attorneys did not free a single woman from oppression while I was watching.

Ultimately, the author's anxieties seem to all come down to a couple of statements she makes at the end of this very long article (which I ignored my kids to read -- at-home moms can be preoccupied too, only I'm the idiot who is not getting paid for it)

What puzzles me is that despite the fact that I've crafted a pretty ideal work/family situation, at times I'm still envious of the trust stay-at-home moms seem to have in their husbands and in life, a breezy Carol Brady confidence that they will always be taken care of. Some days I'd kill for a dose of their faith that neither my husband nor life will leave me stranded, destitute, unable to protect myself and my children without the independence conferred by a job and paycheck of my own.
Those are some intense feelings. She has a solution, though, right before that quote she says what should be the end of the entire issue for her:

I have to work. I wouldn't be myself if I didn't. My job (most days) makes me feel energized, important, successful -- a happy mom to my kids.
Earlier in the article, she says something similar

I have no doubt that my life, as well as my family's, is immeasurably richer due to my decision to combine work and motherhood.
Why isn't this enough for her? She has made her decision and seems to be confident in her choice.

There are millions of women in America keeping me company as I fight my internal mommy war, and very good company they are.

Internal -- bingo. Why should she be internally conflicted? She seems to be doing just fine on her own. She has examined the issues and made a decision she says is the best one for her family. End of story. Why should she care what the other moms or writers think? It seems to come down to a lack of self-confidence. I guess if you don't have it by high school, you never will. She'd do better to work on healing her own issues instead of worrying what others think of her.


Lazy Susan said...

Thanks for allowing me to wander through that article with you. How interesting and entertaining!

Susan in the wilds of Missouri.

Marjorie said...

Hi Susan, thanks for your comment. I certainly do get worked up sometimes when I read the paper! I had too much fun writing that post -- I'm glad you had fun reading it.

blogwad said...

You might get a kick out of this recent posting over at Legal Fiction that covers related territory, more broadly. One of the commenters summarized it best:

"The futility of defining happiness or success in such worldly terms is a theme as old as recorded human wisdom."