Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Let's call the whole thing off, OK?

I've been reading a lot about the so-called "Mommy Wars" lately.

Most interesting to me was a review in the Atlantic Monthly (which in my humble and unlearned opinion has been treading water since it made the move from Boston to D.C.) by Sandra Tsing Loh entitled "Rhymes with Rich." on "The Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families," a collection of essays edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner.

In it Tsing Loh (I love saying her name as I type) mints the term "Aflufemza," wherein the problems that come with affluence are recast as the stuggles of feminism.

Basically, it calls out women from both camps -- the SAHMs and the Career Women, all of whom were highly educated and often writers for prestigous journals and publishing firms -- and castigates them for being rich and having choices yet still complaining as if they were women who are really struggling with the daily trials of life.

The piece singles out several silently egregious exerpts wherein writers bemoned their lots:

In the "Mommy Wars," Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly describes her battle so:

"About half of the mothers of kids in Charley's class are working at least part-time. There's Maria, who designs handbags; Lauren, who works in advertising; Paulette, who writes children's books. The mother of Charley's friend Nick is an independent management consultant. And for the most part - and I gather this is unusual in the fiercely competitive world of New York private schools - there's little conflict between the employed mothers and the ones who stay home. ...

Still, there is some tension bubbling under the surface. One morning one of the stay-at-home mothers referred to herself, quite pointedly, as a 'full-time mom.' Those three words made my blood boil. I've been a mother every second of every day for the past ten and a half years, whether I'm researching an article or pushing a swing. Would anyone dare to suggest that a woman who worked in a factory, or as a cop or a firefighter - a woman who worked at least partly so that her children could have food and shoes and the occasional trip to Toys 'R' Us - was any less a mother than my school acquaintance, who'd had the privilege to opt out of the workforce?"

Tsing Loh's response:
"No, but apparently someone would dare to suggest that elective employment in the upper reaches of the publishing world is on a par with wage slavery and required-second-salary public-sector work. Which got me thinking how wonderfully refreshing it would be for Nelson to transfer Charley right away into a racially and socioeconomically mixed New York public school, with the children of mothers who actually are the factory workers and cops and firefighters she so admires."

I think the point Tsing Loh makes is interesting, however, in that these woman -- who have the microphone as well as the means to hire baby nurses and nannies, and get the best of everything for their children, instead of likening their struggles to those of women who are in abusive relationships or struggling to put food on the table or fearing that when they send their kids into the Classroom they may wind up picking them up from the Emergency Room -- are squandering their ability to make a real and substanative difference.

I know a lot of affluent people believe that just because they are well off doesn't mean their kids should suffer the dangers of low-performing schools just to make a point. Yet, perhaps, the point they are missing - the point we are all missing - is that if they stayed and used their voices and their influnce to improve those schools (arguably for their own children's sake) they could make a significant and tangible difference for all children.

If there is such a thing as Mommy Wars, perhaps it's time to call a truce. What is it solving anyway? It seems to me, at least, that it's a battle we are fighting in our own minds. A skirmish to ease our fears and feelings of inadequacy. There's more to us than that, isn't there?

What's happening at the other mom's house ...

hmmm ... what are they trying to tell me?

I can't believe this ... Really. Really.


Andrea said...

Very insightful! I sort of shudder when I see the words "Mommy Wars" because there has just been so much on it and I don't really see it as a war. That is, I've never been chastised by another mom for having to work full time. This was an interesting perspective that I hadn't read before. Thanks for that! I agree wholeheartedly Tsing Loh that there are just too many gradients, what with pay scale, availability of childcare, type of work, etc for us to really make a solid comparison between just SAHMS and Career Moms. If we'd just declare the wars over and point our formidable talents into positive things, not only would society benefit, but so would a mom's self-esteem.

Gail said...

It's an interesting debate. The thing that gets me every time I hear/read about it is that the pressure is always on the mom.

When my husband was alive, I asked him if he would be a Stay-At-Home-Dad while I worked, and he said he'd love to do it.

Samantha said...

I recently read the book, and was dismayed to find nearly all the working moms to be so elite that I, a full time out of the house working mom, couldn't identify with them one whit. My favorite moment was when one mom explained that she let go of the little things and had her nanny buy other kids' birthday presents. Why didn't I think of that to make my life easier??

I have been chastised by other moms for choosing to work full time, but even with that, I really think the idea of "mommy wars" exists more in the media than in reality.

(By the way, hi, it's spamantha from flickr...)

toyfoto said...

Hi Samantha, thanks for commenting. And thanks to Andrea and Gail for commenting, too. I have long thought this Mommy War thing is a media-fueled event and I try not to pay attention, but I found terribly interested when Tsing Loh started off her review by noting that she cringed everytime she read moms talking about the mommy wars.

Gail, I am as sure David would have made a WONDERFUL father. It pains me that you didn't get to experience the joys of parenting (and the fears) together.

And Andrea, I too, have not faced anyone who has personally attacked me for working fulltime, either. I know, from personally experience, my feelings of missing things are my feelings and that even if I were there 24-7, I'd feel the same way ... that I'm probably making tons of mistakes.