Finally. Someone begins to unpack a few of the elitist and blinkered assumptions underlying the so-called “mommy wars” debate. Brava, Sandra Tsing Loh.
Rhymes With Rich
More and more these days, reading women’s writing fills me with a vague, creeping, slightly nauseating feeling. Lying in bed the other night, cradling some seltzer water, my stomach gurgling, the word for my malaise suddenly came to me: “afflufemza,” wherein the problems of affluence are recast as the struggles of feminism, and you find yourself in a dreamlike state of reading first-person essays about it, over and over again. We’ve always had rich mothers, of course; it’s just that the boundaries between the privileged and the un- used to be clearer. Back in the eighties, for instance….
Twenty years later, gone are big hair, big diamonds, and big shoulder pads. In their place, among America’s most affluent mothers, is a kind of gnawing, grinding anxiety — and a mediacentric conviction that this fretfulness is somehow that of every woman. Or so it appears in the just-published Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families, edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner. The cover flap describes the angst thus:
With motherhood comes one of the toughest decisions of a woman’s life: Stay at home or pursue a career? The dilemma not only divides mothers into hostile, defensive camps but pits individual mothers against themselves… Ranging in age from 25 to 72 and scattered across the country from New Hampshire to California, these mothers reflect the full spectrum of lifestyle choices.
OK, let’s slow down for a minute and unpack this description of Everymother before, with iced mochaccino latte in hand, we hurriedly whisk on. There are, in fact, great varieties of American mothers left out of Steiner’s anthology. They’re women for whom work is not a “lifestyle choice” but a necessity — a financial one, gauchely enough, and not an emotional one.
Why do they work? To keep the electricity on. Such women would include, oh, single-mother waitresses, hotel maids, factory workers, grocery-store cashiers, manicurists, even countless low-level white-collar functionaries, from bank clerks to receptionists to data processors. Imagine a nanny wondering about her lifestyle choice: Why have I always had this burning dream to spend sixty hours a week taking care of other people’s children? Is it because of unresolved communication issues from a lonely childhood? Would I experience more personal fulfillment — find more of my true “voice” — in department-store retail? Perhaps these are issues I should examine this week in therapy, before I put my call through to Po Bronson.
But clearly no one at Random House thought to red-pencil this, because it’s a given today, in non-zine, non-blog, hardcover-anthology women’s writing, that “Everymother” implicitly means “every mother from the well-defined e-mail list of people like us” — media professionals who have now become their own class and tribe.
Thanks to Emily Hall, who writes “I always felt in [Sandra Tsing Loh’s prior] reviews an undercurrent of disgust that has never quite made it to the surface . . . and here it is,” for sending along this piece.
The review includes some unfortunate generalizations about red staters and about “rabidly focused women.” Also, the conclusion is confusing — and it doesn’t present a solution. (Universal child care, anyone? Financed by repealing all those tax cuts for the rich?) But there’s some powerful writing here, and I share the disgust she leads with.