Friday, February 22, 2008

More on "The Mommy Myth"

The other day, I discussed the treatment of homeschooling in the book I recently finished called The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women by Professors Susan Douglas of the University of Michigan and Meredith Michaels of Smith. I talked about the misconceptions the authors have about home educators and how what they would have me do instead of homeschooling (trying to reform the government-run schools in addition to full-time employment outside the home) sounded way more stressful.

Today I want to critique The Mommy Myth further. The authors do make some valid criticisms of the excesses of the Type A mothering expectations modern women face. Their chapter on those gushing profiles of celebrity moms that ignore the army of paid helpers those women have at their disposal (nannies, maids, gofers, personal chefs, personal trainers, stylists, hair & makeup artists, plastic surgeons, etc.) is dead-on. Unfortunately, their obnoxiously smarmy tone completely overshadows these. One of the reviewers on compared them to Michael Moore and that's a perfect analogy. Like Moore, Drs. Douglas and Michaels come off as completely arrogant and even when I might agree with the point they're trying to make, the mocking sarcasm just turns me off.

Throughout the book, the authors bash women who do not agree 100% with their rigid idea of what all moms should be like. How is this any better than the bad old days of patriarchy? Feminism was supposed to be about empowering individual women to decide for what's best for *themselves* rather than having external forces dictate what all women should do.

In their attempt to free women from the demands of "intensive mothering", the authors time after time imply that there is something inherently wrong with: full-time homemaking, career sequencing, part-time employment, organic food, babywearing, extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, large families, educational toys, homemade Halloween costumes, singing to and playing with one's kids- even wearing moisturizer, having blonde hair, and wearing a size 2. Excuse me?

Doing those things doesn't automatically make a mom a saint, and not doing those things doesn't automatically make one a sinner. It all depends on the reasons why those choices are being made. Most of us are just trying to do what we think is best for our own families given our own personal circumstances. It is so NOT helpful for overly judgmental "feminists" like Professors Douglas and Michaels to bash those moms who've made different choices than they themselves would make.

If having a high-powered career, sending your kids to daycare and then a traditional school, bottlefeeding, using a crib, etc. works for you- that's your prerogative and I agree with the authors of The Mommy Myth that you could still be a good mom. Just don't go around bashing those of us who really do find a home-centered lifestyle to be more fulfilling as reactionary, anti-feminist, self-righteous, "domestic slaves" the way Drs. Douglas and Michaels do.


Meagan Francis said...

Just got a link to this post in a Google alert for "large family". While I haven't read this book (got kind of burned out on "the state of motherhood" critiques over the past year or two) I am like you disgusted with black-and-white approaches that don't allow women to actually make a CHOICE about how they want to live their lives (or look down their noses at choices that aren't whatever the "professional" in question THINKS we should all want). I'm very much a "live and let live" kind of pro-woman mom.

Anonymous said...

Major dittos for both your reviews. That is probably my biggest 'gripe' when it comes to feminism- when it isn't about personal choice, but what 'the movement' defines as The Right Choice.

BTW, I loved Wendy Shalit's books.

Christina said...

Feminism *IS* about empowering individual women, whatever arrogant and self-righteous pseudo-feminists think! It's also about tolerance, IMO, which is where most "feminist" theorists get off track. Different people make different choices, value different things.

Of course, that level of tolerance, which accepts people with very little restriction (is your choice harming others?), is now widely derided as relativism.

From a content, at-home, homeschooling feminist mom :-)

Crimson Wife said...

I think tolerance taken to the extreme can lead to relativism. But I don't think that it automatically does. I strongly support the right of individuals to make their own lifestyle choices, as it's not my job or the government's to be the morality police. However, I don't consider all of those choices to be equally valid, KWIM? You're free to live your life however you choose (as long as you're not harming others) but don't ask me to *like* what you're doing.

Christina said...

Yes - absolutely agree with that! You can do it, but I don't have to be your friend, your employee, or your neighbor; I might have to be your daughter or your mother, but I don't have to agree with you, or even necessarily keep my mouth shut about what I disagree with :-)

I find that this type of feminism and these types of feminists (such as the authors) are rather unacademically limited in their analysis of sociopolitical systems. The fundamental assumption that feminism is supposed to open up the man's world to women (professions, leadership and so on) is not enough! It's good; we want the glass ceiling to come down, the glass box to be eradicated. But what does it say when such feminist theorists take all the work that women have been doing for millennia and characterize it as beneath doing? It's not like that work was manufactured artificially in order to keep women in their place; such work is an integral part of a functioning society. Take that work away, and everything falls apart - no eating, no children, no future. Someone has to do it, and until such work is valued universally, no one's going to want to, even for money.

I like the concept of professional mothering; not salaried per se, but chosen as a profession and supported as such. Futuristic novels tend to have this concept supported by government stipend; I think it would be nice to have a professional mother be given half of her spouse's social security credits (assuming she has one, most single mothers are externally employed). I'd also like to see the economic contribution included in those numbers, GDP and so forth. In our culture, it does seem like motherhood will not get its due until there is some financial value attached to it.

Gotta change a poop now :-)

Crimson Wife said...

Personally, I find the idea of homemakers getting compensated monetarily to be a bit offensive. That makes me nothing but a nanny/maid/cook/chauffeur/etc. who's doing what I do not out of love for my family but because I'm getting paid for it. It's like the difference between a wife and a prostitute. Both are having sex, but the motivation is *VERY* different!

Christina said...

Most people getting paid for their work are doing it for love - some combination of love of their family and love of their profession. There's no stigma attached to them because they receive wages; the motivation for working isn't defined by the cash. The value of the work, culturally, unfortunately is.

Even if money does not change hands for mothering, until the economic value is recognized within capitalist culture, the profession itself will not be valued. That goes for both traditional "get a job" feminists, and also "family values" conservatives who pay mothers lip service while one-income families go uninsured and without a safe retirement.

The Not Quite Crunchy Parent said...

Great post!

Mommy bashing is counterproductive.

cnugrrrl said...

Christina I would say we should probably try to change our if-it-sells-do-it-no-matter-what capitalist culture instead of adapting to it.

But hey, that's just me :)