Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Mommy Wars?

Monday, Suburban Correspondent weighed in with her very smart response to the Matron's post about housecleaning. And who does more. Which would be the Matron.

One of the best things Suburban said was this: "most of us do not believe that women who take care of their homes and their children full-time already have a job."

Hot dang, clanged the Matron! This is righteous feminism, the good stuff rolling in 'round the middle of the last century when women pointed out the fact that raising children, cooking, cleaning, managing the extended family, shopping, and tending to all the tender psyches within a ten mile radius actually constituted legitimate labor.

Motherhood and household management create a full-time job --one we all share.

Now, Suburban also used the phrase "the Mommy wars," noting that she this was one flame she did not intend to fuel. The Matron understands that dear Suburban did not invent this term, simply deployed it, as many of us do.

But who is waging this battle? The Mommy wars?

First, let us cringe at the phrase itself. The use of the phrase "the Mommy wars" immediately diminishes any legitimate issue at hand. The Matron does not allow pediatricians or nurses to refer to her as "mom" and she does not think that the larger social issues wrapped up in a woman's choices (or lack thereof) regarding work and child-rearing should be linked to the word "mommy." We are women. Women. But that's a harder, scarier word with different, less necessarily nurturing, connotations.

The Mommy wars also has a back-fence feel, a cat fight around the corner, the plight of the individual woman at hand as opposed to a complex set of social, economic and political forces that engage us all.

In her book, Perfect Madness, (okay, the Matron linked that book to her own review rather than the book itself!) Judith Warner tracked how the American impulse toward, and reverence for, individualism affects mothers. We feel all alone out here, and we are. There's no universal daycare, no social security or salary for full-time mothers, no certainty that public education is adequate and safe.

In sum, to the Matronly mind, "The Mommy wars" diminishes and individualizes complex social issues regarding work and child-rearing. But let's step away from the phrase itself and explore the content: the 'war' women are waging as mothers.

Sniff, sniff? The Matron smells no gun powder.

While The New York Time Magazine discusses Emily Gould and the snarky world of Gawker, the little world of women blogging about motherhood, work, and life is an entirely different, completely pleasant planet.

Comments are all: "you are so wonderful" and "I'm sorry you had a bad day: if I was there I'd make you a cup of tea" or "Let me tell you what I did when my three year old punched his preschool teacher, maybe that will help?"

Indeed, so strong is this culture, so powerful, that the Matron hesitated over Suburban, was sure to remove this woman from any critique of the phrase itself, to not in any way wag her finger at her bloggy friend for using the phrase. Because the Matron? She did not want to hurt anyone's feelings.

Cheri at Blog this Mom is a good example of this culture. In two years, her blog has gotten ONE mean-spirited comment! Even the edgier, institutionalized and commercially-inclined Dooce and Her Bad Mother brim with girlfriend, Mama-Love! We women online mail free gifts to strangers, routinely, with various blog give-aways; we heart blogs and women we love. Nobody is fighting. In fact, we are all running over to Mrs. G's Women's Colony.

Indeed, at first this puzzled the Matron! Trained as a literary critic, she wanted to seize and pounce, to deconstruct one post and laud another. But she soon saw that the glue that bound the blogosphere was not one of witty word or being more clever than someone else, but of real women (mostly) and feeling-- of support and sharing, not ripping apart like an academic article or book review. (even though she still sometimes gets competitive and grumpy when she compares her prose to some of the very famous and thinks that her words have verve, snap and sparkle and shine just as much and maybe sometimes little bit more but she's not supposed to notice and point this out, which she just did anyway, rebel!)

Mommy wars? Not in this blogosphere.


Heather said...

Thank goodness for that support. I don't think most parents hear much positive feedback about how they're raising their kids otherwise.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

I have observed the same about the blogosphere, O Matronly One. That is why one or two of the comments on my post about the job of housekeeping disturbed me. The commenters seemed to be assuming that I was employing an us-v-them tactic which is commonly used to set "working" mothers against "sahm" mothers. But I wasn't. I have nothing against women choosing to stay home; I have nothing against women going back to paid employment. I hope that was clear in the post! I'll just repeat the one paragraph that should have made my main point clear:

"So, if both spouses want to work outside the home, great! (I know, you all were just waiting for my permission.) Just make sure that there is someone else doing the needed work at home, so that your lives don't fall apart. It's no fun working all week, just to spend weekends catching up on laundry and grocery shopping and housecleaning. It's not fair to ourselves, it's not fair to our kids. And our insistence on trying to do things this way makes it clear that most of us do not believe that women who take care of their homes and their children full time already have a job."

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Back to your main point: I purposely used the derogative term "mommy wars" because that is what I felt the commenters were (inadvertently) doing: sniping at the supposed "other side." There is no other side. We are all in this together.

Madge said...

i happen to be one of those lucky SAHMs with an out of home job i do at home. damn. i am so confused by myself. here's what i think about working outside/staying home/not working/whatever.

if you are a mom it is just freakin' nightmarishly hard. i am constantly in a state of drowning. on days i don't do the office job i am just as overwhelmed as the days i do do the office job. which quite often is doo doo.

it's about survival and the blogosphere has turned out to be a survival tool -- and i heart you all. a big big big gigantical heart.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

I just reread the post again. Because I think I missed your point. I think we both agree that the "mommy wars" is a false construct? Correct? Yet, I say there are some people engaging in sniping and potshots at a false enemy (other mothers) (as evidenced by some of the comments on my post), whereas you say there are none whatsoever (as evidenced by the goodwill and camaraderie of the blogosphere). Correct?

Ideally, there would be no internecine sniping, etc; but, if you look on some blogs, there certainly is. We can be high-minded and try to avoid it, but it exists. And it is mostly spawned by defensiveness on the part of some women, a defensiveness that may be spawned by "a complex set of social, economic and political forces," as you succinctly put it. Therefore, we shouldn't judge those who engage in this conflict; but gently encourage them to see things from a more collaborative, cooperative angle.

Which is what I was trying to do, dammit.

Anonymous said...

While the majority of blogs--and perhaps women IRL--can rise above "mommy wars," it's certainly not true that all do. I've seen comments on blogs that are both defensive, as Suburban notes, and also offensive (of the "well, I stayed home with my kids because I'm not paying someone else to raise them" variety, invariably left on a blog post by a working-out-of-the-home mother who laments daycare or nanny problems). And unfortunately, I was treated with disdain and disrespect by some --not by any means all -- SAHM's when I was a working mother with young kids in daycare. It wasn't even so much an implication as a flat-out "you put your kids in daycare? Don't you care about them? You should stay home." We can change the name from mommy war to something else, but it is still out there, and even though my kids are older and I now work from home, I still see it happening. It's really sad, because I thought feminism should have allowed us to rise above this; we should be able to make the choices that best suit our families and ourselves, yet for some, there is still an "us versus them" mentality when it comes to staying home versus working outside the home.

Not trying to be argumentative. But I can't agree that the situation doesn't exist. It does.

Minnesota Matron said...

Amy -- your comments are definitely conversational and thought-provoking, not at all argumentative. I think disagreeing and dissent, discussion are key. Plus, I have been known, upon occasion, to be wrong :-). Suburban - -you're right. I was arguing that the mommy wars really don't exit and understood your use of the phrase as necessary, discussing this creation of conflict. That said, I may be under-estimating the strife that's out there that I haven't seen online. Certainly, there have been a few best-selling books and articles about 'the mommy wars.'

Must run. Will read through comments more carefully later tonight after guitar, baseball, dinner!


Melissa said...

I'm too tired for deep thoughts, I can't even read an article out of Brain, Child without throwing it aside in disgust. But your posts & Suburban's make me happy because the point is: the work women do is undervalued. Period. How we go about dealing with that depends on circumstance and individual preference--what works for me doesn't work for Mrs. G or Hotfessional or Jen on the Edge.

My second point: that's why I pink puffy heart the Blogosphere because it's so encouraging and supportive and all kinds of different women are responding with astonishing similarity to one another's needs. That? Is totally wickedly cool. And in this "sphere" I get to know all of them, whether I work in their office/home school/use a nanny/SAHM-it or not.

Back to work now;)

Minnesota Matron said...

Suburban and Amy -- Yes, you're right. I'm sure there is much more negativity online than I've encountered. I guess I would've been more accurate to talk in terms of majorities rather than make universal claims (but I'll leave as is for the conversation). And true: I do know that raised eyebrow toward the working mom who uses daycare. Totally true. Seen it happen a million times, to myself and others.

Cheri said...

The Matron? She is wise and she puts her words together so well. Blog This Mom? She has no words because her brain put on a pink tutu and began dancing around the room when she saw the link to her blog.

liv said...

I know what you mean about getting the "mom" moniker. I actually have always loathed the "what's your occupation?" place on the forms. I got to a point where I'd just write: blissfully unemployed. I feel like some of where we fail is in not allowing ourselves to take pleasure in not having to take or wanting to take a salary collecting, time-clocking job. It's okay to like not working a conventional job or enjoying that you're not having to pick up that extra shift. Being able to love that and be grateful for your luck or thrift is beautiful, IMO.

Jennifer H said...

I don't think I've seen much all-out sniping, but I have read comments that earnestly put forth their decision to either stay at home or work as the best choice. The situation that jumps to mind was a blog post in which the blogger debated with herself (and asked for input) about whether to take a job that was offered to her, or not. Then, when she decided not to take it, there were a lot of comments that came down firmly on the side of "you'll never get these years back, and you made the right decision to be home with your kids."

Not saying the point is without merit (it's not), but I could almost hear the big sigh of relief in some of the comments that she had decided the way she did.

I absolutely agree that the women I've met through blogging are supportive and wonderful. As Madge pointed out, blogging is a survival tool (among other things), and I don't know what I did before it.

It's possible that the women who are supportive in real life (to use that loosely, because I think blogging is very much part of my real life) are the ones who are supportive online. And the women who cut other down in real life are blogging somewhere that I don't read. Or they don't blog, because they're too busy being snarky about other moms. :-) I don't know.

The problem still rests with us, with women. As long as we're asked to defend our decision to work outside the home (or a second job at home) or the choice not to add another job to the one we have, we're bound to hear about wars and rumors of (mommy)wars.

Mrs. G. said...

I was so young and dumb and broke when I had my first child (23) that I went into it without much knowledge-I just sort of stumbled around and figured it out with the help of my husband. I am so glad that I didn't have time to sit around wondering if I was doing the right thing. When I went to my first play group, I was astounded by the amount of time spent worrying about the right labels and equipment and parenting method or sleep strategy and all the attendent judgement that was thrown around about other mothers. I don't get the the concept of mommy wars. Don't we all want to have choices-don't we all want to encourage others to mix it up and make life work for themselves and their families. And why aren't there any DADDY WARS?

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I think the Mommy Wars are all about guilt and various parties trying to feel less guilty about their choices, because they feel damned if they do and damned if they don't.

Somehow I did not get the guilt gene--I know this makes me very lucky--I see what my friends who have the guilt gene go through.

I expected blogging to be about writing; and it is, but it's about community even more. And what a wonderful community it is.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

This is a great discussion!

Hen said...

Matron Min and Sub - I LOVE a good discussion - thank you!!....and I HEART both of you x x x x x!

When we get pregnant, I think few of us really imagine what it's like having a teenager - fewer still might think about what implications it might have on an adult to have had an absent mother who put work before family.

Anyone can be a mother, it takes someone special to be a Mummy.

Anonymous said...

The use of language, its power to celebrate and extol or demean and belittle is dependent, as much else, on context. The word "mommy" spoken by our child has obvious mellifuous tones that elicits emotions entirely different than those emerging from another situation, say an individual describing us as a stay-at-home "mommy," for instance.

In a similar vein, the word "wars" obviously conjures images and feelings diametrically opposed to the life giving and sutaining, nurturing role of motherhood.

Still, there are battles, unfortunately, as with feminism, amongst ourselves - the enemies within, rather than with external forces, the confluence of economic, political, social factors that define our lives, our limitations, our possibilities.

Take for instance one notable example here in Canada concerning a young, well-known journalist who has written several books on motherhood, and has blogged of her experiences, detailing a life of privilege and comfort, two nannies, two month soujourns to Hawaii for post-natal recovery and rest, to name only a few life choices that seemed to contradict, even offend the self-sacrificing, challenging nature of motherhood.

A parody blog was created, essentially mocking each entry and attracting many responses, a veritable palate of visciousness, all made possible through the anonymity of the computer screen; the bravery to unleash Pandora's box when self-identity is so concealed, as when youth, as groups, find more brazen power than when alone.

And yet while I'm here, alone and pregnant, I search for community of women who may, if needed, come to me for the type of support and comaraderie only a human touch can deliver.

Minnesota Matron said...

Well, said anonymous. There is a type of support that only touch can offer! It IS easy to ridicule the ultra-privileged, when in fact, they are women just like us. We have friends who have limitless wealth -- limitless. Houses around the world, that kind of wealth. And knowing these people and watching the Mama, who could easily have nannies raise her children 24/7, mother in a thoughtful way (and considering very carefully what this wealth means for her children's moral upbringing) has made it impossible for me to mock privilege in the way my Marxist self once did.

And I do think that staying home with children is a privilege in this economic world -- not working. Throughout history, mothers have worked. The cooks, maids, governesses, nannies, laundresses and shopkeepers, farmers, factory workers were mama's. I could be wrong, but I think that historically, the upper classes were the only ones with women who didn't work?

So perhaps this debate is a new one, relatively?

Angie said...

There are enough of us moms tearing each other down - it's so nice to be part of the blogging world - even if you are strangers. Either way, it's nice to feel supported and understood.

Thanks for the topic!