Manuscript Monday: “Are you doing the right thing?”
Hey y’all! Remember that I’m writing a book? (I think even I forgot for a while.) This excerpt is from Chapter 8, “Welcome to the Mommy Wars.”
Like most cultural debates, the “Mommy Wars” are a wholly-media manufactured phenomenon, a solution in search of a problem. Sure, there are moms who were jealous of other moms’ ability to stay home, their ability to keep working, their ability to dress their babies in Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, but hey, this is AMERICA, a nation built on jealousy. The cult of manifest destiny rested upon the notion that indigenous tribes were hogging all the good stuff for themselves. Why the Trail of Tears? Andrew Jackson saw some tasty, arable land and felt deeply envious of the Seminoles and Cherokees living there. In our century, the Lancome cosmetics company puts Julia Roberts in its advertising to inspire envy, not amiability. You want to buy the product to steal a little bit of her beauty for yourself.
The way the Mommy Wars work their magic is to demand the following of mothers: are you doing the right thing? What if your baby loses out? What if you lose out? Will my children hate me? What if this has all been a terrible mistake? Then you’re so incredibly confused that the tragedy of child hunger in America feels not nearly as important as whether Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge is nursing the heir to the British crown.
The Mommy Wars, as they stand today, serve as an effective check on the ambitions of the American mother. The phenomenon keeps women in a perpetual state of guilt, shame, and inadequacy–and does so without involving anyone but wealthy white women! Behind the punditry, the blog posts, the endless shaming of individuals who are making individual choices is a quiet but urgent message: I care about me. The rest of you can go fuck yourselves.
I asked this back in chapter one: when is a choice not a choice? When you understand that many of your “decisions” are based on circumstances set in motion before you got out of diapers yourself, let alone changed one on a baby of your own. Do working class women of color have the choices that Linda Hirshman and I do? No. It’s very unlikely that a garbageman’s daughter will become CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Hell, it’s unlikely that an upper class woman of color will do that! The playing field remains uneven to a disorienting degree.
Carping about what women “should” do avoids serious debate about the consequences of entrenched economic inequality. Women of all races earn less than men, but they receive no proportional discount on food, rent, clothing, utility bills, health care, child care, or college tuition.
Just IMAGINE what we could accomplish if we redirected all that Mommy Wars energy…..!