Mommy wars: a dissent

Lots of affluent, opinionated women despise the affluent, opinionated Caitlin Flanagan, and the “war” about contemporary womanhood and motherhood of which she sorta started and of which she continues to fan the flames. Reviewing a new edited anthology on the “mommy war” debate, Sandra Tsing Loh takes aim at the entire premise:

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.

And then she’s got even more problems with what the volume’s contributors–mostly wealthy or at least upper-middle-class, media professionals–are actually doing with their money, once they get done with all that hand-wringing:

Once they have the proverbial loudspeaker, how much social good do affluent, successful, powerful women really do (other than treating their wonderful full-time nannies like members of the family)? I didn’t notice any successful career women in the book mentioning specific campaigns they’re waging on behalf of the less fortunate, nor did I catch to what women’s or children’s charities proceeds from the book will be given. (I would love to know the inner dynamics of this collective-bargaining arrangement of which Steiner speaks, whereby a turbo woman’s pursuit of a glamorous career somehow makes the world better for her minimum-wage sisters.) These days, I suppose, it is feminist enough an action to edit a women’s anthology, get on Oprah, sell a million copies, and make a pile of cash, all of which you keep, presumably so that your investment-banker husband can’t move the family again. (One of our most famous and successful women, Oprah Winfrey, actually does have furthering the social good as part of her personal mandate. But that’s a value many seem to forget. A colleague of mine, Rebecca Constantino, at Access Books, which creates and updates libraries for underserved children, received an Oprah Angel award for her work. Constantino noted wryly to me that her appearance on the show drew less than $500 in cash contributions, but 1,000 calls asking how to get on Oprah.)

There’s more, much more.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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