Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Polemics for Parents

Did you see this piece in the New York Times? It's about why polemics about motherhood and work don't sell so well, even though they garner mucho buzz.

You have someone in the article saying that mothers are afraid of reading these polemics because it hits too close to home. You have someone else (a mother) saying that she just doesn't have the time. You have the ever-present "mommy" noun, as if these readers aren't adult women who are partially in charge of the next generation.

It seems to me that this shouldn't be such a big mystery: People don't like to be condescended to.

I saw Leslie Bennetts (author of The Feminine Mistake) write in the Huffington Post, "Maybe some of them [stay-at-home mothers] will even reconsider their choices and start making more sensible plans for the future than relying on the blithe assumption that there will always be an obliging husband around to support them." Caitlin Flanagan, as talented a writer as she may be, is well-known for making snarky sound bites out of complex issues. Linda Hirschman offers up impractical suggestions like marrying younger men who will take care of the kids. (Is anyone asking for a do-over?) The one writer cited whose book has sold well is Judith Warner--and it's not an accident that she writes as part of her audience.

The sort of reader interested in work and motherhood has probably already read Ann Crittenden's The Price of Motherhood, which is painstakingly researched and offers structural changes to big issues that won't be solved by simply going back to work or simply staying home.

(In fact, it's a rare bird that is the exclusive "working mother" or "stay-at-home mother." Most of us are one or the other at various points, not to mention the gazillion part-timers out there with a foot in both worlds.)

I want to feel a sort of camraderie, or at least respect, from the author when I'm reading. I don't like to be told what to do. I like an attempt at balance. I like, at minimum, acknowledgement of complexity. This is why, even though I'm a liberal, I'm interested in what conservative Adrian Wooldridge has to say, but not what Bill O'Reilly has to say. We "mommies," as they say, are well acquainted with the phrase, "Don't scream at me."

Seriously, I can get chastised--did I pack PB&J again? did I kiss him in public? did I yell, "Good job, sweetie pie!" at his baseball game?--for free.

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