Thursday, February 24, 2005

Is it the first Mother Talk event, or a Consciousness Raising session, or Both?

Last week our pal Faulkner Fox, author of the wonderful Dispatches from a Not-So-Perfect Life was in town. She read at the first ever MotherTalk session sponsored by Mother Shock author Andrea Buchanan was there too, and she blogged about it, beating me to it, and quoting my part of our long email exchange after.

It's all posted on Mama's Ink, our group blog.

Okay, if it's the end of a long day and you're just too tired to tramp over to another site, I'll copy it in here, but visit Mama's Ink some time (tag line: Enough Dishes Already,) and Andi's blog too.

"Mother Talk" salon evening

The salon evening the other night, "Mother Talk" with me, Faulkner Fox, and Miriam Peskowitz, was so much fun. My friend Maureen hosted it at her house, and about 30 women came. We milled around for a bit eating and drinking, and then gathered to talk about our books and hear Faulkner read a funny and thought-provoking paper she had given at the ARM conference about mother-judgement and feminism. I functioned kind of as a moderator, prompting questions or jumping in with something, but mostly the discussion just evolved on its own as the women there began talking. I didn't know which way the evening would go -- a lot of people who'd said they were going to come couldn't make it, and there were a lot of people there I didn't even know, or barely knew, and it was one of those things where I just didn't know until we started talking whether or not people would be totally put off by the conversation we were going to have.

But it was great. The discussion ranged from playground judgmentalism to how hard it is to be honest with your old friends vs. the honesty you can have with other mothers who are strangers, to what our work means vs. what our husband's work means, to what it feels like to always be the one initiating the conversation about ambivalence and motherhood, to people's reactions to our books... There was a wide range of opinion, and a real willingess and excitement to talk about this stuff -- it felt like one of those 1970s "consciousness-raising" meetings, and I mean that in a good way.

I checked in with Miriam afterwards, and she had this to report:

Last night was fabulous! I'm just settling down to think about Faulkner's talk and about all that happened last night. I would have loved to stay much later. Her talk was all about women talking, about moms talking honestly, and delving into what's intimate. I was thinking back to when I lived in Atlanta, and was introduced to the whole phenom of women's book clubs. No one ever read the book, but everyone wanted to be in a book club, or two, or as many as they could be. That it was literary meant it was okay to say to their spouses, Honey, you watch the kids, I have something important to do. It's more lofty than saying, Honey, I'm meeting my girlfriends at the local pub to bitch about life as a mother and wife. I even knew women who formed Bible Studies. They would invite me, even though they knew I was Jewish, because it wasn't exactly about reading the Bible. Like book clubs, Bible Study is a socially acceptable reason to leave the kids and spouse and head out to a bottle or two of red wine and the company of girlfriends. What husband could object to the Bible, or to The God of Small Things, or a rereading of Moby Dick?

What happened last night was extraordinary -- in the largest sense -- because it combined the excuse of getting out of the house with real thoughtfulness about what change, or revolution, would look like. With her writing, and with all of us there, Faulkner was able to create the consciousness-raising group she wanted. I think we need to keep doing these -- for any excuse -- our books coming out, our friends coming to town. Something important happened. Mothers were really talking -- and [the discussion] had a chance to get to structural issues, to something larger than the usual venting we do. There was Faulkner, sitting in a stranger's living room and talking about feminist revolution. It seemed historic. It seemed like what happened a million years and several decades ago.

My book begins by saying that we mothers talk all the time, but we don't really talk. Not about what truly matters, because it's just too hard. But last night we created the space for mothers to really talk. And I think we need to take this on the road. When Faulkner started to talk about revolution, in her calm voice and her perfect prose, I remember thinking, are we serious? Here we are in this lovely brownstone, in our own ways, well-coifed and stylishly dressed, articulate when we speak. From the outside, we look like all those privileged women the media always writes about. Yet there's Faulkner, saying the word revolution over and over and over again. Talking about Antonio Gramsci, and about how people can be critical of the status quo, and conformist at the same time. Faulkner's saying that word.

Revolution. I can't stop myself from thinking: Are we serious? Is she? Are we playing the part? Can we convince ourselves that we can do this? That we can stop critiquing other women for things that don't matter, like whether for the moment her kids are running wild because to save her sanity she's talking with another mom at the playground? Like whether she's feeding her toddler a Philly pretzel -- doesn't she know that it digests to sugar immediately, and sugar is bad, bad, bad?

As we're all saying to each other now, it's us moms we need to worry about, to figure out lives that are rich and rewarding and human. Revolution sounds so silly. So strange. So old-fashioned. And so feminist. Yet my eyes wandered around the room, and all the women were listening raptly. The hour was late but the room was hushed, attentive, even when Faulkner turned to Gramsci. Italian Marxists? At 9.30 after a day of work and childraising?

Can she be serious? Can we?

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