Thursday, December 01, 2005

My Response...

As promised, the response that will be published at Literary Mama later today. I posted it briefly last night, then took it down (think very late night barefoot traipsing to upstairs office). Yes, I was attacked personally, and I wanted to make sure I was taking the high road back. With a tad of morning editing, you're seeing it here first:

Wow. How does an author/blogger/mom even respond to a personal attack like that? The post is clear evidence that writing about the Mommy Wars and about the judgment that's dished out to all mothers doesn't exempt one from taking it on the chin. Ouch.

Yes, once upon a time, I had a low-paying, high-prestige full-time job. Unfortunately, it didn't come with onsite childcare, paid maternity leave, or other supports for working parents. Not wanting to totally ditch my career, I took an unpaid leave of absence. I found part time work elsewhere. Then I quit the first job. My story of career sacrifice is shared by moms throughout America. 25% of us are out of the paid workplace, 37% work part time. Some feminists can only see us as disappointments. I disagree. Instead of judging us, why don’t you look at where the problem is: The problem is not that smart women make bad marriage decisions. At core it's about how the workplace hasn't changed to support family life. Not nearly enough.

If that makes me a bad feminist, well, that's okay. Call me names. I've got better things to think about, like getting moms and dads across our nation, and in every neighborhood and economic class, to start thinking about how the frustrations our families face are structural, how they're not about our own individual failures but about a lack of paid family leave, fair wages for women and mothers, realistic work hours, reliable and affordable childcare, or chances to get back into the workplace after some time out. And that's just a start.
I'd like more of us to feel comfortable speaking out, and imagining what real change for mothers, fathers and families might look like. I'd like us to call our politicians, write to our newspapers, pressure our corporations, in short, use any of the usual tactics available to us as citizens in a democracy. I'd call that keeping our eyes on the prize. We need real social change for family life, and we need it now.

In my book The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a
Good Mother, (Seal Press, 2005) I tried to write about all of us. About white women and black women. About a few affluent moms, and a few welfare and former-welfare moms. About ordinary middle-class school teachers. About daycare workers. About women who are honestly trying to make a go of it in a society that doesn't help. About women and families who are kept absent from our national media, which much prefers to focus on the affluent, as if only the rich matter. I stand by my comments, especially as they're echoed throughout the blogosphere. We're all having a time of it out here; there are few good family choices for mothers or for fathers. Our national media insists that only the upper economic sliver of families matters. That's a travesty.

Well, it’s late, and I am a tired and very pregnant woman itching to get to bed. But I can't end without defending the mom-and-dad Internet, where we real moms have morning sickness, sick kids, and other frustrations. Real dads sometimes quit their jobs and stay home to care for kids. We do boring things like fold laundry and cook dinner, day in and day out, as do our partners and spouses. We work, earn a living, feed our spirits, and find ways to get our kids to sleep through the night. Sometimes we have homes that need new roofs, and yes, we write about all of it.

On our blogs we write about the work that fills our days. It may read like boring trivia, but it's the stuff of everyday life, and it matters. We have joys and regrets, happiness and anger. These lives don't come with fancy names or titles, but they're honest and they're real. We've created an interesting and connected world. We've ended the awful isolation that can affect so many moms and dads. We're here, we're real, and we come from all walks of life. I'm sorry to here us described by Hirshman as "weird."

To end, I'll assume that most readers of Linda Hirshman's post will realize the odd way my words were out of context, and leave it at that. Since I was never asked permission to tape record our telephone interview, readers should know that they are not reading my transcribed words but an oddly remembered version of a conversation.


Meredith said...

Good response Miriam. I applaud everything you said, particularly in taking up the defense of people who blog about seemingly unimportant, trivial parts of life like folding clothes or trying to feed our kids (the stuff Hirshman derided in commenting on your blog).

Why is writing about motherhood any less interesting than, say, writing about shoe or clothes shopping a la Carrie Bradshaw and the "Sex and the City" ladies? Why is it okay to write about the latest martini trends but not about the latest trends in materntiy wear? Why is every aspect of the sports and entertainment cultures perfectly acceptable but aspects of parenthood are not? Could it possibly be because people still don't value parenthood, or motherhood?

Anonymous said...

At core it's about how the workplace hasn't changed to support family life.
Is this so certain? Hirshman's acerbic contribution is to revive (inflame?) the politics of housework debate and the idea that it is worth considering that the structure of the family is at least another "core" issue? Usually the answer to these doctrinal debates has been that both are true.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to criticize the structure of the family without criticizing people's most intimate arrangements (or attacking them as Hirshman has done). And worse - it is even harder to frame critiques of the division of housework and childcare in terms that have any political legs.
But regardless of where you see the core issue and make your political committments (a personal plea here) please do not give up on men! Please do not stop holding us to a higher standard of responsibility for housework and childcare! Individually - with an individual husband or male partner - negotiating a balance may be easy or harder or indeed impossible to do (and this clearly is exhausting many women). But for men as a class, feminism has done a very good job of insisting on higher standards of behavior and greater humanity from men.
While strategies for addressing the politics of housework may be thin on the policy side, feminism does have the influence in society to keep the politics of the family current as one of its core issues.

Anonymous said...

p.s. Miriam - thanks for your work!

RW said...

Your assumption that readers would understand that Linda Hirschman took your words out of context is correct. That's exactly what I thought, after my first thought, which was "what does Hirschman have against Miriam Peskowitz??" I'm not terribly familiar with her writing or yours, frankly, but I could see through her response easily enough.

I read your blog occasionally because it does cover the things that, at this point in my life, have meaning to me. I had a successful, somewhat high-powered career at one point too, and gave it up because it was not conducive to raising a family (with a husband who travels more than half of each month). Would I like other options? Sure. But those options aren't available right now, so I did what I thought was best. So right now my life may be boring, mundane, and even "weird," but its my life, and like lots of us out there, I'm doing the best I can. So please keep posting about our lives, our politics, and trying for change. There are those of us who really appreciate it.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Well said, Miriam. I know her attack was aimed at you but many of us cringed.

I just want to add that if I decide to work part-time for the next 15 years, and not just while my kids are little -- if I *choose* to, rather than being *forced* to for lack of options -- I still consider myself a feminist. Life is long, you know? Plenty of time to become rich and powerful : )

Good luck with the new baby. Hope you're weathering the last weeks (or is it days?) well.