Monday, March 28, 2005

First Radio Show

This morning I was a live guest on Kevyn Burger's morning show in the Twin Cities. "Perky, Quirky, and Smirky" or something like that, the tag line kept calling her, but no matter, she trashed on Dr. Laura as the only person she ever really felt judgement from for her status as the working single mother of two kids, so I knew I was generally in the right place (the Dr. Laura show follows hers later in the day.) Anyway, I was excited to do the first radio show for my book, and enjoyed her questions.

Kevyn was most interested in why mothers judge each other, and in how my book argues that mothers actually cooperate a lot more than they compete. During the break, Kevyn told a lovely story about how the mother of one of her daughter's friends made sure she had all the softball sign up forms, that she got whatever the at-home mom network was passing around. Whereas in the popular eye working moms and at home moms never help each other, in real life, this division isn't as active as some would have us believe.

The point she kept coming back to, and the topic that listeners called in about after Kevyn hung up with me, was whether they'd felt judged and attacked as mothers, either because they worked or they didn't, and on other grounds too. She asked them how they reacted, did they lash back or not, and what worked for them for dealing with mother judgement when it happens. Unfortunately, I was off the air by then, and couldn't get the fm107 streaming to work on my mac, so I didn't get to hear the discussion. I remember when we did Mothertalk (see below) that many mothers galvanize when offered the chance to talk about how they've felt judged. What's your response?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Wife Swap Update

Check out Raising WEG, who actually watched the Wife Swap episode I wrote about below, and blogged about it. This is a great post, so don't miss it.

The Book is Out!

Breaking news: Though official launch isn't till April, the book is out. Our friend Rob called tonight to say that Amazon is shipping his. So order your copies, read it, and then, please tell me your stories. Last week, Mother Shock author Andi Buchanan paid me a wonderful compliment. She read the book, and said it made her want to call me up right away and tell me her work-and-parenting stories. I was thrilled to learn that the book felt like a conversation to her. So please, tell me your stories. I want to hear them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Mommy Wars/War against Mothers aren't Going Away

One theme of my book is that despite not representing the real truths about our parenting lives, the Mommy Wars model continues. Over the last month or so, it's became popular for media reports to say, oh, the mommy wars are over, the new problem is hyper mothering, and both at home moms and working moms share in creating that problem. That was one theme of Perfect Madness, and the media quickly forgot the parenting publishing sensation that preceded that one, Home Alone America, which roundly critiqued mothers who worked. Despite our desires, and unfortunately, the Mommy Wars model hasn't yet slithered away.

There's a long chapter near the front of my book, called "Do Real Women have Mommy Wars?" that looks at how newspaper and magazine articles, and marketing firm trend reports pitch mothers against each other. The real Mommmy Wars are a war against mothers, and in this part of the book I show how it's done, specifically, again and again and again.

Today's NYTimes has an article that shows how it's done, too. Jacques Steinberg, on E1, the Arts, writes "One Show's Unexpected Lessons in Reality." He describes how tonight/wednesday's ABC's "Wife Swap" episode falsely crafts narrow stories about each mom, so that they perfectly fit the Mommy Wars model. One mom lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, and her family has a nice, large house. She's pitched as the working mother who puts "success before family life" and is a high achiever who runs her family like a business. The other mom is an at-home and home-schooling mother who lives in a rustic cottage in Vermont.And Vermont mom is described falsely as not leaving her house on a daily basis. It's "coldhearted working mom versus nurturing stay-at-home mom." Where have we seen this before. Meanwhile, of course, we learn almost nothing about the fathers, as if men don't take part in family life, as if they too don't make creative decisions about how much they want to work, and parent.

In recreating the classic working mom vs at-home scenario, here's what the Wife Swap producers left out, and here are the details Jacques Steinberg puts back into the story, bless him, and that's why we need good reporters.

As it turns out, Philly suburb working mom was a stay at home mother for five years when her kids were little. During the end of that time, her husband was working such insane hours to support they family that they made life changes. He took a job with more normal hours, and she went back to work. To me, this sounds like a family that's thought hard about work and family life, and that was willing to make big shifts in their habits. Like many moms I know and have interviewed, Philly suburb mom has carouseled in and out of the workplace. The reality show I'd like to see is what it took for her to get a job after five years away, how much of a wage hit she took, and whether her boss accommodates her family responsibilities. Produce that show and I'll tune in on wednesday nights, believe me.

And Vermont rustic stay at home and teach the kids mom? She too, works, it turns out. Like many stay at home moms I know and have interviewed, she works. About 20 hours a week outside the home, doing property management. That sounds like work to me. Vermont mom says she tried to tell a producer about her job, but was discouraged from doing so. Another episode I'd like to see would feature part time working moms and the challenges they face. is she being paid fairly for her work? What's her wage hit, the lower wage paid to mothers who take time out of the paid workplace? Does she get prorated benefits? Make me a show where mothers trade places with bosses, and bosses get treated like working mothers. Make me an episode where the moms all get together in a big consciousness raising circle and then take their insights to the guys and gals in the corner offices, and then to the streets. Make that show, and it'll get high Nielson's in my house, believe me.

There was no mommy war in real life, yet that didn't stop the show's producers from creating it. Thanks guys. All us moms and dads in America love you for that one.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Feminist Depression

Now I know we're not supposed to use the dread F-word anymore, despite Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner's excellent efforts at revival (in her book The F-Word, which my 6-year old daughter can't believe is a serious book about women and not just a book about how to say curse words without getting your mom's eyebrows raised at you). But I am feeling a great deal of serious feminist depression lately.

First, even though I swore off the marriage announcements in the NYTimes style section, I did read today, since I was in NY, attending the wedding of a younger cousin I rarely see and barely know. She and her new husband were passing around a framed picture this morning with their wedding invitation on one side, and their TImes announcment on the other. I'll leave you guessing who they are, except to say that it wasn't Andrew and Kyle's event.

Close friends know that weddings annoy me, but it's not even the wedding that got me down. When I checked out the announcement later this evening, I saw my cousin referred to as Mrs. Her Husband's Last Name. Yes, at this point, I'm supposed to be all liberal and tolerant and say that of course we all get to choose our names, even if some women choose to give theirs up for their husbands. Whatever. These days, though, I'm tired of being tolerant. Tolerance is usually the word invoked to tell people with progressive opinions to stay quiet. Be tolerant. Don't raise a fuss. The only people who still believe in tolerance are liberal feminists, and believe me, anything goes tolerance is not helping us.

It's just that my cousin is now the anonymous Mrs. Her Husband's Name, 27. It's that her mother doesn't even appear in the announcement. They all live together. They're a happy enough family. My aunt even has a fancy PhD behind her hame, though she's been a homemaker for decades. In the space of those few paragraphs, paraded around so happily this morning, and available forever on the Times archive, two women's identities were shifted, and one disappeared all together. What happened to my aunt's contributions from the home front? Am I allowed to be depressed about that? What is happening to us women, to us mothers. Are we all just going to fade away and disappear from public life?

Bright spot: young teen city girl, flamboyant daughter of an old family friend, comes to babysit. I'll call her Martine to protect her identity. Martine thinks the formal wedding is bullshit. While I'm culturally confused by an event filled with 20-something bankers and young doctors, little Martine is whispering comments in my ear and telling me how she thinks her grandmother was a drag queen in a former life. It's a moment of cultural queerness that I appreciate, since this wedding looks remarkably traditional, and similar to a wedding I attended at the Plaza in 1972, only then I was 6 or so and curled up to sleep on a lounger in the ladies room, the attendant looking out for me, and this time I was able to make it through the event, happily drinking many glasses of my own and everyone's champagne.

In the midst of all this musing, I read the bit piece, "Mr. and Mrs. Bothofus," that runs alongside the wedding page. We're told that fewer than 5 % of married women in America keep their names or hyphenate. Now, readers, friends, know that I'm not doctrinaire on this. There's more to life than a name, and though I bear my full birth name, I use my husband's name sometimes, and my daughter carries his name, unlike our more culture-challenging friends who do give their kids the mother's last name, or switch off. It's not about purity, or correct practice. But 5 percent? That's all? Only five percent of married couples even try to resist the old trend in which married women just fade away?

It makes me sad.

One last comment, before I sign off and take this weary body to bed. On the writing front, I do love Maureen Dowd's column today. "Dish It Out, Ladies" asks Where are all the female newspaper columnists, and not just the sex-family-relationship-gardening columnists, but those whose bylines appear on our nation's prestigious and well-read Op-Ed pages? Yes, where are we, indeed. Thanks, Maureen. I even wrote her a fan letter, thanking her.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

New Mothers Movement Online

Check out this months' MMO by one of my favorite online writers, Judith Stadtman Tucker: new features, links to media on mothers, and the archives of Judy's articles.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The W's

It's really happening: the mailman just dropped off an advance copy of Truth Behind the Mommy Wars! As I tore off the envelope, not quite believing I was holding the real book in my hand, going through my mind was: it really looks like the picture on Amazon! For weeks I've had a copy of the bound galleys on my desk, with it's dour gray cover, a shadow of the glossy red and white that has now appeared. My daughter especially was very excited, and asked to take the copy to school today to show her first grade friends. Of course, after I studiously avoid writing about her, because I am committed to her privacy, her first question to me was: where am I in your book? Good thing I mention her name here and there, so I had something to show her, and of course, the book is dedicated to her, and to my mother both.

Okay, the W's, as promised. Warner and WEG, as in Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness, and Raising WEG, the fabulous blog of a mother of triplets. Everyone's been asking me what I think of the Warner book, and I have actually read it. Honestly--and I believe in honesty about things maternal and gendered--I'm a terrible person to ask about this book. My book on a similar topic is due out in there weeks, and it won't have the marketing prowess/Newsweek cover/New York Times review cover that launched Perfect Madness. I'm not exactly the person to offer a good review. So, for anyone who wants good commentary, check out Raising WEG's reading and collection of blogosphere reviews of Warner's book. Personally, I like Raising WEG so much, I'm adding her to my linklist, and wishing her luck with the trips.

For those who still want me to answer, my book is different. When I set out to solve the mysteries of motherhood, I didn't get stuck on only talking with the most affluent mothers. Those aren't the mothers I meet on my daily rounds. I'm also really committed to moving motherhood from the style page where it seems to be stuck, to front and center where we belong, and that means not getting lost in the details of how we mother. I'm keeping our eye on the rigid workplace that makes it so hard for us to mother and work at the same time, well, and with relative sanity. And I'm always looking around for mothers who are resisting, organizing, and speaking out for change. They're out there, they're fabulous, and there's an incipient mother's movement happening. That's the playground revolution of the last chapter, and of this blog.