Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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All just a little bit of history repeating …

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One of my particular cultural irritants, as of late, has been what can be scapegoatedly pinned on Ayelet Waldman or more broadly described as the “bad mother” genre. What a strange symbol of our times, these women hemming and hawing over their perceived psychological transgressions against the pathos of motherhood, their defiant reclamation attempts in Oprah-friendly memoir form . How ridiculous; how tedious.

So I got a kick out of Sandra Tsing Loh’s December Atlantic article, “On Being a Bad Mother,” in which she reviews both Waldman’s Bad Mother and Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch:

What better phrase to describe marriage among those of my own bewildered demographic slice—parents of the Creative Class? We start with the best of intentions. In her 20s, the Creative Class female carves out a cool Creative Class career, like Writer. She meets a man with an equally cool Creative Class job—say, Devoted Documentary Filmmaker of the Obama 10-Year African Kiva Water Project. In their 30s, the baby comes: the Creative Class mom is pitched into hormonal bliss (at least at first); the very same week—argh, the timing!—Gates Foundation money suddenly comes through for the Obama-kiva-water-project documentary. Clinking champagne glasses, both spouses agree that Dad must fly to Africa for two months to finish filming while Mom cares for the baby. (The last thing she wants is be a 1950s nag—and how rarely does Gates money come through, how important is drinking water for Africa?)

After kissing her husband goodbye, the Creative Class mother now begins to care for their baby, alone, in New York, or Los Angeles, or whatever cool city they’ve moved to. She’s isolated from her stem family—the grandma, aunts, and in-laws (who all love children!) have long been left behind in notoriously un-Creative Lompoc, Fort Lauderdale, or Ohio. She can barely maneuver the stroller down the four flights of stairs to get to Gymboree ($20 for 45 minutes, and you have to actually stay with your nine-month-old and drum). Result: the 21st-century Creative Class mom’s life is actually far worse than that of her 1950s counterpart. Her husband works as many hours (and travels more), but life is uncomfortable on his salary alone, and the isolated mom has no bingo-playing moms’ group to ease the unnatural, teeth-chattering stress of one-on-one care of her child.

But every time I read these sorts of things—this, or Tsing Loh’s last Atlantic article, about her affair and divorce; Elizabeth Weil’s New York Times Magazine article about working on her marriage, and all the bloggy disccusions around it; books like Against Love and A Vindication of Love, both railing against modern “companionate” marriages in their own way; all these late-boomer and Gen X women at once enchanted and neurotic and furious with our current exemplars of marriage or motherhood or monogamy—I am left wondering (and depressed) about what fights we Gen Y (and beyond) women will face in this realm. So much of the current angst seems to be a reaction to the 1970s woman’s reaction to the 1950s woman’s lifestyle/dilemna/ideal … it frustrates me. I’m tired of those battles; they seem silly and cliched and obvious.

But our battles are going to have to be a reaction to these. Or a backlash. And what will that look like? All I know, when I read these things, is that I don’t want to be any of the women in these essays. I don’t want their problems, don’t want their lives. I wonder how they possibly got there, and then can see myself getting there. I think the avoidance of all that will all be so simple, but then they, as women in the 70s and 80s, probably thought the same thing about that 1950s woman.


Written by Elizabeth

December 6, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Posted in Culture, Feminism

Tagged with , , , ,

One Response

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  1. […] her flexible, creative job; her city life; her egalitarian marriage and child-rearing ideals – actually has it worse than her previous-generation counterparts, because of the absence of a built-in family and community […]

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