Tuesday, January 11, 2011

NYT Re-Ignites the Mommy Wars

Well, it's been a while since I've found myself in the front lines of the Mommy Wars--you know, that never ending battle about what women "should" be doing with their time, once they've reproduced.  Because god knows we can't seem to allow women to make choices or -- the horrors! -- make mistakes and learn from them.

No, women are obviously better served by media outlets focusing on a small collection of unhappy women and then self-righteously smacking them down for daring to live their lives.  The latest is this article "Frazzled Moms Push Back Against Volunteering."

I wish getting seriously pissed off counted as cardio exercise.  Then I could recommend clicking on the link and reading that article.  As it is--not so much.  It's another salvo in the "Stay at Home Mommy" vs. the "Working Mommy" war--a war with no winners and a pointlessly inflated casualty rate.  The twist here is that the "working mommy" isn't actually working at all--she's volunteering!  At her kids' school!  But lest you think that school volunteers are a good thing, the article writer manages to find over committed volunteers doing "unnecessary" things!

So, pared down to its essence, this is an article about women who should be at home tending to their husbands and children, but have the audacity to do something else with their time.  And yes, the article includes the obligatory story of a Man Who Left His Wife Because She Spent Too Much Time Working.  Women!  They just don't know their place.  Good thing the New York Times is here to Explain It All.

You see, these women are doing something outside their own homes.  They are doing volunteering, but their time is spent on activities that the NYT reporter thinks are frivolous.  Class T shirts, for example, or Teacher Appreciation Day, or Doughnuts for Dads Day.  The implication is that these women are wasting their time, neglecting their families, and can't be trusted to make good decisions about how they spend their time.  So their husband will leave them and their kids will be improperly parented and all of us NYT readers will be justified in our self-righteous condemnation of these Stupid Women.

This obviously pushes a bunch of buttons for me, and I just can't let it lie.  Because articles like this are a big part of the problem that makes women's lives untenable right now--because life is uncertain, and we want the security of One Right Way to lead our lives that will guarantee a happy family, healthy and successful kids, a strong and lasting marriage.  It's just not possible, of course, but that doesn't mean it's easy to accept.

 Look, if everybody was exactly the same, this would be easy, right?  If your marriage and my marriage were identical, we would have been able to create The Perfect Marriage under laboratory conditions and there would be no divorce.  If every child needed the exact same education and home life, we wouldn't have parenting books and school would be a matter of making sure each kid had the right number of Learning Calories and life would be predictable.

Boring.  But predictable.

But life isn't like that, and my solution isn't your solution.  Or, as my mother used to say, "That's why Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream."

You know what?  Some women are driven and controlling, and they are going to exist in the workplace and as volunteer parents at your kids' school.  If they are making volunteering miserable for you, then--don't volunteer.  Just say no.  Or limit your involvement to what you think is meaningful and valuable.  Consider that the uber-volunteer isn't doing this just to make your life miserable.  She's handling her own life and her own issues the best she can.  Maybe she's wrestling with issues about her own parents, and wants to be involved in her child's life in a way her own parents weren't.  Maybe she can't say no, and so has to take on everything she is asked to do.  Maybe she just has a high metabolism and just runs faster than you do. 

Is she judging you?  Sure, probably.  After all, you are judging her.  Fair's fair.

The problem is that this article is little more than snotty coffeeklatch gossip dressed up in respectable clothing and published in a newspaper as if it is journalism.  Dressed up in the smart couture of a NYT article, it seems like it's something that deserves consideration.  But if you took this article and put it into Betty Draper's mouth, you'd reject its conclusions and despair that these women didn't have anything better to do than complain about such small things.

Remember this article, because next we're going to tackle "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior."

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