There was an article about the book, The Mommy Myth, in my local paper today. It looks like it was taken from the Washington Post.
Idealized images of motherhood give birth to a beef and a book
By Jennifer Frey
Susan Douglas had a baby, and the baby didn't sleep. Every morning she was up at 4:30 a.m., wailing away. And every day Douglas got up, red-eyed, dark-circled, hair askew. Sometimes, as dawn broke, they'd go to the grocery store. What else is there to do at that hour? So there she was one day in the checkout aisle, and -- well, let her tell it:
"I'm completely exhausted, and unlike Sarah Jessica Parker, I did not weigh less after my child was born, so I was wearing my husband's sweat pants, which were the only thing that fit. And I had some spit-up-splotched sweater and hair that hadn't seen a comb in a couple of days and a screaming infant in the checkout cart.
"Then I look over, and there are these racks of magazines screaming on the cover that motherhood was sexy, with these perfectly coiffed, perfectly made-up women. And you'd look inside and they would have white sofas and white rugs -- this with a toddler -- and a perfect, doting husband. And they would tell you all the perfect things they were doing with their kids, like somersaults in the park."
Fifteen years later, Douglas recalls that moment in the introduction to her book, The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women, written with Meredith Michaels (Simon and Schuster, $39).
The book explores what it means to be a mother in modern North America and how, the authors conclude, the media (and right-wing politicians) have perverted motherhood into such a "psychological police state" that no mother could ever get it right.
"(W)e adore our kids," the authors write. "But like increasing numbers of women, we are fed up with the myth -- shamelessly hawked by the media -- that motherhood is eternally fulfilling and rewarding, that it is always the best and most important thing you do, that there is only a narrowly prescribed way
to do it right, and that if you don't love
each and every second of it there's something really wrong with you."
Calling themselves "mothers with attitude," they dissect everything from popular television programs to child-targeted advertising with an irreverent, saucy approach that plays to what they hope will be their core audience: the overworked, over-stressed mom.
Douglas, who has one child, is Kellogg professor of communications studies at the University of Michigan. Michaels, the mother of five, teaches philosophy at Smith College, Mass. They attack the "new momism," in which the mother -- who is usually carrying the demands of a job as well -- is expected to "devote her entire physical, psychological, emotional and intellectual being, 24/7, to her children."
"Having it all" has become "having to do it all," they say, and it's time women stand up and choose to say no: no to designer toddler wear, to school treats made from scratch, to the four-hour-round-trip drive to the soccer game, no to the endless reports that point out everything they're doing wrong. And, mainly, no to the idea that they must constantly treat their children like the centre of the universe.
"The standards just kept getting more and more ridiculous," Douglas says. "By the mid -'90s, in addition to piping Mozart into our wombs, we had to drill (babies) with flashcards at nine months, and pretty soon we had to wear them for the first three years of their lives" -- in baby slings -- "oh, and we're supposed to look sexy while doing it!"
These authors are funny, but everyone isn't so amused -- particularly those who see their book as a whine from women who don't like to be moms all that much.
Mary Eberstadt, a research fellow at the Hoover Institute, is attacked by the authors for her upcoming book, Home-Alone America: The Rising Toll of Day Care, Wonder Drugs and Other Parent Substitutes.
If we look "at certain fundamental facts, we get a much darker picture of the absent-parent home than we do from reading book after book by women who are happy not to be there," Eberstadt wrote in an e-mail responding to questions about the authors and their criticisms of her work.
"Under the circumstances, the notion that our 'real' social problem is too much maternalism is not only wrong; it is remarkably cold-blooded."
But Douglas and Michaels scoff at the work-or-stay-home debate.
"The mythology of the new momism," they write, "now insinuates that, when all is said and done, the enlightened mother chooses to stay home with the kids."
"The notion that most women have such choices is preposterous," Douglas says. "Most women ... work because they need the money. And many mothers work because they like it. They don't feel like they can be in the house 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They feel like work makes them better mothers. And they're not supposed to say that."
Douglas doesn't believe in the so-called mommy wars between working and stay-at-home mothers. The book, she says, is about the outrageous demands placed on all mothers.
"It was pernicious," Douglas says of the magazines. "They were telling me how to feel. And the way I was supposed to feel was eternally ecstatic and joyful and thrilled. And I wasn't feeling any of those things. Did I adore my kid? Of course, I adored her. But I didn't love getting up with her at 3 in the morning."
Douglas points to a recent New York Times article about women who like their jobs but have found the work demands no longer manageable with the demands placed on them at home.
"Just like the (New York Times) piece, this has nothing to do with 'choice.' The buried lead is how inflexible the workplace has been for people with families," Douglas says. "The article is not a case for staying home. The article is the case for workplaces to catch up with families."
After all, most women do work, and mothering, Douglas and Michael argue, is growing more demanding -- but no one is doing anything to help them.
"Women are going to face different choices and certainly some women have no choice," says Carrie Lukas, director of policy for the Independent Women's Forum. "We should be thinking about ways for those women to balance the real trade-offs they must make."