Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mommy "wars": No Hippies wanted!

While currently childless myself, I plan to have children someday soon, and I'm always interested in intersections of feminism and motherhood and discussions about being a mom in contemporary US society. The recent spate of articles on the "Mommy wars" has been very interesting to read from a feminist perspective. Take, for example, the profile of "mommy bloggers" that ran in the Times this past January. They interviewed some of my favorite bloggrrrlz, including the ur-blogger, Dooce, about being a blogging mommy. The article starts off in a semi-sympathetic tone, but quickly derails into snide condescension, saying: "Today's parents - older, more established and socialized to voicing their emotions - may be uniquely equipped to document their children's' lives, but what they seem most likely to complain and marvel about is their own. The baby blog in many cases is an online shrine to parental self-absorption." Of course, anyone who's ever read Dooce (or Snarkspot, or Mimi Smartypants, or any of the other amazing blogs by women with children) knows, these women are anything but self-absorbed. They're funny, trenchant, poignant observers of the insanity that is modern motherhood - but apparently we still haven't reached the point where women are allowed to, goddess forbid, have bad days or find parenting difficult or anything. Or at least, they better not TALK about it.

And now it seems that my local paper is jumping on the divisive bandwagon. Yesterday the Strib (registration required) published an interview with Andy Steiner, a local writer and mom who's just published Spilled Milk: Breastfeeding Adventures and Advice From Less-Than-Perfect Moms. Breastfeeding, of course, is a hot topic in the Mommy Wars, since within the space of a generation or so, the pendulum has swung from "breastfeeding is low-rent" to "mothers who don't breastfeed are evil devil-spawn who hate their children." (Seriously. I have two close friends who were unable to breastfeed and you should have SEEN how they were treated by the nurses and lactation specialists.) Ms. Steiner's book purports to "cut through the dogma with a well-rounded view of what breast-feeding is really all about." OK, cool: personally, I think breastfeeding is awesome if you can do it, and if you can't or choose not to, hey: that's your choice and nobody should give you guff about it. Initally, this seems to be Ms. Steiner's perspective as well. When the interviewer asks her why she wrote the book, she talks about how much more difficult she found breastfeeding than she thought she would, and how unnatural it felt to do it. Given the plethora of books and videos out there touting breastfeeding as the most natural, loving, nurturing blah blah blah ever, it's helpful to have something out there for women who don't find it so easy.

BUT. Then the interviewer notes that the subjects of Ms. Steiner's book are largely highly privileged women: upper class, educated, professional, etc. Steiner's response:

When I sent out my e-mail request, those were the people who responded. But I did talk to some people who didn't fit that profile. Mainly, I wanted to get away from -- I don't want to insult anybody -- the crunchy-granola moms with long hair, the dad with the Grizzly Adams beard. That's fine, but it was a little bit of a turnoff to me.

Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaah. Lemme tell ya, Andy: for someone who doesn't want to insult anyone, you sure are good at it! I mean, christ: First of all, speaking as the breast-fed daughter of some pretty damn crunchy-granola parents, I have to say: YOU OWE THEM. Who do you think was on the front lines of making breastfeeding acceptable? And second, how can you expect anyone to take you seriously after a statement like that? Like, breastfeeding is OK if you're a member of the economic elite, but for other women it's still kind of icky? Give me a fucking break. Motherhood is hard enough without having writers like Steiner casting aspersions at women who don't "fit her profile." Surely there's a way to be supportive of ALL mothers, not just the ones like you.

(Thanks to Shannon for the link.)