Wednesday, November 10, 2010

In Defense of Moms

Lisa Belkin over at New York Times' Motherlode blog recently published Katie Allison Granju and Jillian St. Charles’ response to Erica Jong’s Wall Street Journal essay “Mother Madness.” In it, Granju and St. Charles argue that Jong vilifies the modern mother's choice to breastfeed and co-sleep. Their response drips with barely contained vitriol, criticizing not just Jong's position on motherhood but her writing style, contributions to literature, and the contributions of feminists of Jong's generation. Such obvious attacks do not promote dialogue but serve merely to divide: are you a baby-wearer or a politically-aware feminist? C'mon. which is it?! While I understand that Jong as well as Granju/St. Charles are intentionally trying to rally support using emotionally-laden rhetoric, ironically such responses are leaving out a very significant audience - mothers.

Both Jong and Grangu/St. Charles get caught up in their own passionate appeals - a position on modern motherhood. Unfortunately, neither seem to really connect with the day-to-day realities of being a mom. Jong does indulge in some hyperbole with statements like:
"Attachment parenting, especially when combined with environmental correctness, has encouraged female victimization."

While Grangu and St. Charles misread Jong and attack Jong's apparent disconnect from today's moms with statements like:
"And as for Jong’s assertion that mothers today don't tell each other the truth about the difficult, challenging and even dark parts of the world's toughest job, well she obviously hasn't read any momblogs or any of the wave of 'momoirs' that have been released in the last decade."

Really Jong? Attachment parenting in conjunction with environment awareness are what keep women from reaching their potential? You've over simplified for effect. I get it. While I agree that obsessively and dogmatically following any parenting theory will ultimately do a great disservice to both the child and the parent, it is dangerous to reduce the difficult position modern mothers find themselves in today, wanting to both raise emotionally healthy children and find ways to be emotionally healthy themselves by pursuing their own passions and work, to such polarizing rhetoric.

Unfortunately, Grangu and St. Charles aren't much better, seeming to miss Jong's point entirely. Jong has not authored a plea for mothers to spend more time reading momblogs about how to parent. Jong is not saying we shouldn't breastfeed or co-sleep. In fact, she directly states, "Mothers must be free to choose." Instead, one of Jong's most salient points advocates a more communal approach to parenting, taking up the position that it takes a community to raise a child. Besides, Grangu/St. Charles arguement that there are a pleathora of mommy blogs misses the mark in another respect, there is a difference between writing for an unseen audience and confessing face-to-face your failures and misgivings as a parent, in connecting one-on-one in honest conversation about your doubts and fears as a parent. Jong seems to argue for more connection and less parenting from unseen gurus.

It is unfortunate that both pieces are littered with such anger and sweeping generalizations. At their heart, both pieces seem to be generally concerned about the position of mothers. I love Jong's final statement, that our cultures seems to have devised "a set of expectations that makes [mothers] feel inadequate no matter how passionately they attend to their children." I agree. I feel caught between my hopes of being a good mother and to also find fulfillment and identity outside of my role as a mother. And Grangu and St. Charles also offer up some good observations: "Progressive politics begin at home, with the way we raise our children, and many women will tell you that becoming a mother was the most politically radicalizing experience of their lives. Suddenly, the personal really is political, in a very tangible way." I also agree. Suddenly, my desire to work for and vote for policies that support the education of all children, healthcare for all children, and open access to both, are much more personal now that I have children of my own.

All this coming from a mother with a masters degree from a women's college, typing with a two month old bouncing on her knee while her two year old naps, proving there is such a thing as the feminist mother. We are political diaper-changers. We are intellectual nurturers. To steal a sentiment from Walt Whitman, we are large; we contain multitudes. So let's hear more balanced critique and less dichotomizing rhetoric from both sides of the motherhood debate. Let's spend less time pointing fingers and more time figuring out how to support mothers, working in the home and outside of it.

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