On The Sex and the City-ification of Motherhood
So, as you already know, I’m sure, Dooce was on Oprah on Monday, along with about five or six other mommybloggers, some chick lit authors, and a B-list television actress. Everybody knows I’m insanely jealous of these people being on Oprah, but this is the part where I acknowledge that fact up front and cross my fingers that it won’t dilute the relevance of my opinion completely. Yes. I’m still super jealous, even if they didn’t publish web addresses up for most of the people. Even if the Skype reception made some of them look like they had bad skin. Obviously, I am a petty person who is dying to be on Oprah. Let’s not kid ourselves. But. Having said that, I’m glad that I wasn’t a part of the Oprah show that aired Monday for a few reasons, none of which were the fault of the individual participants on the show, but to which they nonetheless contributed, whether willingly or unwittingly.
To explain why I hated it, I’m afraid I’ll have to take a detour through mid-nineties feminist thought. Like all New Historicist anecdotes, it will seem unrelated at first, but I promise to tie it all up at the end. There is nothing like an anecdote to start of an essay on cultural criticism, you see: it gives you street cred. Anyway, I was a Junior in college and Camille Paglia was going to be speaking on campus. I had written a reminder about this event on my hand, because at the time, this was as close as I got to a calendar. I wanted to go see her speak. Something about her in-your-face, pro-pornography contrarianism appealed to me at the time. And so there I was, at the Coffee House, drinking beer with friends, and my little sister (yes, from my sorority–oh the tangled web we weave) notices the note on my hand about Camille Paglia, and she’s horrified all of a sudden, and says, “you’re going to see CAMILLE PAGLIA,” the way I might say, “You’re going to clean out the drain of the shower with your toothbrush?” And so I say, “Yeah.” And so she says, “TALK about backlash.” Naturally, I got drunk and never made the Camille Paglia lecture, but that is besides the point. What I did do was to start to think about what Camille Paglia stood for: mainly, it was just an opposition to the status quo. Was she being sincere, truthful, or were her outrageous claims just exaggerated reaction the limitations of 70s feminism? Was it just Faludian backlash, after all?. And if the brand of my feminism didn’t change that night, perhaps my understanding of how the waves of feminism work did.
Because what we have in this current mommy culture is a backlash against the days of the Supermom, the mom who does it all, who has everything, which is an equally bullshit idea to the idea that parenting is SUCH A DRAG and SO HARD that you often find yourself peeing in your child’s diapers because OH MY GOD THERE IS NOT ENOUGH TIME anymore, NOT ENOUGH ALL-CAP SENTENCES LEFT IN THE WORLD TO EXPRESS THE DRAIN ON YOUR PSYCHE THAT PARENTING REPRESENTS. No, you cannot have it all, not at the same time, maybe not ever. And yeah, sometimes parenting is hard. And there are certainly positives about the fact that it’s becoming more acceptable to voice our frustrations with motherhood. In a very general sense, it’s a positive thing that it’s more acceptable to say, “Hey, sometimes this shit is hard.”
So what is the problem, then? Well, the problem is that the media is appropriating this one tiny shift in our parenting epistemology and doing with it what Sex and the City did with women talking about sex; viz. now it’s OK to talk about it in very exaggerated terms, on TV, on the news, on Oprah, everydamnwhere, just so long as we can sell it. And the result is that we are beaten over the head with it, we are helping them to smother us in an avalanche of pink-covered books with curly-q cursive font titles and drawings of stiletto heels and pink-liquid-filled martini glasses.
I won’t lie to you: I hated Sex and the City, and not just because Sarah Jessica Parker kept doing that Doogie Howser thing where she’d ask some dumbass question of herself on the computer screen, and then look up, and think, staring off into the distance, in love with her own profundity, like she’s fucking Jean-Paul Sartre or something. I hated it for reasons that are separate from the show itself, even–I hated it for making it seem cool to be a slut, basically, provided that you wear cool clothes and always work out with a personal trainer. I hated it because everyone acted like it was so ground-breaking, when in fact it just served to reinforce the same gender and class hierarchy as has every other show in the history of time–but it did so in a superfically subversive way, a misleading way. How do you make your life completely revolve around men (how to attract, how to catch, how to keep, how to seduce, how to marry, how to leave, how to forget) but make it seem as though you are a feminist? I know! Make them sexually liberal! Make them drink pink drinks, have spa days! They’re sluts, but they’re upper middle class sluts!
In short, ladies, in this new motherhood episteme, we have a backlash on our hands. And we need to stop helping them with it. To construct a show that suggests that motherhood is 100% a bitch, all the time–a veritable festival of bodily secretions, replete with justifiable hatred of your husband, alcoholic playdates and birthday parties–is irresponsible. And I’ll tell you what: it’s not my experience of motherhood. And to ask the kinds of questions they did of the panelists was misleading and sensationalistic. To make it seem the way it did the other day–featuring a mother who doesn’t comb her daughter’s hair, neglects combing it so much, in fact, that it turns into dread locks–this is just popularizing irresponsible behavior. If this attitude was legitimate or authentic, why would anyone be having another child, ever? Why would Dooce be pregnant right now? Why would Daphne from Cool Mom and Rebecca from Girls Gone Child have newborns at home? Obviously they cherish motherhood. Sure, it can be hard. It can also be awesome. Why make the experience seem like some kind of second-rate slapstick routine or scatological farce? Are we supposed to believe that these women had children for the jokes? Or to give themselves an excuse to drink in order to get through the day? And in case you’re wondering, yes, I am looking in your direction, Momversation.
So while I’m ranting, I’d like to clear up a few things for our childless friends who might be confused after Monday’s Oprah episode:
- Motherhood does not require you to use your children’s diapers for yourself any more than a long car ride would cause you to pee your pants. You can usually find a toilet, regardless of how many children you have and how many carpools in which you have to participate;
- Dirty diapers are gross, but they are really not that big of a deal. You get used to it. There are worse things in life. Like cleaning out the shower drain;
- If you need to take valium or drink to get through your day as a mother, you need help. Like help with your substance abuse problem AND domestic help, whether that comes in the form of a nanny, daycare, or having your parents help you out with some time off;
- If you have time off and you still find yourself taking valium to get through the day, you should go to AA and you should not have any more children because you are not cut out for it;
- While we’re on the topic of help, there is no shame in getting some. It is the rare mother who has 100% patience 100% of the time and doesn’t need time off. If you can afford it, get it. If you can’t afford it but can trade with another mother, or get help from family–get it. You will be a better mother for it. And don’t feel bad about it, either;
- I have taken at least one shower, sometimes two or three, every single day since Mini was born. That’s what bouncy chairs and Baby TV are for;
- You should brush your kids’ hair. For fuck’s sake. It’s not that hard.; and finally,
- Drinking when you are the one in charge of ensuring a child’s safety is irresponsible. I don’t care how many people say it isn’t. It is. Grow up and set an example for your child.
As is the case with most everything, the truth about motherhood is somewhere in the middle, people. And I promise there are no gIrLy FoNts or Manolos required to get through it.