On The Sex and the City-ification of Motherhood

by anna on April 8, 2009


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 View definition in a new window 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.

carrie_bradshaw_computer.jpgI 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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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;
  3. 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;
  4. 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;
  5. 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;
  6. 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;
  7. You should brush your kids’ hair. For fuck’s sake. It’s not that hard.; and finally,
  8. 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.


Kerry April 8, 2009 at 5:14 am

Yep. Exactly.

Especially the part about the valium and the drinking at the kids’ parties. That absolutely blew my mind.

Although, I have to say, I’m impressed by your showering regime.

Chris April 8, 2009 at 6:30 am

Wooooo! You go, girl! I didn’t see the Oprah show (like you, I would shamelessly love to be on the Oprah Show, or the Today Show, or my own show – which would be better), because it didn’t interest me for many of the reasons you discussed in your piece. (You’re a genius by the way – like a “with it” Dr. Laura (no offense).)

Loved this. All of it!

Chris´s last blog post..Let’s Dance, Baby

Christine April 8, 2009 at 6:36 am

This is a well articulated argument. I caught a little more than half of that Oprah show and thought I would be horrified for my kids to see a minute of it for fear they would think that’s how motherhood made me feel. I admit to them when I’m having a tough day or situation, but I would never want them to think that they gross me out or that their existence has made me hate their father or driven me to medicating myself.

TheOtherJennifer April 8, 2009 at 6:57 am

What you said. IN CAPS. WhoTF ever said it would be easy? I didn’t watch Oprah because I was at work…and frankly, I used to lurve Oprah but now, not so much.

Honestly I think some of these broads just want an excuse to be lazy or indifferent or use it as a forum to create faux mommy horror stories. Peeing in a kid’s diaper – seriously, that’s nasty and really, quite over the top. As in, not believable. Or a cry for some kind of dubious attention.

kristin/kwr221 April 8, 2009 at 7:22 am

Thank you!

kristin/kwr221´s last blog post..A little bling bling

Perpetua April 8, 2009 at 7:23 am

Wait, the peeing in the diaper actually happened? That sounds more like “vanity excretion,” as in, “My ass is so small I fit into a Huggies size 4!” Granted my kid hasn’t actually come out yet, so I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but I’ve heard tell there’s still time in the day for the important things, like peeing, perhaps even washing one’s hands afterwards.

Perpetua´s last blog post..Random Thoughts: Baby Ham Edition

Marinka April 8, 2009 at 7:24 am

I love this post. I watched Oprah on Monday and my takeaway from it was:

1. Really, Dooce? You don’t like snot and shit? Weird. (I still love you though! call me!)
2. If you board a plane without diapers for your non-potty trained kid, that’s poor planning. And not because motherhood is hard. Because you suck at planning.
3. Motherhood is not the hardest job in the world. I’m pretty sure that mining is harder.
4. Cheryl Hines is like a Kelly Ripa wannabe. Kelly tells parenting stories better and funnier.
5. I sort of feel like Oprah can’t stomach these “motherhood” shows.
6. Stefanie from Baby on Bored was by far the best and most fun to watch.
7. Those women who wrote a book spoke exclusively in cliches. I assume it’s an emerging art form.
8. I’m now worried that I’ve been very bitchy in these comments.
9. And that I can’t stop making a list until I get to 10.
10. Thank god it’s 10.

oh,–I agree with your assessment of SATC, but I loved it anyway. Maybe because of it.

Marinka´s last blog post..How to Have a Nervous Breakdown: Part One

Emily April 8, 2009 at 7:29 am

Way to go! I am impressed with your argument, and I totally agree with it too. I don’t have any kids. I am sure motherhood is difficult, but yeah– mining would be more difficult! And drinking while caring for a child? Not close to acceptable. Not one bit.

Emily´s last blog post..Illness, Death, and A Bit Of Good News

NGS April 8, 2009 at 7:43 am

Reading a lot of these mommy blogs makes me really nervous about having kids. I love my husband and want to continue to love him. So reading this makes me feel better. It’s not all about crazy drunkenness and slovenly hair!! Thanks for writing such a coherent narrative about what’s going on with all this. (Although, I too, adored SATC!! Nipples!!)

NGS´s last blog post..A Tale of Woe! And Spring Break!

becky April 8, 2009 at 7:59 am

Hee hee, Perpetua, “vanity excretion”!

Great post. And aren’t you startled to find yourself on the same side of an issue as Chicken Liver? It’s okay though.

I think the truest part of this is that it’s largely about us being sold to, at this point. Because, while I agree with your 8 precepts of parenting, do you think anyone really takes what those moms are saying that seriously? I feel like the blog voice/genre has kind of seeped out into all this discourse of parenting, bringing with it a certain amount of hyperbole and crazy-mom performativity.

becky´s last blog post..Blind Date

Juliet April 8, 2009 at 8:12 am

Looks like I have to set up Season Pass of Oprah again. People are peeing in their kids’ diapers because they are too busy to find bathrooms?

Juliet´s last blog post..Temecula-Area Korean Religious Retreat Shooting

Crash Commanda April 8, 2009 at 10:00 am

Great post. Be careful what you wish for: Oprah, and all those other shows, are all about ratings, not really about ‘helping’ their viewers, getting to ‘the truth’, etc. Remember, she was Jerry Springer before there was a Jerry Springer. You won’t get great ratings by doing a show that says being a mom is a mixture of fun, rewarding, exhausting, and lots of boring/drudgework.
All the media ever wants to say is that women love being moms so much they’re leaving the workplace in the droves, or they hate being moms so much they’re self-medicating. In reality, most of us moms are doing some combo of raising our kids, working at something else at least part time, going to the bathroom and combing our kids’ hair.

Heather April 8, 2009 at 11:45 am

I have waited patiently since Monday for your post about the Oprah show and I was not disappointed at all. I didn’t get to watch it as I was at work and well, I don’t particularly care for Oprah. *hides * But anywho, I am childless and I couldn’t agree more about what you said. Yes, the jokes are funny but I dunno, sometimes, it just seems totally exaggerated. If you’re drinking at a kid’s party, than doesn’t that mean you’re driving home, with your kid(s) in the car? And doesn’t that mean you’re driving under the influence?

I’m sure motherhood is hard but as someone said up there, other things are hard too. And not to sound snarky, but don’t these women have husbands? Pawn the kids off on them for a day and go do something for you. *lol*

Elizabeth April 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm

So wait, you’re saying that you don’t HAVE to go crazy and be on some kind of pharmaceutical to be a mother? Well shit. I need to go have some sex and try to make a kid. Pronto.

Elizabeth´s last blog post..Electrical (and otherwise) outage

Queen B April 8, 2009 at 5:12 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m not a fan of Oprah, just can’t stomach that sanctimonious tone anymore, but I did watch this episode. And was horrified, like everyone should have been. Who the hell doesn’t bathe their kid, and then get to be on Oprah and be applauded for it?

Queen B´s last blog post..Stranger Danger?

The Lawyer Mom April 8, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I missed the show, too, though I tried to get a sense of it through the comments posted on Oprah; they were . . . extremely bizarre, alternating between help-me-I’m-suicidal and moms-get-over-yourselves . At least the first 2 pages were. I had to stop reading them.

I think Camille Paglia came from a Dworkin back-lash, if you were to ask me, that is, which no one did.

The Lawyer Mom´s last blog post..Little Lawyers Everywhere (Redux)

Meredith April 8, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Thank you SO MUCH. While watching Opera, I kept thinking, “What will their kids think when they see this someday?” The moms sounded so whiny and disfunctional. I have been wondering for awhile when it became cute to act like drinking to “survive” dealing with your kids was acceptable. These women are going to have some major backlash when their children grow up and start blogs with addresses like, “iruinedmymomslife.blogspot.com” or, “hatedbymymom.com”.

eliz April 8, 2009 at 6:27 pm

Fantastic post. I remember being shocked when I became a mom that I could actually take a shower a few times a week and eat a full meal and even have a conversation with my husband. That wasn’t what I had been led to believe at all.

I didn’t see the show. It sounds like there might have been a number of things going on. I tend to sort of go into standup mode when I’m nervous and speaking in any type of group situation, and I’d say Oprah is the ultimate group situation. Maybe they were a little amped up bc they were on TV? Let’s face it – these gals love to perform.

But what I really suspect is that Oprah and/or her producers either set them up or vigorously encouraged them before the show to really “let it all out!” and tell it like it is and be ballsy because Oprah doesn’t like kids or parenting and is like a squicked-out 12-year-old when it comes to the messy aspects of child care and has a vested interest in making parenting look like sheer mental-illness-inducing drudgery. Because that elevates her position of guru who has the secret to living your best life ever even more.

eliz April 8, 2009 at 6:30 pm

But, even more than how anti-kid Oprah is or how all-caps nuts the Momversation women are, this really was an awesome post.

LY /PauvrePlume April 8, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Isn’t it funny how most of your commenters hadn’t seen the infamous Oprah episode in question? Well, OK, admittedly, I’m too lazy to go count the comments and see if “most” were from non-viewers, but… it seemed like that way, I swear. And I’m another one. @Heather above: I am quite vehemently anti-Oprah. The show, the person, the whole Dr. Phil/Rachael Ray/Nick Berkus-making machine… So… I didn’t watch. But I did enjoy your post — mostly the stuff about SatC because I’m almost vehemently anti-SatC as I am anti-Harpo. For precisely the reasons you mentioned. I found the entire premise and stupid pigeon-holed pseudo-”characters” utterly insulting to the female intellect. I saw some episodes to give it a chance, but, pretty much without fail, I ended up angry afterward. I mean, the writers even managed to drag the strong, independent, intelligent lawyer-woman down to the pathetic male/sex-crazed level.

God, I’m angered and disappointed all over again just thinking about it!
(ok, not really, but seriously…)

Anyway. That’s all I got. If I could type it out in a whimsical pink script with martini flourish, I would…

LY /PauvrePlume´s last blog post..April is National Poetry Month! (no fooling, thankfully)

Drama Queen Jenner April 8, 2009 at 7:04 pm

There are many, many reasons I don’t care for Oprah, but this show sounds like it would have pushed me over the fence. I can see needing to pee in a kid’s diaper (provided a kid wasn’t in it at the time) if you’re so lazy in your parenting that your kids have clogged all the toilets with play-dough or barbies or whatever… Um, no.

Loved, loved, LOVED your post.

p.s. I have both you and Dooce in my Google Reader. Your posts have all been read. Hers are in the “when I get around to it” folder.

Jennifer H. April 9, 2009 at 12:27 am

Hi there. Stumbled upon your blog for the first time yesterday after Googling “Dooce on Oprah.” So glad I did! You are an eloquent, funny, brilliant writer with laser-sharp insights.

Thank you for this post. After viewing much of the aftermath of the show online (I have seen three episodes of Oprah in my lifetime), my takeaway was nearly identical to yours. Who are these people? My “baby” just turned 16 and is one of the most delightful human beings I know. It has been such a privilege to be his mother, even though (gasp) there are aspects of mothering babies/toddlers/grade-schoolers/teens that are hard. And come to think of it, it’s pretty great to look back on it and realize, “wow, I can do hard things. cool.”

Wish the Oprah peeps had included you on the roster. Would have added some balance w/o sacrificing wit.

Elizabeth Esther April 9, 2009 at 4:50 am

Thank you SO much! I am a mother of 5 and I was horrified by that show. My daughter actually came in at one point, saw Heather say something about “What the HELL happened to my life?” and looked at me and said: “Mommy, is that how you felt when I was born?”

Yep. Here’s the real tragedy of this Sex & the City-ification of motherhood: our children pay the price. All the children watching that show now know that the only way their moms can get through their birthday parties is by getting drunk! You know, our grandmothers would have something to say about these mothers. One word: unfit.

Thank you for your post. I am deleting Dooce from my bloglines.

Elizabeth Esther´s last blog post..Week In The Life of Prayer. Day 5: Praying For My Enemies.

jdg April 9, 2009 at 5:38 am

I can’t believe I totally agree with a sorority girl.

jdg´s last blog post..

Dana April 9, 2009 at 5:38 am

First, I have to confess that I loved SATC. My fascination was with the architecture of NYC, the fashion and the fictional lives of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha. Pure fiction because I don’t know any women who have slept with that many men. Nor do I know any women who can afford designer fashion and still never wear the same outfit twice.

That being said, there is so much truth to what you wrote and I found myself nodding several times throughout your post.

I missed the Oprah show, but I went to her website to get the highlights. I’m still not sure what I think, I’m still processing those thoughts.

However, I do think there’s a catch-22 here.

When my mother became a mother it was taboo to talk about the difficult parts of motherhood. “A mother should be patient and kind and always have her poker face on. If the day is hard, pretend it isn’t.” I think it was my aunt who said that.

So now, today, mothers are saying “Umm, yeah, being a mom is not all glitter and rainbows. Sometimes it sucks monkey toes.” The consequence of this is that people think we’re whining, and they think we can handle it and that we’re asking for sympathy.

We’re damned if we do, and damned if don’t. And this “comment” has turned into a mini post. I may have to write my thoughts in my own blog!

But yes, so much truth to your words.

Dana´s last blog post..

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