When Working and Mothering Don't Mix, Blame Moms

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Nov. 8 2010 4:22 PM

When Working and Mothering Don't Mix, Blame Moms

Hanna , in reading Erica Jong's piece in the WSJ , I alternated between between total agreement-absolutely, children should have many care-givers! Of course women shouldn't have to give up their lives to to raise children!-and fury. Like Libby , I found Jong to be overly condescending toward modern parenting. Yes, "attachment parenting," as dictated by the Sears dynasty and caricatured in the media, makes wholly unrealistic demands of parents, and of mothers in particular. But while Jong blames the culture in general for putting the parenting burden on each individual family's shoulders, her anger that generations of feminism have failed to improve things much for mothers seems to fall squarely on the mothers themselves.

Maybe there are women out there who have, as a result of societal pressure to be the perfect parent, given up their lives for their children. Since Jong rather famously didn't (and more power to her), it's not surprising that she sides with Elisabeth Badinter, French author of Le Conflit: La Femme et La Mere ( The Conflict: Woman and Mother ) on the question of whether the modern devotion to child-rearing is good for women. (Jess wrote about Badinter here , and I responded here .) Attachment parenting, Jong writes, is a "prison" for mothers, the "ultimate bondage" for women. Jong's fear, as an ardent feminist and someone who knows from backlash, is that the mandates of attachment parenting will become just that: societal rules that effectively (or even, in the case of Gisele Bundchen's proposed breast-feeding requirement, legally) require women to revise their schedules and lives wholly in the service of their children.

Advertisement

But I've never met a woman who changed or left her career to be a perfect parent. The women I know have made compromises after finding too little child care, too little flex time, and too little acceptance of men and women making equal adjustments to their working lives to accomodate young children. To quit or cut back on work on the grounds that one must have time to create one's own home-grown applesauce would be ridiculous, but does anyone really think that's why some women step back from their careers when their kids are at their neediest stage? This is not about whether women put in the time they now have at home filling a "reusable lunch bag" with "produce from the farmer's market," although those are certainly fun and easy behaviors to mock. It's really about why there are so many women at home with the time on their hands to do those things.

Anyone with kids in full-time school has time to do a full-time job-just not necessarily the precise time that many employers seem to want those jobs done in, or the seamless r é sum é s of the kind of employees many want to hire to do them. The difficulties many women find in staying in or returning to work aren't about the absolute demands of the workplace; they're about the particular assumptions of our workplace. In her anger at attachment parenting, Jong puts the cart before the horse. Yes, if all of society begins to assume that the only way to be even an adequate mother is to bake every slice of bread your kid eats from scratch, then working mothers are doomed. But it's also true that if all of society accepted that working from 7-3 instead of 9-5 didn't constitute slacking, it would be far easier for women to stay in the workplace. I'd hoped Jong would spend more time on that question, and less on deeming "pathetic" the efforts of mothers to "control what we can while ignoring what's beyond our reach."

Jong's daughter, in her companion piece , gives a nod to the clich é that the feminists of Jong's generation "worked hard so that the women of my generation could have the choice to work or to stay home," but the real disappointment is that it's still not much of a choice. Individual women looking for a way to keep the baby and the toddler happy, healthy, and safe so they can work in a world that assumes wage-earners have no other responsibilities may see no choice at all. When Jong assumes that the woman lawyer who quits her firm to raise a child is "pursuing a higher goal" when she may in fact be pursuing nothing more than the opportunity to see her baby during the daylight hours, Jong is giving the corporate world a pass it doesn't deserve. She may be worried that our culture of "attachment parenting" will blame a woman who chooses to stay at work, but a woman who makes a different decision shouldn't have to shoulder all the blame for feeling like that particular choice is a zero-sum game.

TODAY IN SLATE

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 4:33 PM Walmart Is Killing the Rest of Corporate America in Solar Power Adoption
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 1:47 PM The Best Way to Fry an Egg
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.