I Don't Know How She Does It: Sarah Jessica Parker appearance turns into consciousness raising

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Sept. 15 2011 11:03 AM

Sarah Jessica Parker Appearance Turns Into Consciousness Raising Circle

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Photo by Andy Kropa/Getty Images for Moms & The City

For the past few weeks, I had been trying to get into a screening of Sarah Jessica Parker's new working mom comedy I Don't Know How She Does It, a film based on the wonderful best-selling novel by Allison Pearson. At the last minute I got into a special screening which involved a post-viewing Q&A with Parker and Pearson. I didn't look at the invite very closely—I assumed it was a regular press event. But when I got there, the crowd did not look much like journalists: It was almost exclusively women (I counted two men), and almost all of them had the perfectly set "beachy" waves that are meant to look tousled but clearly took at least an hour with a curling iron and various products to create. When the heavily made-up moderators (one in fetching leather pants) got on stage to announce the movie, I realized that this was an event for mom bloggers—the hostesses regularly appear on the televisions in New York City taxis in a View-type talk show called Moms & the City.

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

After the movie (Slate's movie critic Dana Stevens is reviewing, so I'll wait for her to fill you in on how it was), two of the three City moms got on stage to introduce SJP and Pearson. Poor Pearson, the woman introducing her said her name in an even tone, and then squealed with delight when she uttered the great Sarah Jessica's name. A million iPhone photo flashes went off in unison as SJP, wearing her customary five-inch stilettos, walked gracefully out onto the stage. The City moms began the discussion by asking only somewhat coherent questions to Pearson and SJP which boiled down to: How do you do it all without feeling guilty about leaving your kids? One of the moderators called SJP something like the ultimate mom, and she demurred. SJP said, very humbly, that she knows she is not like most working moms, and that her job wouldn't be possible without working women who have so much less than she does helping her out. SJP—who it must be said, has the highest EQ of any celebrity I've ever seen in person—correctly intuited that the crowd really wanted to talk to her, rather than listen to her answer the moderators' boiler plate questions. So she opened the discussion up to the audience.

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And that's when the strangest thing happened. The event turned into a group therapy session/modern consciousness raising circle. A discussion began about the alleged mommy wars—whether working women judge stay-at-home moms and vice-versa. That's when a mother of five stood up and told the room how she often felt trapped, and that she was envious of her friends who got to be in the working world (and that the envy is a two-way street). Another woman expressed her guilt over the fact that she left her young son with his grandmother rather than ferrying him to daily playdates after school. Maybe he would have closer relationships to his classmates, she posited, if she were there to take him to those afternoon events. A third woman, a single mom, lamented the fact that her married friends had agreed to go on a girls' trip with her for her 40th birthday, and now they were asking if they could bring their kids along. "If I can get a sitter for four days, why can't they?"

SJP and Pearson both did their best to relate to the women, to soothe them. You could tell they were really listening and absorbing the questions, and trying to be as comforting as they could. (They were especially sweet to the woman whose son was with his grandmother. "Think about how lucky he is to have grandparents who are still alive!" SJP encouraged her.) As a childless woman, I was saddened but also titillated at the open emotion in the room. Saddened because these women were clearly in need of some outlet for their discontent, and because they thought a celebrity or an author would have a satisfying answer. Titillated because I felt like I got a sneak peek into mom world, a world I plan to join someday but am not yet privy to.

Jezebel's Irin Carmon (the other childless woman in the crowd besides me) asked two questions that took the crowd out of its groovy '70s emotional mode. First, she said that watching the movie and listening to the women in the crowd made her seriously freaked out about having kids (SJP's response, "You're smart to be scared," but it's worth it), and she also asked about a character in the movie named Momo (spoiler alert ahead) who chose to keep an unplanned pregnancy, even though she was super focused on her career, hated babies, and appeared to be in her late 20s/early 30s. Why didn't that character consider an abortion?

That's when the bizarre baby proselytizing occurred. After listening to so many women express just how hard being a mom is, a press person from the Weinstein Co. (the company releasing the movie) went on a five minute ramble about how she just got back from maternity leave, and how she left her job in L.A. to follow her husband to New York, and she didn't know if she was going to find a job here, but it was her choice (she must have used the word "choice" about five times) and it led her to where she is today: married with a beautiful child while Harvey Weinstein calls her day and night. But she's so happy! Seriously happy. This response didn't really answer either of Irin's questions.

Pearson hopped in to respond to the abortion issue. Pearson—who didn't write the screenplay—said that Momo in the movie is actually a combination of two characters in the book. The Momo in the book does not get pregnant. The woman in the book who has the unplanned pregnancy she decided to keep is named Candy, and Candy is much older than Momo. She feels it may be her last chance to have a child, which is why she makes the decision to keep it. I've read the book recently, and my recollection is that Candy does consider abortion, and the issue is handled in a much more nuanced way than it is in the film.

I snuck out before the end of the Q&A. I had to go back to work, and I was afraid if I stayed much longer the atmosphere would have made me consider sterilization. There's a happy ending to this story, at least. Irin told me today that the single mom whose friends wouldn't take the girls' trip with her won a raffle prize: It was a paid vacation to Turks and Caicos.

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