In the current New Yorker, Tina Fey lays it all out there, as only she can. Work. Parenthood. Guilt. Aging. Enjoy:
The writer’s daughter recently checked out a book from the preschool library called “My Working Mom,” which depicted a witch mother who was very busy and had to fly away to a lot of meetings. The two men who wrote this book probably had the best intentions, but the topic of working moms is a tap-dance recital in a minefield. What is the rudest question you can ask a woman? “How old are you?” “What do you weigh?”
No, the worst question is: “How do you juggle it all?” The second-worst question is: “Are you going to have more kids?”
Science shows that fertility and movie offers drop off steeply for women after forty. The baby-versus-work life questions keep the writer up at night. She has observed that women, at least in comedy, are labeled “crazy” after a certain age. The writer has the suspicion that the definition of “crazy” n show business is a woman who keeps talking after no one wants to fuck her anymore. The fastest remedy for this “women are crazy” situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages. That is why the writer feels obligated to stay in the business, and that is why she can’t possibly take time off for a second baby, unless she does, in which case that is nobody’s business. Does the writer want to have another baby? Or does she just want to turn back time and have her daughter be a baby again? That night, as she was putting the witch book in her daughter’s backpack to be returned to school, the writer asked her, “Did you pick this book because your mommy works? Did it make you feel better about it?” Her daughter looked at her matter-of-factly and said, “Mommy, I can’t read. I thought it was a Halloween book.”
Funny, in an idiot-shivers kind of a way. First: A kids book called “My Working Mom” in which the working mom is a witch was actually published? Just… wow.
Then, of course, there’s Fey’s disturbingly pithy definition of the word crazy. (I read another interesting piece about aging while female in Hollywood this weekend here.) Sure, Hollywood–especially writers, especially comedy writers–is kind of the worst of the worst when it comes to sexist work environs, and it’s a relatively small sample. But. It’s disturbing when you consider what Hollywood writers do. They, quite literally, create the cultural myths that haunt and inspire us. And “they” are over 80% male in movie writing, 75% male in TV. Never wonder again why fat old men are consistently paired with beautiful twentysomethings.
And then, there’s the motherhood question. What will a baby mean for my career? What will another baby mean for my career? We’re often nearing a critical patch, professionally, at the very same time that our fertility takes a dive. Which leaves us with a choice–Ramp down the career?–and, often, a compromise. Questions and choices that are damn near universal for women. But for men… well, not so much. It’s like they wrote the script for corporate culture, too. Oh, wait, they did: they built it.
But, like the rest of it, the question of what’s at stake if we leave is universal. Don’t get me wrong: I realize Tina Fey is Tina Fey, and you and I are, well, not. But, whether we want to see Hollywood’s definition of “crazy” get a makeover, or our employer’s (not to mention our government’s) policies made over to accommodate the reality of working women’s lives, we have to stick around.
Just one more thing to juggle.