Despite what we would like to think, life is not a multiple choice, scan-tron type of affair. And sometimes, everywhere you look, something reminds you that choices and decisions are much more complicated than either/or. Two cases in point, in case you’ve missed them:
First up, a Mother’s Day op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times by Stephanie Coonz. If you recognize the name, it’s because she’s the author of 2005′s groundbreaking “Marriage: A History” and the newly released “A Strange Stirring: ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s.” What she had to say was this: that archetype of the happy — and saintly — stay-at-home mom? It never was. In fact, she points out, until quite recently, mom was pretty much villified, her social status in the dumpster until Betty Friedan came around. So that whole debate about the mommy wars? Put it to rest.
Coonz’ research has found that, really, whether you stay at home or work outside it, your happiness – and your family’s too — is all about the choice. There’s more, but here’s the take-away:
These findings suggest that it is time to stop arguing over who has things worse or who does things better, stay-at-home mothers or employed mothers. Instead, we should pay attention to women’s preferences and options.
Feminism has also fostered increased respect for men’s ability and desire to be involved parents. So we should also pay attention to expanding men’s ability to choose greater involvement in family life, just as we have expanded women’s ability to choose greater involvement in meaningful work.
While stay-at-home mothers may not have the aura of saintliness with which they were endowed in the 19th century, it’s indisputable that their status and lives have improved since their supposed heyday in the 1950s. On this Mother’s Day, it’s too bad that nostalgia for a golden age of motherhood that never existed still clouds our thinking about what’s best for mothers, fathers and their children.
And then there’s this. The current shitstorm over the “SlutWalks” that are taking place across the nation — and beyond. Sparked by a Toronto police officer who told a bunch of college women that they could avoid being raped if they didn’t dress like sluts, women have been marching in their underwear to protest his message. I get the anger against blaming the victim — just not the underwear. But I do like what salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory had to say about this whole either-or issue. A slut or a prude? She votes neither, and wonders why it has to be one or the other:
I’m tired of the polarizing rhetoric: Are you a prude or a slut? You know what, I’m neither. I understand the concept of re-appropriating slurs, and that many people find it freeing and empowering. Also, political discourse doesn’t exactly lend itself to nuance and subtlety, so shocking slogans can be tremendously effective. On a personal level, though, this kind of reactive language can feel awfully limiting. I’m not a political caricature, and neither is my sexuality.
… So while it’s kick-ass that so many women are proudly calling themselves sluts, I’d also like to defend the prudes, and those of us who would rather toss out those reductive categories altogether. The conversation really starts to get interesting when you say: I’m not a prude, but I’m not a slut; I’m ____
Choices, all of them, and never quite as clear as they seem.