So, earlier this week writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner (we’ve written about her before), had a piece on the Wall Street Journal’s blog that ignited what can only be described as a Category 5 shitstorm. The post is entitled “Time for a War on ‘Mommy'”–and, while I am neither a mommy nor a mother, I happen to believe that her point… and maybe, the real source of the vitriol–is relevant for all women. Not just
But first. At issue: use of the word ‘mommy’ by anyone other than the fruit of your womb–and, importantly, in phrases like “Mommy Wars,” “Mommy Track,” and “Mommy Blog”. Here’s a taste:
Why is anyone other than my 3-year old (and his 8-month old brother eventually, but not yet) calling me Mommy? Why are we grown women calling each other Mommy? Is being a mother such a silly avocation that we have to baby it up, stringing it with the hormones and gushy feelings of what our children call us? Does it strike anyone that calling a woman who has had a child Mommy is demeaning and infantilizing?
This started long before the Mommy Wars, though. In the 1980s, the attempt to simplify our conflict over how to balance family and career results in a conclusion called the Mommy Track. It was a way to paint us as women who were so flighty that now that we’d gotten what we wanted–careers!–we realized that jobs weren’t all that and we wanted to go back home, where we could safely watch soap operas. Calling us Mommy then said, ‘You’ve done a good job pretending to be men, but the minute you get a baby in you, you become a hearth-sweeping woman who can only speak in goos and gahs.’
But when enough people say something, it kind of becomes true, doesn’t it? Women began to identify with the name Mommy and started not to mind when businesses would market to them as such: The Mommy Hook is a clip that hangs off my stroller and holds a shopping bag. The Mommy Necklace is a necklace that your child can’t choke on. Mommy Make-Up promises I can ‘look divine in half the time.’
Mommy Make-Up? Really? Ugh.
We are being marketed to as this squishy thing–the Mommy–which confirms our needs but calls us names while doing it. Because when a woman calls herself a Mommy, she is, in some ways, identifying with her captors.
Okay! Now, one might think that a woman–a mother herself–pointing out that she is first and foremost, you know, a person, might be allowed to make her point. Maybe even engender a little sympathy. Perhaps pointing out the fact that there’s a “linguistic discrepancy”–Daddy Track, anyone? Thought not–might ignite just a spark of consciousness around the fact that, yes, women are treated differently when they become parents (in more ways than one: let us not forget the charming fact that employers view an employee who’s a mother as risky–potentially flaky, distracted, likely to duck out early, while they tend to view employees who are fathers as more stable, more reliable, more worthy of promotion). One might wonder if there isn’t something worth exploring in the idea that men don’t get comparatively bent out of shape when they’re called daddies… upon consideration, one might conclude that this is perhaps because men aren’t insidiously infantilized, here and there, all over the culture. Or one might relate, but in a different way: perhaps one is not a mother or a mommy, but a woman writer who would take grand offense if one’s books were classified as a chick lit.
One might even think: mother, mommy; tomato, tomahto…who cares?–and promptly move on.
But, no. The Internet is a dark and scary place, after all, and the commenters came out of their caves in force, some of them resorting, literally, to schoolyard taunts. (One quoted an English nursery-school rhyme about killing a Welshman named Taffy. Just…. really? Who are these people?)
So anyway, my question is: why the vitriol? Why is it so taboo for a woman to suggest she derives her identity from within, rather than without? And why is it so difficult for women to allow their sisters a little nuance in their identities? Can’t someone be a great mother and HATE being called Mommy by someone trying to sell her something (something, in all likelihood, nearly exactly like something else she already owns, but which is not festooned with the grand identifier Mommy)? Can’t someone who enjoys being called Mommy be also intelligent, aware, not a tool who’s blindly “identifying with her captors”? From Erica Jong’s riff on attachment parenting to the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother to Hiroshima in the Morning to Taffy’s takedown on ‘Mommy,’ why does everyone feel so damn invested in what one mother says about the way she’s doing it??
I have a theory.
We like our people simple. Our women especially. Easily defined. Simply categorized. And, when it comes to women, the less threatening, the better. But also: this thing about women having all kinds of options, all sorts of ways to structure their lives, to cobble together their own reality made up of some parts work, some parts fun, some parts family–well, it’s new. And nothing’s perfect–and when we’re having One Of Those Days, maybe we start to question the way we’re doing it. And maybe one of the easiest ways to reassure ourselves we’re Doing It Right is to clobber anyone who dares to do it differently.
What sucks, of course, is that the more we buy into this sort of Us vs. Them thinking, the quicker we are to file everyone else away into one camp or the other–which is bad–and the less able we are to allow ourselves a little bit of nuance–which is worse. And it’s sad. Because each of us is loaded with nuance–that’s what makes us special, as individual as a snowflake.
I know — my mommy told me so.