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Posts Tagged ‘Taffy Brodesser-Akner’

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 mommies mothers.

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.

Moving on:

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.


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Let’s revisit your school picture from seventh grade, shall we? No doubt, it’s tragic. Beyond the unfortunate hair, what you probably see is a very uncertain self lurking behind that all-too-eager smile.

For many of us, life took an abrupt left once adolescence reared its awkward head. Maybe we were one of the cool kids. Maybe we were irretrievably awkward. In either case, we were filled with self doubt. Self-definition came in the form of how someone treated us at lunch or whether the phone rang that night. So silly. And yet.

You have to wonder how much of that insecure self stays with us into adulthood, whispering in our ear, making us second guess our decisions, and nudging us to replay invisible patterns etched long ago. Are we still looking for approval from erstwhile best friends? Is there a part of us that still wants to please the arbiters of seventh grade taste — or show them up? Hello there, mean girls! Take a look at me now!

This all came to mind this week, thanks to two heartfelt essays by screenwriter Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who clearly took a hit once she hit double-digits. In the first piece, from the LA Times, she addresses her battered high school self:

To describe me as unpopular is an insult to those who were chess geeks and 98-pound weaklings. I was friendless; I was hated. I spent four years eating lunch alone, sitting by myself, feeling alienated. All this time later, I am still unsure of the subtlety that separates the girls who attract from those who repel. But anyone who has experienced the narrowed eyes of someone regarding you with contempt, or understood that the two girls whispering nearby were talking about you, knows when a cause is lost. My social status was assessed immediately. From my first day at school, nobody greeted me. Nobody offered to show me around. When I asked a preppy-looking girl where chemistry was, she said, “Up your ass, loser.”

The second essay, which ran a few days later in Salon, provides the backstory of how she went from popular to pariah the summer between sixth and seventh grade, and then jumps into the present, where Brodesser-Akner reveals that she is now friends with her tormentors on Facebook:

After accumulating college friends and ex-boyfriends, as we all do when we join Facebook, I took a chance and looked up Barbara. With the nervousness that accompanied me on every bus trip to school following my fall from grace, I pressed the button that would send her a friend request. Immediately, I received confirmation: She had agreed, finally, to be my friend. Brave now, I found Alison, then Amy, then Nancy. I was euphoric. Here I am, back in the inner sanctum. I sort through their pictures, their posts, their lives. I cheer their triumphs, their babies’ birthdays, photos from their ski trips. I cobble together the story of how life has been since we knew each other, deliberately, forcefully forgetting how it was we parted.

I check their updates and their statuses with eagerness each day. Like an addict, I am euphoric when I am practicing my addiction, remorseful and self-hating when I’m not. I am shocked at how easily I have forgiven these people. I am filled with the warm light of acceptance; I am wrapped in the cozy blanket of belonging.

Happy ending, right? Except for the fact that she has been pummeled by many of the anonymous comments that followed her essay.

Which leads me to wonder if our inner seventh grader is an indelible part of our iconic self. Could that tattered adolescent baggage be one reason we are so eager to please? Why decisions come hard? Why we judge ourselves by others judging? Is there still a tiny part of us that worries about being mocked by the mean girls?

I can’t help thinking this lingering desire to fit in impacts women more than men, especially as we navigate the somewhat unfamiliar turf of the workplace. Because we are unsure of the rules, do we take reactions more seriously? Are we more tentative? Continually looking over our shoulder to make sure those jerks in the corner aren’t whispering about us? Worse yet, do we avoid even putting ourselves out there, sticking with Mr. Safe Path, so we can avoid the risk of rejection?

I wonder. But meanwhile, even as I type this, I hear an annoying little voice, whispering in my ear: What will (choose one) think? To which the only possible answer is: Who cares.

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