The Media’s Crush on Mommies: What’s the Big Deal?
Has anyone else noticed that the media has a big old crush on mothers these days? Since May, I can’t go online or open a magazine without seeing an article about attachment parenting, breastfeeding, stay-at-home moms, working moms, stay-at-home working moms (yes, a whole new category to confuse us), home births, over-coddling, internal feminist conflicts, and lazy American kids. Are the media publishing these articles to support moms or are they purposely pitting us against each other to increase magazine sales?
The best example of the moms-in-media craze is TIME Magazine’s May cover article “Are You Mom Enough?” Excuse me, I’m sorry; TIME is asking ME if I’m mom enough? I’d like to see if the idiots who chose this title could push something the size of a basketball out of something the size of an orange. The cover features a defiant and sexy 26-year-old mom breastfeeding her very tall three-year-old – an image clearly meant to startle, provoke and ignite a controversy. Did we take the bait? Yup.
Digging into the article, I was surprised to see it wasn’t actually primarily about breastfeeding. Instead, it profiled Dr. Bill and Martha Sears, a husband and wife duo who espouse a philosophy called attachment parenting (see below for one of their definitions – there are many). I’m only slightly joking when I tell you that five paragraphs into this article, I found the author Kate Pickert so judgmental and biased that I wanted to go out, find a seven-year-old, breastfeed him and wear him on my chest 24/7. And this is coming from me, a mom who weaned her daughter at twelve months on the dot and wanted the nanny next to me, caring for the kid, right after labor was over (an exaggeration, but barely).
All controversy aside, however, the article did bring to light an important point: we often know next to nothing about the people writing many of our well-worn parenting books. While I don’t mind that the Sears’ religious beliefs are different than my own (they’re Evangelical), I’m disappointed that for the most part I blindly follow the advice of often self-appointed experts whose backgrounds and experience are unknown to me. Why don’t we parents look critically at where parenting advice is coming from? And why don’t we expect their parenting theories to be rigorously tested, as we do in other areas of health and child care?
Next up on the mommy media front is The Atlantic’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, formerly one of the highest-ranking women in American government. If you are a mom and you’ve felt somewhere between a little bit screwed and totally screwed career-wise, I highly recommend this article. Slaughter finally tells the truth: we have yet to find a way for women to reach the upper rungs of the career ladder while raising kids. Turns out, this article had been buzzing around in Slaughter’s head for years and, sadly, it was her female peers who discouraged her from puncturing the myth that women can indeed have it all. Now what does that tell us?
This article is the real deal, but even here it’s clear that The Atlantic was eager to spark a national debate that gets us to buy more magazines and increase their online traffic. Don’t believe me? Well then take a look at what a staff writer for The Atlantic, Derek Thompson, wrote on their website about viral success (meaning how to get an article to reach a large audience):
“Two years ago, a monthly magazine published a successful article about women and society that launched a national debate. Last year, it published another article about women and society that launched a national debate. Last week, it published yet another article about women and society that launched the loudest national debate of them all. The name of that magazine? If you don’t know what magazine I’m talking about, scroll to the top of this page.”
So here we have two articles, at TIME and The Atlantic, both tackling important issues and both egging us on towards a debate that essentially pits women – working and non-working, breast-feeding and bottle-feeding, fully attached and semi-attached – against each other.
I’ve read a few other pieces out there that seem to lean more towards enlightenment than outrage. Samantha Shapiro has a fascinating piece in The New York Times magazine about our country’s shift toward au natural birthing experiences (full disclosure: she’s a friend of mine). There’s also Elizabeth Kolbert’s intriguing essay in The New Yorker about the difference between our lazy American kids and the Matsigenka tribe in the Peruvian Amazon. Apparently, their six-year-old girls practically run their own households while my kid can’t even tie her shoes.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Mona Simpson’s article in the New York Times magazine this past Sunday about nannies’ roles in the family. Avoid it, as it offers nothing interesting to the parenting conversation and, like TIME, mostly tries to push our mommy indignation buttons. You get the sense, as you read it, that an editor said to Simpson, “Hey, you had a baby some time in the last 20 years, right? Did you have a nanny? Cool! How about writing a piece about it that we can use to accompany these provocative photos that will make moms feel extra guilty?”
I’ve come to learn that the deluge of mommy-related articles seems to begin every year around Mother’s Day and slows down when the kids are ready to strap on their shiny backpacks to start a new school year. Whether it’s because we’re a driving force in society whose needs must be heard or a reflection of a media happily tugging at our vulnerabilities has yet to be determined. In the meantime, I’ll be clicking away and trying to find the answers, just like everyone other mom I know.
~By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop