Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Newsweek's "Yummy vs. Slummy"--what a missed opportunity

The new issue of Newsweek has a 2-page spread on motherhood. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a wasted opportunity for a meaningful discussion. True to the mass media's formula, even an article that has the thesis "the mommy wars are killing me" manages to work "vs." into its title. The Yummy vs. Slummy article's author, Kathleen Deveny, glosses over real-world discussions about motherhood and dives into mommy lit. About a third of the piece is spent discussing novels such as Babyville and Slummy Mummy. To me, this strange choice of focus is like consulting Bridget Jones'sDiary to get a read on the current state of feminism.

I happen to personally agree that mommy lit is tiresome, but it's important to keep in mind that both Deveny and I have 7-year-old kids. We've been through the transition of motherhood and come to terms with what it means personally. I can see how mommy lit would still appeal to new moms just as I Don't Know How She Does It gave me a good laugh and cry back in 2002.

The glaringly missed opportunity in the Newsweek piece was to talk about significant nonfiction works. Deveny cites Leslie Bennetts and interviews Camille Paglia--hardly representative of the many thoughtful discussions about motherhood that go on these days. You know my favorites: and Opting Out? are two of the resources I wish Newsweek had consulted, with a shout-out to the many thoughtful Mom bloggers out there for good measure.

Deveny says that "I am bored to death with talking, reading, and hearing about motherhood. We didn't exactly invent kids." The danger of Deveny's approach is that she dismisses the entire discussion about motherhood as narcissistic and obsessed. I maintain that each new mother does need support for her own transition (it doesn't feel narcissistic when you are going through it, that's for sure) and once you progress beyond the individual level to look at the ways that a new generation of mothers are grappling with the challenges and opportunities of motherhood, there is a lot of very interesting and important work being done.

As Deborah Siegel explored in-depth in her thoughtful book Sisterhood, Interrupted, the mantra "the personal is political" is still relevant today. I maintain that for our generation, as the inheritors of feminist progress that opened doors to school and employment, motherhood is the watershed event for many of us that brings gender roles and work issues to the forefront of our awareness. Employers may not be able to discriminate as blatantly against all women as they once did, but the unfair treatment of mothers in the workplace is one of the many battles that still need to be fought and won.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Newsweek ≠ meaningful discussion

11:15 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

I know, but it just kills me to see such a powerful mass-media publication land a belly flop when it finally gets around to talking about motherhood.

I thought Judith Warner's "Mommy Madness" feature that preceded the publication of her book Perfect Madness a few years ago (Feb. 2005) was much better. But I am not willing to settle for coverage every 2.5 years!

12:49 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Do send a letter to the editor, though; you never know when they might decide to listen!

12:54 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

I actually already have sent in a letter to Newsweek. Thanks for the encouragement and we'll see if they publish it.

1:46 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

I think you made a great point about things like Mommy Lit being more relevant to new moms. My kids are 11, 6 and 2, so I've gone through pregnancy/newborn chaos at 26 as the only one of my friends with kids, at 31 when it seemed like all my friends/co-workers were pregnant, and at almost 36 when a lot of my friends were done having their babies. I am also a labor doula, so I meet a lot of expecting moms. Every so often I have to kick myself mentally and remind myself of what I was like with my first baby. It is also funny to see my friends who just became moms acting like the moms who drove them crazy when they didn't have kids. I loved "I don't know how she does it." I read it right after I went back to work after having my second baby and shortly before leaving the corporate world to start a business named after that baby...Sofia Bean.

Now to go find my Newsweek. I know I saw it somewhere. I'm still stewing over their commentary piece last week where one of their writers criticized today's parents in general and claimed she wouldn't have a baby until she found some better mom role models. She was commenting on a bunch of moms who were crazy enough to attend some uber birthday party for a 2-year old. What childless person cannot find an excuse to get out of one of those?


5:53 PM  
Blogger Claudine Wolk said...

Yikes! After reading the Newsweek article, I'm dumbfounded. Did the author actually use a quote from another mother "But once you are a mother, you need to get over it. There is no need to whine about it?" With that thinking, I'm amazed women were able to get the vote! What would Alice Paul say? Oh, I know, how about "if your not part of solution, you are part of the problem." Maybe that is a bit harsh. To your excellent point, Amy, the author of the article may have considered that when a group of people continually talk about an issue, it is because something is wrong that needs to addressed, not swept under the rug.

9:17 PM  
Blogger PunditMom said...

Don't even get me started on yummy vs. slummy!

9:52 PM  
Anonymous coffeequeen said...

Well said!

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agreed with Deveney. I'm a young, new mother myself--my son just turned one and my second is due in February--and I have been totally disgusted with the self-righteous tone of MANY, but certainly not ALL, of the message boards and comments on websites like BabyCenter and BabyZone. I don't think Deveney was insulting mothers who blog or post; she was criticizing those who use the internet to scold and judge mothers who don't do it their way (bottlefeed, co-sleep or not, etc.). Moms ARE narcissistic--just look at the way so many "mommies" sign off on comments to unrelated subjects. There is nothing wrong with "Parkdale Mom" except that when you're commenting on a non-motherhood related subject, like a city council election, it sounds pretentious. What about motherhood gives you some higher moral authority?

7:24 PM  

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