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Tuesday, March 14, 2006


MotherTalk with Leslie Morgan Steiner

Roving blogger Mary Tsao here, back with more frontline coverage of the mommy wars.

Last night I went to my second local MotherTalk event. This one was at a beautiful home located in the hills of North Berkeley. A dozen women gathered with author Leslie Morgan Steiner and enjoyed an intimate discussion about her book Mommy Wars.

Steiner's book is a collection of twenty six essays written mostly by mothers (a couple are written by women who do not have children) with an introduction and a conclusion written by Steiner. Some of the essays are by names you may have heard, such as Molly Jong-Fast (Erica Jong's daughter) and Jane Smiley. Some have great titles. I particulary like the title of Inda Schaenen's essay "On Being a Radical Feminist Stay-at-Home Mom." The essays in the book give voice to the lives of women; the title of the book gets the book sold and the voices heard.

When asked, Steiner admitted to having nothing to do with the title of her book (as is often the case with an author), but she understands why the title is a good one. A good title will get you press coverage, interviews, a spot on the Today show, and sales. Ultimately, it will get people to read your book, and what good is a book if nobody reads it?

Steiner started the discussion last night with the idea that it is a lack of self esteem within ourselves (as women) that causes us to look for external validation. During this process we judge ourselves and others based on what we do or do not do and on what they do or do not do. Breastfeeding is a good example of an issue that can pit mothers against each other. Working outside the home is another. She then went on to read part of the book's introduction, including this small section:

"I went back to my job the Tuesday after Memorial Day. Max's three-month birthday. I was amazed to be paying another woman to do what I craved most in the world, to stay home with mylittle bird. While I drove out of the driveway, dressed in a black coatdress and full makeup for the first time in weeks, my heart lay beating on the changing table.

I got through the day with a single vow: not to cry.

...Over the next five years, I worked as a variety of part-time and full-time jobs, my career progressed, and I had two more children. I have no doubt that my life, as well as my family's, is immeasurably richer due to my decision to combine work and motherhood."

Of course, it's rarely easy."

So are the mommy wars fact or fiction? We are the generation who was promised we could do anything, and many of us were raised with feminist mothers. But what if what we want to do is stay home with our kids? Is that okay? If we stay home are we compromising our feminist beliefs and being traitors to the revolution? What about if we work? Do we feel we have to justify our decision without admitting that we actually enjoy earning money? If we work part-time, how do we define ourselves: as a stay at home mom who works part-time or as a part-time worker who also stays home with the kids? It didn't take long for this group of women to come to the conclusion that the most heated mommy war often is the one that's battling inside our own minds.

I am going to give Steiner's book a chance. I'll take off the book cover if I can't stand the title. The essays are written by a diverse group of women who have something to say. I've only read eight of the essays in the book so far and some I liked, some I didn't; with some I agreed, with some I didn't. Before I pass judgement on Mommy Wars the book, I want to finish reading it. And I don't want to pass judgement on what any individual author has to say about her own life and the decisions she has made. Our tendency to judge others is in part what brought us to the idea of a mommy war in the first place.

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