Susan Douglas Essay

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No wonder 81 percent of women in a recent poll said it's harder to be a mother now than it was twenty or thirty years ago, and 56 percent felt mothers were doing a worse job today than mothers back then.

Even mothers who deliberately avoid TV and magazines, or who pride themselves on seeing through them, have trouble escaping the standards of perfection, and the sense of threat, that the media ceaselessly atomize into the air we breathe.

And you may also be worn down by media images that suggest that however much you do for and love your kids, it is never enough. " Whether it's the cover of Redbook or Parents demanding "Are You a Sensitive Mother? Mothers are subjected to an onslaught of beautific imagery, romantic fantasies, self-righteous sermons, psychological warnings, terrifying movies about losing their children, even more terrifying news stories about abducted and abused children, and totally unrealistic advice about how to be the most perfect and revered mom in the neighborhood, maybe even in the whole country.

The love we feel for our kids, the joyful times we have with them, are repackaged into unattainable images of infinite patience and constant adoration so that we fear, as Kristin van Ogtrop put it movingly in The Bitch in the House, "I will love my children, but my love for them will always be imperfect." From the moment we get up until the moment we collapse in bed at night, the media are out there, calling to us, yelling, "Hey you! (Even Working Mother -- which should have known better -- had a "Working Mother of the Year Contest." When Jill Kirschenbaum became the editor in 2001, one of the first things she did was dump this feature, noting that motherhood should not be a "competitive sport.") We are urged to be fun-loving, spontaneous, and relaxed, yet, at the same time, scared out of our minds that our kids could be killed at any moment.

Today's mom needs to be a therapist, pediatrician, mind reader, caretaker, consumer safety expert and homemaker. She says there are four main factors that created the new Mom: "Fear, fantasy, marketing and politics." Douglas says, "I think motherhood is the unfinished business of the women's movement.

Douglas defines "the new Momism," by saying, "It's a highly romanticized myth of the perfect mother. Her 'to do' list includes: piping Mozart into her womb, using algebra flash cards with her 6-month-old, teaching her 3-year-old to read James Joyce, driving five hours to a soccer match, and oh, yes, being sexy and cheerful through all of this." What are the roots of the "new Momism" - how did we get here?

But like increasing numbers of women, we are fed up with the myth -- shamelessly hawked by the media -- that motherhood is eternally fulfilling and rewarding, that it is always the best and most important thing you do, that there is only a narrowly prescribed way to do it right, and that if you don't love each and every second of it there's something really wrong with you.

At the same time, the two of us still have been complete suckers, buying those black-and-white mobiles that allegedly turn your baby into Einstein Jr., feeling guilty for sending in store-bought cookies to the class bake sale instead of homemade like the "good" moms, staying up until A. making our kids' Halloween costumes, driving to the Multiplex 18 at midnight to pick up teenagers so they won't miss the latest outing with their friends.

Central to the new momism, in fact, is the feminist insistence that woman have choices, that they are active agents in control of their own destiny, that they have autonomy.

But here's where the distortion of feminism occurs.


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