Good morning, Women of Google+,What Elisabeth Badinter is addressing in The Conflict is the urge to be a perfect mother. But it's a quixotic urge. If you are preparing organic baby food, breastfeeding on demand, washing cloth diapers and co-sleeping, there's little time for writing, filing, painting, data entry, making music, nursing, engaging in politics, teaching or appearing on TV to tell other women what to do. - Erica Jong, _We Want Perfection, But Also Need Sleep
As a follow-up to Mother's Day, I've been stewing about the boatloads of commentary on Elisabeth Badinter's book, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women
since April 13, when KJ Dell'Antonia, wrote the attached article in the Times' Motherlode,
but I have been traveling and haven't had time to address it. At the above link, several prominent women weigh in on the various issues women face regarding motherhood and work, namely: To Be a Working Mother or a Stay-At Home Mother, these are the only two questions!
But it was Erica Jong, whose 1973 book Fear of Flying
sent shock waves of potential female sexual liberation through the publishing world, whose words got to me personally. The psychology of baby-raising has had mothers and fathers stocking their bookshelves with How To books for decades: to breast feed or not to breast feed, to spank or not to spank, to coddle or not to coddle, to console every cry and scraped knee or note, and on, and on, and on ad nauseum.
Surely my parents would have failed every single parenting test. First my father had the audacity to die and leave my mother alone to fend for herself. Then (horrors!) my mother returned to the work force because she had to,
forcing my siblings and me to make our own lunch (multiple horrors!) and do our own laundry (OMG, call the Child Slave Labor authorities!). It was tough for my mother in a community where most women had lives that were completely different than hers...than ours.
As a result, when I grew up I did not want marriage and children to be my only choice(s) in life. My parents' friends were mostly artists and I witnessed up close and personal how the women struggled to find any
private space for themselves in which to create within the tremendous demands of marriage and parenting.
For women the issues of marriage and children, a career or life's work, staying at home or venturing out into the world seem to have slowly been reduced to the single topic of guilt: if a woman does not burn the midnight oil at work without family conflict she will not rise to the top of the corporate ladder; if she does not burn the midnight oil at home, she will disappoint her family.
I rarely if ever read anything about the identities of a women separate from marriage and family. It is the issue of having A Room of One's Own
as Virginia Woolf wrote in 1929. It is, as Erica Jong so well puts it, the issue of needing time for writing, painting, making music, engaging in politics or teaching, for instance. I cannot even begin to count the number of women I have met in my life who have given up on some endeavor that was personally important to them, artistic or otherwise, because of how difficult it is to find time for oneself.
Whatever any particular woman's choice: to marry or not, to be a mother or not, to have a career or not, the one thing none of us needs is another woman judging the choices we make in our own lives. My life is not any other woman's life. My mother needed understanding, not judgement.
When are we going to stop applying the notion of perfection to women - what we look like, how we behave, how perfect we are as mothers, wives, friends, employees? When are we going to be defined by who we are as people, rather than by our success or failure at meeting everyone else's needs?
Working in the art world(s) as I have done for my entire adult life, there is one thing I can guarantee: anyone who wants to be an artist must have the freedom to experiment and throw out, to test, to express, to venture down unpaved roads...to be unformed and imperfect. Without that freedom nothing will be discovered. For within the demands of perfection from women, creativity and self-expression will surely be choked off...and the artistic Muse will flee.
What if children were raised to see their mothers as complex human beings, rather than as people whose only purpose in life is to meet everyone else's needs? I can only imagine that world, because surely we don't live in it now.
Have a perfectly lovely imperfect
week ladies (and gents!)...