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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 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!)...

Kim Crawford-Anti-aging doctor's profile photoJR Snyder Jr's profile photoGiselle Minoli's profile photoDina Crow's profile photo
Great point - that Time magazine cover is offensive to me from any number of perspectives, not the least of which being that it somehow tries to make being an indefinite on-demand milk machine a statusey thing. That doesn't make it right or wrong per se, but it does seem to be something less than a multi-dimensional role in life.
I think it's a middle class phenomenon, it applies to the fathers too, but to a lesser extent.
Until now I've avoided the Time magazine controversy mainly since it was so offensive to me. That said you hit a point that really bothers me and that is what you refer to as "the notion of perfection in women" that I see as having coming a cycle. Freedom to live your life as you choose should not be the province of heterosexual males.

In 1972 I was one of the first male operators at the old phone company cord switchboards. I was 18 years old, a freshman in college and entered a world dominated by women who had learned to create their own world. Many of them were like your mother who were working women out of necessity and could only rely on each other since the external world often had a low opinion of their status (and independence). As gender roles were changing at the time I was in a test tube lab of a world turned upside down. Needless to say I learned a lot about how women were viewed then, how "pay equity" developed and am now seeing a trend in women judging other women's choice seemingly become worse.

Your discussion of the art world and freedom and how it relates to women is intriguing to say the least. Well written and spoken, thank you for making me think and frame this a little better in my mind.
Isn't it amazing that what our mothers fought for in the 60's is STILL an ISSUE in 2012....?

Mother's who are at home DO feel a bit guilty about not working outside of the home.

Mothers who work feel chronically guilty but NOT SO with the men....
And magazines continue to airbrush the faces and bodies of women to the point where they look flawless....

There have been mood studies to show that even young,attractive women score higher on the "depression scale" after reading through ONE fashion magazine. UGH.

Great post as always Giselle...

As someone raised by a mom who raised three independent,successful kids who never once felt "neglected" while she actively and aggressively pursued HER career.....I can tell you that it IS possible.....and women just have to,what...relax...Jane???

(I think it helps when the mom involves the kids in her work. I went and helped my mom set up countless art exhibits....even at the outset of her art career....I remember sitting with her all day at festivals and outdoor shows.....)
"Why aren't you buying my mommy's picture"....

And as to your question of perfection as it applies to women,my question is...who is applying that perfection standard more? Could it be that we are dong this to ourselves? Just asking.
+jane mizrahi and +Kim Crawford M.D. I have come to believe in the past 30 years of my professional life in New York, where I have watched uncountable numbers of women grapple with this issue - that it is almost essential for a woman to have the objective ear of someone outside of her personal and professional life to speak to about that she can make sure her "choices" are her choices, not those she is pressured to make. A therapist? Yes. A life coach? Yes. Whatever her choice of support system, unfortunately I don't see it as very relaxing and I don't know one single woman (honestly) who is relaxed about it. The young professional circle walks on pins and needles...that clock ticking, wondering whether to grab the brass ring at work and whether it will be taken away if they get pregnant.

A supportive partner if a woman is married is essential. +Kim Crawford M.D. it sounds like your artist mother had that in your Dad (I'm guessing here...). But what about those young, single women who come into the office at 7:30am and don't leave until 8:00pm because they know that's what they have to the expense of their personal lives. And these women watch other women get married, have children, struggle to do both...but I cannot even begin to count the number of women who have left because they feel there isn't a system (of support) that is set up for them to do both.

There isn't a week that goes by without some young woman asking me about this aspect of my life. Many artist mothers have done what your mother did, +Kim Crawford M.D.: plop their kids down by the easel and stick a paint brush in their hands. But it's not so easy if you're a Mom who's a doctor, for instance. In the past ten years I have had 4 different female doctors in New York...all of whom have left the practice of medicine to stay home with their children.

Is it because these women don't know how to relax? I personally don't think so. Something systematic is going on that washes away "relaxation." Seriously, one mother recently confessed to me that she left her work to stay home with her kids and the demands and incessant phone calls for her to do school volunteer work and fund-raising had her more tired than the demands of the boardroom.

Erica Jong got it right...the balance of perfection and sleep!
As +Giselle Minoli knows, my wife willingly stayed home when we started having kids. She feels privileged in a day and age when many families require two incomes that she was able to stay home. Not that it was easy - it is the hardest and most rewarding job you can ever have. There is NO guilt amongst the many families we know where the Mom is at home full time.

I think there is a tremendous amount of silliness in this "attachment parenting" and that Bill Sears and company has created this world of guilt. Your job as a parent is not to permanently "attach" your children to you (physically and emotionally) but to provide them the support and nurturing that is required for them to DETACH as they get older and be able to make their own way in the world. How breast feeding a child until they are 4-5 years old accomplishes that, I will never understand.
+JR Snyder Jr thank you for that comment. What a powerful learning experience you had when you were 18. I wouldn't be surprised if, in terms of evolution, women are "primed" to try to achieve perfection, and when they find it unattainable are equally "primed" to feel guilty. My mother felt tremendously guilty. She compared her life to the lives of women whose families were still 'whole," and those women did plenty of comparing themselves. My mother would frequently say that she hoped none of their husbands died, because then their idea of what "choice" meant would forever change.

It seems like women have a choice between one or the other. But when each choice one is faced with is a mine field of doubt at the right thing to doesn't seem like "choice" to me.
Great comment +Daniel Bobke. Very wise, I think. There is way too much fear and preciousness in parenting. Perhaps we suffer from too much information, too many parenting books, too much media, too many opinions and we've gotten away from our gut instincts...
+Giselle Minoli It is the "seems like women have a choice" part that is so deceptive in today's world. It is disturbing to me when I see some young women trying to please men and giving up their own personal power without thinking about their own possibilities. I'm thinking particularly here of the way I see some women dress, wear makeup and reshape their bodies.

Indeed I did learn a lot at an early age and everything I needed to learn about associated guilt for not fitting into the "norm" of what is "whole" I learned back then. Therein lies an entire discussion I could launch into about my observations and what I learned from it since I didn't fit the mold of typical male of the era.
+JR Snyder Jr if you ever choose to write that post about how you yourself "didn't fit the mold of the typical male of the era," I would be most interested in reading it. And I am sure many other women would be as well...
Good point about the supportive spouse +Giselle Minoli ;and as for the single that is a whole 'nother story. I also think locale dictates the amount of pressure. I would think that NYC and LA would be more "high pressure" than the "burbs"...that has been my personal experience.....
Wow re the doctors leaving practice....and you personally know four of them?
That really surprises me. I know many other female doctors who can afford to have a good household support system. I'm wondering if these women were in sub-specialties getting "cut" to shreds like Internal Medicine,Peds....?
No answers,just questions now.
But indeed "support" is matter how wonderful the "man at home" is....for we women who have them...thy don't experience a lot of what we do.
One of the women doctors was a gastroenterologist, another an OB/GYN. One was a primary care physician within a solid practice within one of New York's big hospitals. Another was an internist, again, at a major NY hospital who said that the glass ceiling was only broken through if she could spend all of her time at the hospital. There was relentless pressure to do that, pressure she didn't want to live under combined with the "guilt" of not being at home. None of these women lived in the City (because of the expense) and while they did indeed have help at home the daily commute into the city was a time factor weighing into their ultimate decisions. I think it's very hard to fathom that one can have what seem on the outside to be a high-powered career that may be less than fulfilling personally. I know many a doc, many a lawyer, who have said had they known the hours and the toll on their personal lives they may not have gone that route. Hindsight is lovely, isn't it?
+Giselle Minoli money shouldn't be a factor...but in this day and age all of those specialties are low paying....AND require lots of night call...something that I have no clue how people even DO past the age of 40.
It is awful that the women felt that they were the parent who needed to be home....but as far as I'm concerned...if someone is to "be home" should be the lesser earning partner;male or female. Do you know if that was the case?
Money was not a factor, to my knowledge, +Kim Crawford M.D.. Each of these women were my doctors (I only saw the gastroenterologist twice) and all were all brilliant and went to top schools. It was after losing the second internist that I found the PA to whom I now go. None of these women knew one another and yet, they all cited the same reason for leaving: the hours demanded of them at work made it impossible to spend anytime with their kids. They got home way too late at night and had to leave way to early in the morning. I got the sense that the "romance" of being a doctor had faded for each of them, but none made their choice easily.

As for the lesser earner being the one to stay home, I think that's tough if you're an artist male or female because it takes time to make money. I know too many "lesser" earners whose work is more fulfilling and meaningful to them then the work of their partner.
Many good points,Giselle...and TODAY I got my copy of TIME...I missed the "fuss" because I didn't really know what the fuss was about. I am livid without even opening it up and reading it.
Are you MOM enough??? With a Freudian picture on the cover? Argggh. Next week better be Are you DAD enough or I'm writing a letter to the editor. Wow...this is "crap".
+Giselle Minoli I have written and spoken about it in the past and have thought about revisiting it. Actually I've thought about writing a book on how the "role reversal" of affirmative action in major corporations of the seventies actually benefited many of us who didn't want or didn't "cut the traditional male figure" so to speak. It actually freed us also to do work that was more suited to us and be in an environment that was more sensitive because it had been traditionally relegated to women and I don't think that has been addressed yet.

What you do hear is the talk about the "feminization" of men but I don't see it that way regardless of sexuality. I don't think a lot of men have lost their freedom "to be men" if they choose to be. What I also think is we have a long way to go before centuries of role playing that has changed significantly really only in the past 30-50 years. It takes more than a few generations to make the kind of culture change that has gone on in all sorts of things of our era.
+JR Snyder Jr This is interesting stuff, and, I dare say, your words are echoed in circles of women speaking privately with one another all the time, but not written about often (to my knowledge) because of how it can "sound" when one "sex' is speaking about the other. On a post the other day a couple of men jumped on and were speaking in a very "traditional" way about the female voice when it is "ranting." This, to my view, is what you are talking about. Men and women get stereotyped. In my company men scream and rant and misbehave and get angry all the time. It is part of being a "male" corporate road warrior, but when a woman does it she is "ranting."

Flipping the animal on it's head, you have a man who doesn't want any part of this knee-jerk behavior, or assessment of it, and he is often accused of not having the "killer instinct." What is sad about all of these definitions - of femininity, of masculinity, of what "personal power" means - is that they are all highly unsophisticated and take into account only the behavior that biologically we have used to survive for thousands of years.

They do not take into account how we are evolving intellectually, creatively, spiritually. Thus...going back to my post...unless a woman is married to a man who basically will allow her to define herself as a wife, a mother, a lover, a friend, she will be trapped, in some way as a woman. And vice versa. I cannot tell you how many men have told me that they feel like "paychecks and seed" to women...that they are need only for what they provide, not who they are as human beings.

Write about this +JR Snyder Jr. Because if one partner in a relationship is trapped by pre-conceived notions, then they both are...
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