Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Catfight? Police Action?

Leslie Morgan Steiner -- the woman at the center of the recent mommy wars resurgance -- makes a sincere effort to distance herself from the phrase "mommy wars," suggesting that there really is a conflict going on between mothers. Well, not really between mothers, but rather, within mothers. In Salon today, she mentions that the book's original title was "Ending the Cat Fight," but that the publisher rejected it. Much better to start a war than end a fight, apparently.

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Steiner's point that all parents feel pulled by the playground and the conference room. Nearly everyone I know -- mom or dad -- has had to question whether their work-life balance is, well, balanced. "Catfight" might be a bit strong, but I understand the larger point. (I have no doubt, by the way, that the essays in the book, on balance, deal thoughtfully with many of the issues of motherhood. But the attention the book has received is based less on the strength of those pieces of prose and more on the catty promise of the title and subtitle: "Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families.")

But let's not kid ourselves. The mommy wars stories (most of Steiner's media appearances and columns, the GMA bit, the Today show segment) are all pretty clear: this is not a mom-vs-herself narrative. This is being painted as mom vs. mom. Pick a side.

If we were actually talking about the "inner catfight," there would be a policy discussion asking whether such tension between work and home is inevitable. Would having better/cheaper childcare or more generous tax credits for at-home parents or better parental leave laws help? Maybe, maybe not. But it's much more useful to hear that debate than to lock Linda Hirshman in a TV studio with an at-home mom.

Sadly, Steiner appears to realize that -- she laments mommy in-fighting and suggests instead taking the fight to "government" and "employers." Unfortunately, her name is on the cover a book titled "Mommy Wars," which makes it hard to take her seriously as a peacemaker.

Last post on the mommy wars this week. I hope.


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