Sexist Beatdown: Bad Mother > Abortionist > Childless Edition
For this edition of "Sexist Beatdown," Sady (of Tiger Beatdown) and myself (of the Sexist) would like to extend a warm invitation to all men, children, good mothers, and bad mothers (abortionists will be tolerated, but the childless will be ignored).
This week, up for discussion is Ayelet Waldman: wife to Michael Chabon, mother to four, author of "Bad Mother," in that order! Waldman made women hate her in 2005 after announcing, in the New York Times, that she values her husband over her children. We don't really give a shit about that. What we want to know is: Does Waldman value husbands over children over good mothers over bad mothers over abortionists over the childless?
Let's sort of find out!
SADY: hello! are you ready to talk about how some lady HATES and/or does not maniacally worship her children?
AMANDA: I can barely begin to think about it because i HATE this woman so much!
SADY: i, too, am driven to the verge of madness by her statements! actually, this is technically somewhat true. i mean. i read the "modern love" column that "bad mother" was based on, and: all i could think of was, seriously, you're opposing the fetishization of motherhood by talking about how much you WORSHIP YOUR HUSBAND?
AMANDA: i know, right? where is the response Modern Love column that says, "i probably don't love either of them."
SADY: hahaha. i mean. if the whole weird mother/wife axis is about (1) being an untiring source of boundless Virgin Mary love and devotion for your children, and (2) keeping your man sat-is-fied, writing the article that's like, "i can't be all boundless or whatever with my kids because i'm too busy DOING IT with my hot husband, who I LOVE, and have i mentioned WE DO IT" is kind of... not necessarily a step FORWARD, you know?
AMANDA: yeah. i think she's a controversial figure for another reason, too. she wrote this essay, right, and it's basically a slap in the face to the whole love-transfer idea that's expected of a mother, and she even goes far enough to say she'd basically save her husband's life over her child's if they were like being held hostage by Two-Face or whatever and she had to choose. but then, she's spent about 4 years having to explain herself for that, and EVERYTHING SHE WRITES—her fiction, her nonfiction—is about being a mom! and obviously it's something that she appears to struggle with, but it has consumed her.
SADY: right? like, for someone who doesn't want to be defined by having babies, she sure does write a lot about having babies. and the "bad mother" label – the thing she seems to castigate herself for most fiercely is having an abortion when she knew the fetus wasn't totally healthy.
AMANDA: i know, that part made me so sad, that she has these own expectations for herself, and that even though she freely choses not to meet those expectations, she feels like a bad person for doing so
SADY: right? i mean, i can understand that being a difficult, emotional decision, but it really seems like that would only make you a "bad" mother if you had a really over-demanding list of requirements for being a "good" mother.
AMANDA: yeah. there is another really interesting unspoken element here. she met chabon 12 years ago and has had four of his children since then. she indicates that he was very early on — the day they met, i think! — clear that he wanted children. but that was never a priority for her. when she quits her job, it's not because she wants to spend time with her kid. she makes it clear she finds that boring. it's because she's jealous of him wanting that. you have to state the obvious here — the man that you love so much is the reason you have been burdened with motherhood.
SADY: yeah, exactly. and, i mean, she mentions that they got engaged three weeks after they met! which is clearly indicative of the fact that the whole "let's talk about kids and whether i want them on the first date" thing was not, ultimately, a dealbreaker.
AMANDA: yeah, and was her voice heard there? i mean she spent four of their 12 years just being pregnant with the kids. plus another pregnancy that was physically and emotionally straining. she sure had a lot of kids for not wanting them too much, right? what is the deal with that?
SADY: yeah, and then there's this, from the "modern love" column: "Every so often we escape from the children for a few days. We talk about our love, about how much we love each other's bodies and brains, about the things that make us happy in our marriage... And afterward my husband will say that we, he and I, are the core of what he cherishes, that the children are satellites, beloved but tangential." this is really caitlin-flanagan-y. SOMETHING is going on here, with the husband who tells you he wants kids and then you have four kids and then he tells you that you're the one that's most important, not the kids. SOMEONE is understating how important the kids are here, you know?
AMANDA: add that to the "abortion makes you a bad mother" thing and it's almost like, not making babies when you're able to make babies makes you a bad mother. what else explains the apparent lack of contraception here?
SADY: i get the sense that, really, waldman's either way more into having kids than she's letting on, or she's backed into this corner of defining herself as a mother while constantly talking about how she shouldn't be defined that way.
AMANDA: yeah, and i wish the people interviewing her (ok—i will send her an interview request when we finish this) would ask her these things
SADY: like, the mommy-guilt thing is interesting – "of woman born," by adrienne rich, is a good thing about mommy-guilt – because, yeah, women are constantly told HAVE BABIES HAVE BABIES HAVE BABIES and then they're told YOU'RE NOT DOING WELL ENOUGH WITH THE BABIES, so, it's like, childless or with tons of kids, you don't get to measure up, EVER.
AMANDA: and i get that she feels there are all these expectations that she has to face and can't live up to. but at the same time, there's the expectation to HAVE the kids in the first place, and she didn't have to do that—and then do it again and again and again. it would be interesting to know why, you know?
SADY: yeah, and we sentimentalize maternal instinct to the point that women who express ANYTHING deviating from the message of "i spend all day and all night thinking about my children and wanting more children and then knitting them booties and baby blankets and did i mention they are thirty-four and twenty-three" are demonized. but: there's got to be a way to tell the story of, "ok, so i have kids, and i didn't magically become a caring and perfect person who would allow her children to feast on her own flesh if necessary overnight" without slapping a title on it that's like "BAD MOTHER" and having to state that it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if your kids were run over by a truck. i guess my thing is, there's a good story in here, and i wish it weren't so hyped and Mommy-Wars-ified.
AMANDA: yeah. i do appreciate that she's coming from a place of sincerity (almost to a fault), but i wish other people were asking her the right questions (instead of just, 'star jones doesn't like you what do you think of that'). or why don't you like play doh. ok — i have to GO. have four babies. wait, i mean, do my job
SADY: oh, well, good luck with that. YOU BARREN MONSTER.
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