Monday, April 19, 2010

Mumoirs - just a bunch of whingers?

A Heckler in the SMH today about mumoir. I've found some of these books helpful - and funny. And sensible. You know, you don't have to be the perfect mum, it is OK to not enrol in swimming lessons at 6 months, you don't have to buy every new plastic toy on the market and you don't have to love kids' activities. I should add that the middle class white jokes about being a slacker, or a bad mum, or drinking alcohol at playdates wouldn't be so funny if written by women who are immigrants, poor,uneducated and so on. Mumoirs aren't written by mums who are really just struggling to survive.

Sick and tired of misery mumoirs
April 20, 2010

Comments 5

You've had a baby. Fantastic. You now have leaking nappies in your handbag, you haven't showered since parachute pants were first in fashion and your sex life is as fun as being staked naked covered in honey on an anthill.

How did I know? Because I've read about it. Again, again and again.

The latest book extolling the torture of motherhood is by the ABC1 newsreader Juanita Phillips, A Pressure Cooker Saved My Life (tagline: ''A baby + a toddler + a full-time job = total meltdown''). Sold as the ''candid confession of a failed supermum'', it regales us with stories about the ''thousands of small indignities inflicted by motherhood''; the endless crying, dirty dishes and loss of freedom.

Hers is the next in what has become a new genre: misery mumoirs. There is It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown and a Much Needed Margarita, and Afterbirth: Stories you Won't Read in a Parenting Magazine, and Confessions of a Slacker Mom. The list goes on.

The focus may vary from declining sex life in some, to sleep deprivation in others, but the mood is the same: hysterically glum.

It is best summed up by Deborah Copaken Kogan, a one-time war photographer who wrote last year's Hell Is Other Parents: And Other Tales of Maternal Combustion. On the barrage of judgment mothers regularly receive from perfect strangers, she told an interviewer: ''As a parent, living through this day-to-day conflict with other parents … Sometimes you feel that the playground is a worse battle zone than Afghanistan.''

This tendency towards extreme exaggeration is one of the main - and most troubling - hallmarks of the genre. In one of Kogan's recollections in her book, she fled an emergency appendectomy to finish a story for The New York Times. As one mother wrote on ''Come on, lying on the floor of an NYC emergency room because you are in the throes of an acute appendicitis attack and a security guard is screaming at you to get up? I have a hard time believing this … ''

That some memoirists such as Kogan feel the need to dial up the drama is leading to the veracity of their tales being questioned. This distracts from the real suffering of mothers, particularly when we're still fighting for paid maternity leave and affordable, high-quality childcare. (Nearly 250,000 Australian women want more work but aren't able to do it because they're caring for children, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.)

We should, of course, rally behind Phillips, who did it tough after the birth of her two children.

The sheer stress of juggling them, work and a new house led her to lose the power of speech during a live bulletin and, later, to pneumonia. She doesn't make it easy to do that though, when - perhaps bowing to the genre's demand that writers milk their experience for entertainment value - she offers this irritating example of how she and her husband sacrificed to meet their mortgage and childcare payments: ''Mario sold his beloved BMW convertible and, with gritted teeth, bought a $7000 Commodore.''

I'm not the only mother annoyed with all the mama drama. As another recently put it on Momversation, an online community of blogging mothers: ''I'm tired of motherhood being looked at as all … drama and upheaval and 'Oh, you poor thing for surviving it'. … Something that begins by ramming its way out of your vagina is not going to be easy.''

We have, of course, benefited from a phase in which the veil of secrecy surrounding the more torturous side of motherhood has been ripped off. It is helping to liberate us from decades of ridiculous and harmful expectations and from feeling isolated in our struggles when failing to meet these unrealistic ''ideals''.

These stories have helped counteract the once prevalent pitch that motherhood is so limitlessly fulfilling it either shouldn't feel hard, or if it does, we've no right to complain.

But when the whingeing leads to derision of enthusiastic mothering, it goes too far. Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, the author of Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay, writes, ''If you're holding your baby 24/7, that's not a baby, that's a tumour.''

That kind of material smacks, unintentionally and unfortunately, of the satirical Polly Filler column in the British magazine Private Eye, in which the vapid lifestyle columnist bitches about her non-stop juggling while passing all parental responsibilities to the au pair.

It's at that point we've got to question whether they are doing more harm than good.

Samantha Selinger-Morris is a Herald journalist.

1 comment:

Motherhugger said...

Juanita Phillips responds.

The real "unfinished business of the feminist movement", says Phillips, is flexible work patterns for men as well as women, so dads can take on the role of full-time carers.

Without the involvement of men – the ones who run companies, the ones who lead the country and the ones we live with – the lot of women will not improve.

yes yes yes!