In what she might herself term a "shark-bait" piece in Salon, Lynn Harris asks: why does everyone hate mommies?
Harris feels that, lately, there's an unprecedented amount of vitriol directed at moms.
Maybe people were nicer to our moms, maybe people weren't. In one way or another, our culture has always been weird about mothers. Love/hate, Jocasta/Joan Crawford, supermom/"evil" stepmom, you name it. But right now, in some circles, it seems we're leaning toward hate. Yes, even when you control for the anonymous online jerkwad factor. And yes, even — perhaps especially? — as more and more blogs, books, sitcoms and movies, successful or not, explore with unprecedented candor the experience of being a (white, middle-class) mother.
In Harris' view, it's no coincidence that this is all about women.
And it's not only about "parenting," either. No, I am telling you, it's about mothers. (White mothers, generally, and usually urban ones — if in part because they're out and about on sidewalks and subways, not cloistered in carpools and playrooms.) You know them, or at least their epithets: "Stroller moms," the "stroller mafia," the particularly objectionable "stroller Nazis" — and while we're at it, the "helicopter moms" and "sanctimommies."
Women — still — are not "supposed" to take up space. Mothers, in particular. We are — still — supposed to remain in the background, doing whatever it is mothers do, smiling. We grow a belly, we need a seat, we say "excuse me, please," we speak up (or, God forbid, blog), and we've crossed the line, said or asked too much, become "entitled."
Okay. I love children. I dote on babies. I plan to have kids at some point. I'm not a child-hating grinch with a vendetta against "breeders," as the haters would have it. And yet, I totally get the mommy rage. And Harris' reaction is disingenuous: It's not about the kids. It's not even about the stroller-blocking. It's about the parents. And as she makes very clear, it's a self-selecting, moneyed, privileged and child-centric group of parents - a tiny percentage of the parents in this country and in the world at large. Much of the baby industry may be geared towards this population, but it's still a very small one. Yes, I said parents. Now, while I'm well able to believe that there's plenty of societal ambivalence coming out here towards women, this is an equal-opportunity resentment. While it's usually moms we see, when one does see an indulgent helicopter dad (and do you ever!) it provokes exactly the same reactions. I could spin you a little yarn about a father, an ill-behaved, angelic flaxen-haired child named after a jazz musician and the artisanal bread booth at the greenmarket, but there's been enough snarking. And the problem with satirizing such a population (and again - it's a specific population, as Harris makes very clear) is that it's beyond parody.
Yes, there's a class element here. But, come on, it's not just a class thing: if this were just a bunch of wealthy parents with nannies and fancy baby clothes, it would be a very different matter. It's the combination of smugness and obliviousness, Berkeley ethics funded by serious money, of campaigning for liberal politicians while complaining about nanny problems. It's people talking knowingly about the obliviousness of the 50s and Betty Draper's terrible parenting and knowing they're superior, while a toddler rolls on the floor under other coffee drinkers' feet (also this weekend). It's not that people just mind the strollers taking up the street; it's then getting mad when you won't move for those strollers. In short, it's the narcissism of single people, but expanded to fit a whole family. As Neal Pollack told the Times, "'I don't think it's a bad thing that people want to continue a semblance of their pre-parenthood lifestyle...Going to rock shows and bars, he added, is "just what their lives were.'" This is really it in a nutshell: the sense some of these parents give is that they'll have it all, on their terms. There will be no concessions made: instead, the world will concede.
Harris brings up Park Slope, the nexus of all New York's fabled mommy-snark. There was a minor fracas in '08 when Union Hall, a bar and music venue in that neighborhood, asked moms not to bring strollers and mobile kids to the bar, because the space was not kid-proof and it was a legal issue. Parents across the blogs were up in arms - so much so that the bar had to take it back. This was, in some eyes, a good answer to Harris's question.
In sum, no one reasonable hates parents. What people don't like is inconsiderate self-absorbed parents who expect the world to be reordered. Of course, what's hard is that defensive, self-righteous and oblivious parents are more than matched by total assholes on the other side of the aisle, who shout their kid-hate from the rooftops. My initial reaction to Harris' piece was, what? We don't dislike moms! And then I read the comments. Here are a few, just from page 1:
"we don't want to hate you, but we will if you deserve it."
"I resent that my choice to be child-free subjects me to condescension and pity, even though I'm not the one taking up the whole aisle at Target with said SUV stroller and screaming, unruly brats named after medieval professions."
"Quite simply I hate your baby."
"Having children these days is something that highly uncreative women do to fill their lives. PERIOD."
"You write vapid, pointless articles about how hard it is to have a kid during the most wide-open, accepting and privileged time and place(s) in history."
"One child per person. Period. The right we all share is to ensure life for everyone not just our own."
Helpful as these comments are, they do serve to underlie the total fruitlessness of this argument. No one is backing down. It's like oil and water coming together, forming a translucent puddle on the internet. Now, in some lights, that oil floating on top of the water is beautiful. But most of us would rather step over it - and help our kids do the same. "I hate moms," sighed my friend Cora the other day. We were pushing her one-year-old in a stroller. And I knew what she meant.