Kelly Makino and Rebecca Woolf, two of the women featured in New York's bogus trend piece about "feminist housewives" who are "having it all by choosing to stay home," say the magazine prevaricated its portrayal of them to fit into its agenda: an "antidote" to Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In that would be sure to gin up controversy. Jezebel spoke with both women about how their stories and words got twisted into "leaning out."
After I called "bullshit" on writer Lisa Miller's New York story, taking Kelly Makino, the woman featured on the cover and on whom most of the story centered, to task for her gender essentialist views that I felt were decidedly unfeminist, Makino contacted me, saying the magazine took her quotes out of context and expressing her dismay at how she was initially interviewed as an "expert voice" (as the manager of press relations for the 600-family alliance that helps parents "pool time and resources") but was downgraded to "cutesy case study."
"A lot of what you had issues with we're things that [the magazine] took out of context, edited heavily, or swayed to make them sound the way they wanted it to," says Makino. "The research studies we chatted about during our day-long session were portrayed as spouting gender stereotypes…I vehemently support men in the role of primary caregiver."
During our back-and-forth, it was clear to me that while Makino and I differ in our feminisms (at one point she referred to "penis envy" as though it were even a real thing and her mention of "women need to stop imitating men" made me uncomfortable) she isn't exactly the traditionalist that Miller made her out to be.
"I think that in an effort to sell [issues New York] created a fairytale," she says. "The piece was steeped in archetypes and conservative research, and the goal was to find the opposite of Sheryl Sandberg. Was is completely authentic? Not really. It's pretty obvious to anyone that it was Disney-fied and edited to fit an agenda, right?"
Rebecca Woolf, who was also featured in the New York piece (albeit briefly, and with no quotes attributed to her), would agree. "This has been the most disgusting misrepresentation of what I do and who I am and what Miller and I spoke for an hour on the phone about," she told me.
Woolf began her writing career as a teenager, contributing to and later editing volumes of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. She began blogging in 2003, and later started her parenting blog Girl's Gone Child back in 2005 after giving birth to the first of her four kids. Miller described the creation of GGC as the result of Woolf's "maternal ambition."
"'Maternal ambition,'" scoffs Woolf. "I got pregnant [after briefly dating a guy] when I was 23. I mean, I wrote a whole book about it. She knew my story. She knew I didn't want kids—especially not in my 20s—and that I started writing about it because I had no people to talk to about it."
"She even called me back after our [initial conversation] and was like, 'What did you want to be when you grew up?' And I said I always wanted to be a writer. That's what I do. This is what I've always wanted to do," adds Woolf.
Woolf spoke with Miller several times beginning in October. Miller had told her she was working on an article about motherhood.
"It was about the new Martha Stewart mom. We talked a lot about the new pressures of motherhood, what I call the 'Pinterest-ification of motherhood, the pressure to be perfect. I told her, 'Maybe you should look into Pinterest because I really feel like it's affecting my peers and it's affecting me," says Woolf. "I don't remember her talking about feminism. There definitely was no mention of feminist housewives."
While Woolf was "very clear" with Miller that she is not a "Martha Stewart mom" ("I don't bake. I don't craft.") and that part of her message is that "you can be an awesome mom and get the store-bought Hallmark, CVS, princess whatever…" she was charged in New York as presenting her home life "as glossy and idealized as the mythical feminine perfection Friedan rebelled against."
"It was like she took everything that I said, ignored it all, and then wrote something so pointed and passive aggressive," says Woolf.
But anyone who even casually browses Woolf's blog would see that referencing her as in opposition to Betty Friedan is ludicrous. She writes openly about having a full-time nanny so that she can run her business, and she frequently explores feminist issues that challenge gender stereotypes.
One thing that Woolf said that struck me was that Miller was "definitely very anti-stay-at-home mom." Because Makino, who has not met or spoken to Woolf, had the same exact impression of Miller.
"I feel like Lisa Miller didn't start out with a ton of love for SAHMs," she told me, "but I can see her support in interviews now."
Sort of. I suppose she has to toe the party line of this invented counterweight to Lean In when she's on TV. But even in a recent Current TV interview she admitted that Makino's choice to stay-at-home "is not for me."
I've worked full-time my whole life. I have a 9-year-old daughter. I feel that my model of independence and self-sufficiency is good for her.
Not to be a conspiracy theorist or anything, but I feel like Miller was writing a piece about motherhood, and that the assignment changed along the way to be a rebuttal to Sheryl Sandberg. From what I gather from Makino and Woolf, and from Miller's own statements, she isn't—or at least wasn't—all that into the idea of women choosing to be SAHMs. Until it became her job to be. Maybe on some subconscious level (if I'm being kind) she made these women come off so asshole-y because of her own personal feelings on the issue.
It's interesting to me because no one, in any of this controversy, was ever saying that being a feminist and being a homemaker are at odds with each other—except for Miller. She's been going on TV accusing feminists of telling housewives that they aren't feminist or that they're some kind of liability to the movement. The irony is that her piece, a sad attempt to derail the conversation about the need for women in leadership roles, is the real detriment to feminism.