Irina Aleksander, writing in this week’s New York Observer, takes a look at the new maternalism, arguing that young women’s energies have morphed from fighting about abortion and birth control and other things that signal autonomy, to issues that impact them as moms. “The feminist battleground, with it’s slogans, marches and campaigns for reproductive rights, has given way to the playground and the fight for lactation rights, stroller rights, school-system rights, unpasteurized milk rights, charter schools, birthing techniques, nutritional value of bagged lunches and water quality. It’s not so much about the Fem as it is about the Fam.”
A friend writing about the piece at Slate’s DoubleX calls it a “faux trend.” Me, I’m not so sure. On one hand, anything that is pretty much an upper middle class phenomenon cannot by definition be a mass movement – the insane income inequality in this country pretty much guarantees that. On the other hand, upper middle class folk have a lot of power in this world and can, especially in a society that worships money and materialism the way ours does, set the tonal agenda for us all.
In other words, you don’t have to be a young 20something living in a hip Brooklyn or Berkeley precinct (like the vast majority of Aleksander’s examples) to participate in this one. Novelist Leah Stewart, writing at the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, decries the “mommy first” trend she sees among our celebrities ranging from actors to politicians, women who tell the world that just because they are world famous celebrities, that doesn’t stop them from taking children to the playground, packing their snacks and otherwise making sure that their children come first. “What bothers me is the implication that we want these famous, successful, presumably hard-nosed women to set aside ambition and prioritize the playground, and that we continue to want nearly the opposite of their male peers . . . Does that mean a woman can only be president if she’s well past the age of childrearing? Or if she’s never had kids at all?”
Stewart is onto something. While I can make an intellectual argument that the aging of the American population will, by definition, lead to less energy spent on birth control and abortion, and more on estrogen patches and reproductive system cancers, the fact remains I don’t see the vast majority of the women around me involved in anything political that doesn’t immediately impact their children. They don’t engage in the greater world, except in the most narrowly defined family (or faminist) way. Yes, shopping at the farmer’s market and worrying about the chemicals in plastics can protect us all, but so can protesting our nation’s increasingly dire fiscal situation and or lobbying for stimulus funds to be used for something more than adding to the Wall Street bonus pool – something like, say, rebuilding our nation’s dangerously deteriorating infrastructure.
What say you?
Photo: Creative Commons