Motherhood: The Genre
Men, you've already stopped reading this, haven't you?
|Kimberly Harrington||Feb 2, 2019|| 1|
I could’ve chosen an image of a mother lovingly cradling a child, but I think we all know what a mother is. Maybe it’s time to start seeing women as more than walking wombs, wipers of tiny butts, arrangers of your social calendar, here for you. I mean, I dunno, it’s fucking 2019. We’re all supposed to be riding around in space ships but we couldn’t even hold on to the Concorde ffs so maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. I mean, obviously I am. We all know what the last two / two hundred years have been like.
Anyway. Please don’t you go anywhere men (if you’re here at all), I want you to please read this.
Writing about motherhood brings one face-to-face with an inescapable fact—your primary audience is not comprised of the people who could help change what can be so miserable about being a mother. It’s like talking about sexual assault with only women. Helloooooo, we’re not sexually assaulting ourselves.
Over the past almost-year, I’ve been deep in the motherhood “genre” (LOL can you imagine discussing a somehow universal yet completely individual experience for men as a “genre” yet here we are.) I never intended to write a parenting book—a term I choked on when I got my book deal and one my kids choked on even more because they live with me. But this is where I have lived, what I’ve paid attention to, what I’ve read criticism around.
One of my main takeaways is that it’d be spectacular if men actually read any of these books, watched any of these TV shows or movies, cared enough to understand why their wives look at them with laser eyes when they innocently ask, “Did ‘we’ buy a birthday gift for my sister?” In fact, men would be wise to do so much of this reading before they’re even married and certainly before a baby arrives. Because, bitch, I’m telling you, women are *really* unhappy with their lot. They’re tired of feigned incompetency when it comes to parenting. They’re tired of doing all the things, as if you couldn’t figure that out based on the fact that any not-completely-horribly-written article that’s all “what the fuck you guys! Motherhood is exhausting and unfair and argh men!” goes viral and spins off book after book. BUT WE ARE ALL TALKING TO OURSELVES. We are the sound of one hand clapping, then dope slapping ourselves, then still picking up the socks off the floor on the way to the kitchen, before we move the backpack to the mudroom and hang up the coats *KA-BOOM*
There have been many valid criticisms about the “trend” (again, LOL, okay pop culture whatever you need to do) of motherhood this past year or what’s been called the No Bullshit Motherhood movement. Largely that it is very white (true), that it is very straight (also true), and that it is very upper class (check and check.) One of the best of these pieces is from Angela Garbes, author of the incredible book LIKE A MOTHER: A FEMINIST JOURNEY THROUGH THE SCIENCE AND CULTURE OF PREGNANCY. In The Cut, her piece “Why Are We Only Talking About ‘Mom Books’ by White Women?” breaks it all down and provides recommendations for books by women of color that don’t get near the level of publicity that the same type of books by straight white female authors receive. And no, you’re not just imagining it, you really are seeing the same books discussed over and over again as if there are only 3-1/2 books that come out every year. *It is poopy.* I went straight to my local independent bookstore, yes I did, and I bought or ordered all of the books she recommended. But. But. But: *whispers* I’m a mother.
Like that classic Steve Martin “If I had one wish I could wish this holiday season” SNL skit, I of course would wish for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace. If I had two wishes my first wish would be for all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace. And the second would be FOR MEN TO CARE ENOUGH TO READ FUCKING BOOKS ABOUT PARENTING AND MOTHERHOOD, WHO DO THEY THINK THEY ARE PARTNERED WITH A STUFFED MONKEY WITHOUT FEELINGS.
*Gasps for air*
This is all leading to two very strong recommendations for people of all genders—to buy and read Angela Garbes’ book I mentioned above. I have been pregnant four times, successfully twice, and her book absolutely blew my mind. The chapter about the placenta alone will make you wonder about all the other things that are / were a part of your actual body that you had no clue about. It’s as if you’re reading for the first time about what an arm is and how it works because, turns out, you never knew a damn thing about arms at all.
The second it to keep your eyes peeled for a book I just received as a galley two days ago and I’ve already blasted through to page 90. Full disclosure: My editor sent me this book but I can’t emphasize enough that I am not going to promote, blurb, or otherwise push any books I don’t like. I just am not.
That book is ALL THE RAGE: MOTHERS, FATHERS, AND THE MYTH OF EQUAL PARTNERSHIP by Darcy Lockman. Unlike people who write books based on their own opinions and no research (me) or their one relationship and extrapolate out 200+ pages from there (other authors of other popular books), this book is deeply researched (there are 40 pages of citations alone). It’s also straightforward, shockingly simple in laying out its case, and really makes you feel a bit sheepish if I’m being honest. It blows apart the myth of women being naturally better suited to taking care of children, and that the involvement of men in raising their children, being able to anticipate the needs of their household (or their wives), is learned and practiced. Just as it is for women. There is no biological basis for the arguments women make (“I’m just naturally better at it”) to keep them from dynamiting their own houses with everyone in it. I was screenshot-ing the bejeezus out of this book as I read, texting page after page to friends (most frequent response: “Can she just be our best friend already?”) when I had to stop, otherwise there’d be nothing left for them to read when I was done with it.
You can pre-order ALL THE RAGE: MOTHERS, FATHERS, AND THE MYTH OF EQUAL PARTNERSHIP by Darcy Lockman here. Or you can wait until May 7th and ride that Motherhood, The Genre: Year Two wave. Holy cow, I just realized Angela Garbes’ book is from Harper Collins too. Well, they’re not paying me to promote these books but now I think they should. I can be bought with chocolate, easy. I would also gladly accept Stumptown coffee. Look, I’m just putting it out there.
I should also mention that both books do an excellent job of examining pregnancy (Angela Garbes’ book) and motherhood (Darcy Lockman’s) through multiple lenses—racial, socioeconomic, sexual orientation. In fact, in Lockman’s book, her regular juxtaposition between hetero and gay parents and how the parenting load is negotiated (or not) is fascinating.
Okay if there is even a single man left reading this at this point (hi!), and you are not a single or full-time stay-at-home dad already, hear me now and believe me later—the best Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day) gift you could ever give is to not just buy these books and give ‘em the old hand off—but to read them first. We don’t want to be mad at you, we just want you to get it. And do the work. Now that is fucking hot.
NEW FROM ME:
• SATIRE & HUMOR FESTIVAL: I’ll be taking part in three events—a reading, a book panel, and a workshop—check out the full schedule and details here.
• PHILOSOPHY WEEK: Local Vermont people, on 3/29 I’ll be doing a talk with Amanda Gustafson of Swale! “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD WOMEN: Daring to maintain a creative practice even though you’re a lady, a mother, and getting older by the minute” (HAHAHAHAHA) Details to come, but check back here.
• THE BOSTON GLOBE MAGAZINE: My first piece for the Globe will be in the Feb 10th issue! I don’t know if it’ll be online so pick up the real actual paper if you can.
• McSWEENEY’S: I had two pieces in McSweeney’s this past week, “Super Bowl Commercial Bingo” and my latest column “Kevin Spacey’s ‘Let Me Be Limericks’” and believe me I already know they’re not pure limericks yes I KNOW INTERNET I KNOW GO BOTHER SOMEONE ELSE like I dunno, racists?
READING and VIEWING LIST:
Instead of random links, I’m gonna double down on motherhood (shouldn’t we all?):
• DOCUMENTARY: The honesty in this (and it’s short!) is incredible, overdue, mesmerizing. Watch “After Birth: How Motherhood Changed My Relationship With My Body” in NYT Op-Docs by documentary filmmaker Bronwen Parker-Rhodes.
• WIDENING THE LENS: The Motherhood Collection on Medium: “Our collection begins to build a bigger platform for the wide range of stories and perspectives of woman parents, from single mothers and their daughters (who then become mothers themselves) to working mothers with little to no childcare to the life-threatening biases black American women face when pregnant and giving birth.” Includes pieces from Angela Garbes and Riane Konc.
• MATERNAL HEALTH x RACE: “I Was Pregnant and in Crisis. All the Doctors and Nurses Saw Was an Incompetent Black Woman” by Tressie McMillan Cottom in Time. “After several days of labor pains that no one ever diagnosed, I could not hold off labor anymore. I was wheeled into a delivery operating room, where I slipped in and out of consciousness. At one point I awoke and screamed, ‘Motherfucker.’ The nurse told me to watch my language. I begged for an epidural. After three eternities an anesthesiologist arrived. He glared at me and said that if I wasn’t quiet he would leave and I would not get any pain relief.”
• TRUTH: “We Need to Talk About Whiteness in Motherhood Memoirs” by Nancy Reddy in Electric Literature. “The very pose — there are no experts here — that I found so appealing is one that’s likely inaccessible to women without the privilege that sustains these writers … If a woman of color declares herself a bad mother, there’s a very real risk that the state might just believe her.”
• GRIEF: “A Device That Gives Parents of Stillborn Babies Time to Say Goodbye” from The New York Times. “‘In my 30 years as a labor and delivery nurse, I had only one mother who didn’t want to see her deceased baby. Most want to see the baby and hold it skin-to-skin.’ The CuddleCot provides parents with an extended opportunity to cherish the time and bond with the baby they lost.”
• SEXUALITY: “Should I have considered the future embarrassment of my daughters before I published a story about my teenage sexual curiosity? Are mothers allowed to write about desire?” from “But What Will Your Daughters Think?” by Emily Bernard on LitHub.
• HUMOR: This will seem unrelated to motherhood but IT IS NOT. “18 Literary Writing Prompts for Angry Preteen Girls” by Tatum Hunter on The Belladonna.
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