Katie Roiphe: Now I get it, Mom.

Katie and Anne Roiphe

The response to my piece about Katie Roiphe has mirrored the response across the blogosphere. Instead of answering Roiphe’s question, ‘why are feminists dishonest about the passion of early motherhood,’ most women have expressed hostility to Roiphe, her feelings and her reaction to those feelings. They view her essay as criticism, implied or overt, of themselves and their decisions to return to work.

Rather than interpreting Roiphe’s essay through the prism of their own insecurities, feminists would find it more profitable to interpret it by recognizing the influence of the writings of her own mother. According to NNDB:

Anne Roiphe is an American feminist author known for such novels as Up the Sandbox and Lovingkindness. Her work is noteworthy for its examination of the conflict between the desire for family and relationships and that for career and self-determination…

Roiphe’s principle contribution to feminist thought is her furthering of arguments introduced earlier by Betty Friedan regarding a woman’s right to enjoy motherhood… Roiphe points out that although daycare may seem to be the answer to balancing work and career, it robs women of many of the joys and satisfactions of spending time with their children.

Roiphe further argues that the solution is not to relegate women to weekend/evening parenting, just as men have been traditionally, but rather to create a system in which both men and women can share in a full family life. She further advocates rethinking our current career track pacing such that a person’s late 20s and early 30s might be more given over to family concerns (and joys), with the realization that life spans, and thus productive work years, for both genders have been greatly extended.

In light of her mother’s work, I see Katie Roiphe’s piece as a public acknowledgement of her mother’s philosophical endeavors. Basically, she is saying, “Now I get it, Mom.”

Personally, I think Katie (and Anne Roiphe) are correct in identifying this issue as one of the central failings in contemporary feminism, and the major reason why young women today often reject the label “feminist” even though they believe in the fundamental principles of feminism.

Many women don’t want to “balance” family and career. They want to fully enjoy motherhood and then, when that phase is over, fully enjoy their career. Instead of acknowledging this reality, and thinking creatively about a solution, contemporary feminists have embraced the notion that women must slavishly copy men in their devotion to established career trajectories.

The response of feminists to Roiphe’s essay mirrors the response of feminism to the power of mother love. They degrade it, deny it, diminish it and ridicule it. And the same reasoning underlies the similar responses; if you don’t acknowledge its value, you don’t have to address the conflict.

The genesis of the “mommy wars” is the inability of contemporary feminism to acknowledge the power of mother love. Instead of trying to remake the working world to respect and support mother love, feminists have ducked the responsibility by denying that mother love is so very powerful, or by claiming that “real” feminists find career more compelling than being with their children.

The solution to the problem is not that complicated. Women should be able to cycle out and back into their careers by helping each other. Just as there is always a cohort of women who wish to scale back or leave work temporarily when their children are small, there is always a cohort of women who wish to ramp up or return to work when their children are older.

But feminists tend to sabotage the very cooperation that is essential to the success of such a system. Instead of acknowledging the power of mother love and making accommodations for it, older, more established women professionals tend to denigrate it, insisting that a “real” lawyer, doctor, etc. would not deign to leave the work force for something as trivial as being with one’s children.

Unless and until feminists can acknowledge Katie Roiphe’s feelings as real and admirable, and stop treating then as implied criticism of themselves and their choices, we will be unable to make progress. Mother love is real, powerful and worthy of respect. Feminism should acknowledge what is important to women, instead of pretending that the only thing that is important is being just like men.

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