02 June, 2009

"Bad Mother" Bad Science from the illustrious author of "A Playdate with Death"

The wittily-named Femail (geddit? geddit? just in case we hadn’t twigged that the rest of the paper is a tad male-dominated) is always a fine emetic read, but they really hit the jackshit jackpot recently with a guest spot from author Ayelet Waldman. Her article – here comes the train, little baby, because it’s really quite a mouthful – “Why it can be good to be a bad mother in a world where modern parenting has become hideously competitive”, unleashed on 28/05/09, boasts like all the best literary works an impressive twist in its tale, achieved chiefly by beginning quite reasonably.

The byline is deceptively encouraging as "Ayelet... argues that no woman is a perfect mother, and the sooner someone stands up for Bad Mothers the better". Was infiltration complete, I wondered on a first reading - had common sense, like MRSA and pig flu before it, finally destroyed the moronic inferno from within? Alas not; the Daily Mail is simply as incapable of balanced reporting of its own content as of the outside world. “Stand[ing] up” for anyone is by no stretch of any imagination (and lord knows their readership’s is a fevered one) what the charming Ms. Waldman proceeds to do.

I must confess, I have yet to delve too deeply into Waldman’s back catalogue, though there have been some passable reviews for her most recent works, such as Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, if not for her earlier Mommy-track Mysteries series (distinguished, if that’s quite the word, by distinctly Goosebumpesque dust jackets and worse titles than you can shake a B-movie at). But from reading articles such as this and the scintillating “Truly, Madly, Guiltily”, I really don’t envy her editor.

The plain and plaguing fact is, she just doesn’t know what she’s on about, as like the proverbial Blackadderian pencil she bounces pointlessly from one self-contradiction to another, without any apparent sense of, well, contradiction. It’s hard not to feel her next franchise should be a Mommy-track pantomime when mummy-bashing is at once “utterly unfair – because… no one hurls criticism like this at fathers” (OH YES, IT IS!) and yet sound grounds for a newspaper article because “so-called Good Mothers can be downright bad for their children” (OH NO, THEY’RE NOT!) until she remembers that it’s really “time we all accepted ourselves for… mothers who do our best” (OH YES… etc). This is no logical pre-empting of a counter-argument to reassert one’s original point; she just can’t make up her muddled mind.

Indeed, the more I eviscerate this article and research its author, the more inclined I am to agree with the reviewer on www.librarything.com who describes her debut novel, Nursery Crimes, as “Waldman's forum for rather nakedly communicating her own opinions and preferences [in a] self-indulgent, amateurish” manner. So far, so livejournal, and it wouldn’t really matter but for one thing; her petulant insistence on dragging feminism down with her.

Waldman is clearly dissatisfied with various things. Maybe it’s her kids, maybe it’s her mother (both get a good raking over in the article) or maybe she just likes a good moan – but none of these is justification for this cack-handed and irresponsible attack on the movement that gave her the voice to deride it in the first place. Like a Pantomime Dame approaching a banana skin, Waldman repeatedly misses her own points; oh yes, it is awful that parenting pressures are centred so one-sidedly on women, that the workplace has not yet caught up with gender equality, but oh no, it’s not her mother –sorry, feminism’s– fault.

The feminists of Waldman Senior’s generation did indeed “[sacrifice] much to give [women today] the opportunities they never had”, such as the right and expectation to work. So far, so fair – until she erroneously blames them for the fact “the workplace isn’t conducive to being a working mother”. If earlier feminists “were convinced they had sorted everything out for their daughters” they have been proven wrong; but they are not culpable for the work they started not yet having been completed. Neither the fact that Waldman’s own feminist ideals were shattered by “punishingly long” hours and missing her firstborn, nor the truth that some women probably do feel they had “better jolly well be Good Mothers” to justify the sacrifice of giving up their careers, are any indictment of feminism, but rather of the very forces it challenges. In attacking the effects of patriarchy and blaming them on feminism, Waldman pulls off a truly extraordinary non-sequitur.

But why? To spout such nonsense generally requires either acute stupidity or spite. In a Harvard graduate it is hard not to suspect the latter, particularly given her repeated reprobation of a mother depicted as the kind of Crazy Feminist™ Pat Robertson so feared. But actually, I don’t care why – and nor should anyone give a shit about Sophie on the swings or anything else Ayelet Waldman says or does or writes so long as she uses personal neuroses to legitimise sexism. You’d think such a self-trumpeting Former Classmate Of Obama’s might know better.

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