The National Post (a Canadian national daily) had an article in last weekend's paper by Anne Kingston (who is one of the few Post writers who does not make my teeth itch) entitled The latest motherhood advice is not about raising children, and subtitled The only acceptable stay-at-home moms are yummy. Seeing the word motherhood in the title, I immediately wondered, as Daphne de Marneffe calls it, 'Is it for me or against me?' When my eyes skimmed over Danielle Crittenden's name, I feared the worst.
The article starts out with a brief plug for James Lileks's Mommy Knows Worst book, which pokes fun at parenting advice of the '40s and '50s (such as the recommendation to baste your babies in oil before putting them out in the sun.) Kingston points out that although such advice seems silly in our day and age, modern parents are not immune to advice givers such as the "those stern, boxy British Nannies...browbeating American parents about the need for discipline."
Then she writes: "What distinguishes motherhood propaganda today, however, is that it's most virulent strain is directed not at child-raising but mother-raising -- as in how to self-actualize as a Yummy Mummy." The Post, like many of their mainstream media counterparts, have featured a number of Yummy Mummy type articles such as this one which seem to treat mothers primarily as a self-indulgent consumer group, so I was interested to see what Kingston had to say on the topic.
Kingston discusses a Sunday Telegraph article (reprinted in the Post) by Danielle Crittenden which espouses the new Housewife Chic where "the old-fashioned, full-time mother at home is being celebrated -- as fashion icon, as status symbol, as sex symbol." Apparently Crittenden is enamoured with mothers such as Darla Shine who embrace the notion of the Happy Housewife without any sense of irony. (For a truly hair-raising experience, read some of the press releases for the Shine-approved Total 180 magazine. I was particularly fond of the one entitled: "Girlfriend Media Group and Darla Shine Join Together to Demand Respect for Women who Choose their Children Over their Career" which offers this gem:
It's the new feminism.... We are capable, educated women, but we don't want to break the glass ceiling anymore. We are reinventing ourselves and molding out lives around our children's schedules.
Kingston challenges Crittenden's notion that Housewife Chic is a new thing and also debunks her assertion that highly paid, educated women are opting out of the workforce as part of this trend (a slowing economy, not fashion, is taking women out of the workforce in slightly higher numbers than in previous years). She also sees this narrow view of motherhood as unpalatable for, in addition to the pressure of being fashionably Yummy, "there's also the indignity of having the back-breaking work and self-sacrifice involved in motherhood minimized as a "lifestyle" choice designed for self-fulfilment."