restricted access 12. The Motherhood Memoir and the “New Momism”: Biting the Hand That Feeds You
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203 The Motherhood Memoir and the “New Momism”: Biting the Hand That Feeds You by andrea o’reilly 12 After reading and rereading a dozen or more motherhood memoirs and many more articles on the subject, I, in a frustrating moment of writer’s block, decided to Google the topic to see if someone else’s insight would facilitate my own. While “motherhood memoir” yielded 545 hits, and “momoir ”another8900,thephrase“mommylit”resultedinastaggering33,400 entries. It seems that while I may have been at a loss for words, plenty had been written on “mommy lit.” While the genre, to my knowledge, eludes a precise definition, there seems to be some agreement on its characteristics. In her recent article “You Are Not Alone: The Personal, the Political, and the ‘New’ MommyLit,”HeatherHewettexplainsthat“theonlyrequirement seemed to be that it explored the ‘real’ experience of motherhood honestly, without sentimentality or idealization or judgement from the point of view of the mother.Andmoreoftenthannot,itcircledaroundtheissuesofwork, identity and motherhood” (121). And all agree that “mommy lit” is a very recent literary genre, emerging only within the last decade, at the turn of the millennium. Stephanie Wilkinson and Jennifer Niesslein, editors of Brain, Child, open their 2005 article “Motherhood in Book Publishing” by referring to the initial mission statement of their magazine. “Motherhood,” they wrote in their inaugural 2000 issue, “is worthy of literature.” “It seemed an outrage to us,” they go to say, “that there were probably as many literary books 204 andrea o’reilly on bull-fighting as there were on the near-universal experience of raising kids” (1). Five years later, they concede that “anyone can go into a decent bookstore and find volumes of thought-provoking writing about motherhood . In addition to the advice books and lite humor, you can find a smorgasbord of serious books about motherhood” (1). In particular, they note, the mother-lit trend that began in the mid 1990s, “if not exactly a flood, seems a healthy stream” (3). Faulkner Fox, author of the best-selling Dispatches , explains that when she started her book project in the fall of 2001, a book like hers did not exist: “If it had,” she says, “I would have just read it, not written it” (qtd. in Wilkinson and Niesslein 4). Fast forward five years and Heather Hewett writes: As my due date quickly approached, I became more and more apprehensive. I found myself craving books on the subject of motherhood, but not books that made me feel worse.… I wanted something else: the stories of other mothers, their collective wisdom, and the bigger picture of motherhood in America. Fortunately , there were plenty of books to choose from. (121) Indeed, a Google search of the words “motherhood/mothering/mothers” yields 438,000 hits. This abundance is indeed light years away from what was available to mothers 10 to 20 years ago. In 1983, when I first became pregnant, we would be lucky to come across a copy of Rich’s Of Woman Born (1976) or Jane Lazarre’s The Mother Knot at a book store, that is, if they had not gone out of print. And we certainly could not turn to the estimated 8500 parenting blogs for comfort and community. Again, if we were fortunate we had a mother-friend from the same apartment block whom we could meet in the playground after dishes were done and when the weather permitted. Numerous explanations have been offered to account for the explosion of mothering literature, and in particular motherhood memoirs, over the last15yearsandmostnotablyinthelasteightyears.WilkinsonandNiesslein point to several factors, one of which is feminism. They explain: This generation of mothers is the first to have grown up with the women’s movement of the seventies in progress. At least some of us were told from the get-go thatouropinionsmatter,thatourexperiencesarevalid.Growingupwiththesame sense of entitlement as our brothers played out in all sorts of well-documented ways. One less documented way that today’s women’s sense of entitlement has played out is in publishing. If football coaches and fishing enthusiasts could pen books about their experiences, why not mothers? (5) 205 the motherhood memoir Related to this sense of entitlement, as Wilkinson and Niesslein note, is the purchasing power of women: they buy 68 percent of all books and read 56 percent of all literary works (6). Another reason, not discussed by Wilkinson and Niesslein, is demographics. In 2000, the first group of third-wave feminists turned 35 and began having children. And while...