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  • The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women
  • Andrea Press (bio)
The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels. New York: Free Press, 2004, 400 pp., $26.00 hardcover.

In the current political climate, it is sometimes challenging to think back to the heyday of second-wave feminism, probably around 1970, when women in many facets of our society were applying critical concepts when thinking about their position inside and outside the family. It is challenging because it's so far from the current reality, in which "feminism" has such a bad name.

How was this shift accomplished? While Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels do not give us the complete answer (perhaps no one can), they well illustrate that a shift in our popular vision of feminism has occurred, discuss in detail the extent of this shift and its impact on the lives of Americans and their families, and go on to offer a skillful explanation of the political forces that led to this situation.

A huge part of our fervent and growing embrace of so-called "traditional" family values is what Douglas and Michaels call the "new momism." Momism is the ethic that has impossibly raised the levels of time and expertise needed to meet the rapidly rising minimum level of "good enough" mothering. Women today have incorporated a version of expert mothering into the scale by which they're evaluated, and by which they evaluate themselves—a scale so harsh that most internalize permanent feelings of failure both on the work front as well as the mom front. That women are aware that these stakes are impossible is evidenced by the popularity of TV shows, films, and books either dramatizing or laughing at the incompatible ideals today's moms are supposed to embrace. Put another way, why do American women continue to evaluate themselves along the impossible double axis of "good enough" (meaning excellent, high-quality, all-encompassing) mothering paired with successful careerism/working? Put yet another way, why do I feel I should be at home playing with my six-year-old even as I sit here writing this long overdue review?

The answer to this question is a "complexifying" mix of political and economic interests using women's susceptibility, vulnerability and guilt, and true concern about their children's welfare and future in the interests of a power structure that evinces precious little of the same concern. The Mommy Myth poses the question in no uncertain terms: "The question is why one reactionary, normative ideology, so out of sync with millions of women's lives, seems to be getting the upper hand" (24). It goes on to do a masterful job of illustrating the existence of this ideology in multiple facets of postmodern life—the toy industry, television news, magazine [End Page 235] coverage dragging celebrities into the momist debates, and almost everywhere else. The reasons explaining why momist ideology predominates vary from sphere to sphere, composing an ideological whole that is troubling to say the least.

The Mommy Myth also illustrates that there is widespread evidence of sentiments critical of the new momism. Even if Hollywood film embraces the most reactionary ideas about motherhood, TV entertainment shows in particular give us plenty of wise-cracking, back-talking, less-than-perfect mommies, once we look beyond the June Cleavers of early television. These images coexist alongside a power structure and concomitant set of government corporate policies, which bolster the opposing, reactionary images, and make life uncomfortable, difficult, and sometimes dangerous for American moms and their kids. When I quiz my bright, intelligent undergraduate women students on their family plans, why does every last woman disavow feminism and state her intention to be a stay-at-home mom, at least for the years her kids need her. As one who's come full circle through the feminist movement, having grown up determined not to replicate my mother's housewife status, I now listen to my bright, well-read daughter question my work hours (other moms play with their kids!) and lecture me on the evils of abortion...


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pp. 235-236
Launched on MUSE
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