When the Circle of Life is a Noose

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, the blogger who runs babyonbored, is a mother who is no longer drinking. She’s also written at least three books, celebrating the grind of baby-raising,  the most recent one:  It’s not Me, It’s You, falls, according to the New York Times, into the “antiperfection mom-lit” world. A bold new category.

I am relieved that there is such a category. I am sad that it did not exist 20, 40 or 60 years ago, when it was just as necessary as today.

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor's book for today's moms

Stefanie Wilder-Taylor's book for today's moms

Wilder-Taylor writes with the acerbic, honest style we have come to admire and expect of the women we blazed the trail for. We were the generation who felt the same despair, the same fear, the same inadequacy. We sat on our stoops drinking chardonnay out of sippy cups,  frightened and alone, wondering what had happened to our identities. We were “Jimmy’s mom” or “Darla’s mom” and we wore shirtwaists when we felt we wanted to belong and blue jeans when we did not.

We looked at photos of moms with a baby held softly to her breast, her face a picture of composure. The baby was blond and mom had long, perfect hair falling over the nursing breast, as they sat in the shade of a big oak, protected and safe. Both baby and mom were swathed in white eyelet. Motherhood was nothing like that for us. We had on damp, sour-smelling button-front blouses. Underneath were bulky nursing bras, also damp from spurting milk. Our nipples were raw and the baby was screaming. Our hair was unwashed and smeared with our tears and the baby’s snot. We knew we were inadequate mothers.

We were alone in the suburbs. Just out of college, where our career choices were limited to secretary, nurse, or teacher  we had not wanted any of those. Marriage was a chance to get out of our parents’ house before they could guilt us into staying to serve an endless row of TV dinners on plastic tray tables. We had wandered out in search of that wonderful man who would support us, babies who would delight us, and a life spent in the delights of being a “homemaker,” the highest goal a woman could aspire to.

We’ d been lied to. Homemaking was a boring stupor of cleaning, washing, folding, ironing and cooking, which repeated in endless cycles. We then braved the men’s world,  walking into the places we could find identities, we were scorned by both the men and our friends.

The surprise is that the men were not interested in seeing “the little woman” in a business role. We struggled with emotions that promised that the cute girl got the cute guy, using the same “teddy-bear tricks” we’d used in college. It didn’t move us up the ladder of success; more often we were bedded down instead of helped up. Mentoring was for men. The other women in the workplace looked like friends, but were competitors.

Unlike Taylor-Wilder, we did not have the support of strangers that Wilder-Taylor got from her blog–“People have been loving me right through the Internet,” she says of the help.  Instead, we were the generation exemplified by June Carter (as played by Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line), confronted by an angry store clerk for leaving her first husband. “I can’t imagine your parents still talking to you. You are an abomination,” hissed the angry woman. “I’m so sorry I disappointed you,” answers June, an answer that would be impossible today.

When I tell younger women that I was sent home from work for wearing a 3-piece, long-sleeved pants suit, they laugh. When I tell younger women that I was fired from my job when I got married, and from another when I got pregnant, they think I’m joking. But it happened, and not so long ago.

Most of us felt alone. When Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room hit the market around 1978, most of us

Marilyn French's book came out in 1978

Marilyn French's book came out in 1978

read it with recognition, relief, and hope. Thirty years passed between the two books. Both point to a society that hasn’t done much to solve the serious problems women face as both the breadwinner and the caretaker. We’ve come around full circle. There are women CEOs, women in politics and medicine. And women in despair, holding their babies. Feminism was forgotten, written off as a phase of bra-burning. It’s time to bring it back. As a real-life approach to helping women and men create a stronger bond at work and at home.

Note: Marilyn French died in May of 2009.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. You can see her business site at QuinnCreative.com and visit her art journaling site at Raw-Art-Journals.com (c) QuinnCreative 2009 All rights reserved.