October 10, 2002
Down to the whine cellerSuzanne Fields
Some women are pouring old whine into new battles. No matter how much leave we get after we get the baby we want, no matter how much money we make in the jobs we always wanted, no matter how high our professional status, or how many affairs, husbands or yoga classes we get or how many miles we jog, Freud still doesn't have the answer to his famous question: "What do women want?" The cups that runneth over runneth over with the grapes of rage.
Or so it can seem. The "feminine mystique," identifying the unhappiness of the stay-at-home mother, has morphed into feminist fury, the anger of the successful working mother. Trendy new books tell the stories of women who have shattered glass ceilings only to find that it's their children who suffer the head wounds.
"I wish the weekends were weeks," says 5-year-old Emily to her successful mom, the high-flying fund manager in the novel "I Don't Know How She Does It," the latest stylish literary import from London. It's written specifically for frustrated working mothers. Not since "Bridget Jones Diary" has the privileged working woman complained so much over the endless and frustrating details of life that get in the way of her pursuit of happiness. (And yes, it is soon to be a major motion picture.)
This witty and sometimes poignant tale by Allison Pearson, a London newspaper columnist, is the fictional account of the unsatisfied working mother who can't possibly get the best of both possible worlds because her worlds tear at each other like two dogs competing for a single bone.
The reader is first introduced to a concise Oxford dictionary meaning of "juggle," which requires dexterity, ingenuity, misrepresentation and deceit. Kate Reddy, the married protagonist, has a "reasonable" husband and two adorable children, but she is hysterical and near despair as she brings down a rolling pin on the crusts of the store-bought mince pies for her daughter's classroom party, to "distress" them so they'll look like the lumpy homemade pies the stay-at-home moms will contribute: "Home is where the good mother is, baking for her children."
Whining women with considerably less style are exposed in a much-publicized book called "The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth about Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage."
In it, women play out the freedoms wrought by the sexual revolution and feminism, only to discover disappointment, dissatisfaction and sometimes even disapproval. But only occasional insights emerge from this catalog of one-night stands, fleeting "cohabitations" and other distractions from work. One essayist rediscovers the heel the hard way: "Never try to make a husband (begin ital) your husband."
This volume, edited by Cathi Hanauer, grew out of personal experience: "I was in my mid-30s, I had everything I had always wanted - a great husband, two great kids and a great career. And I still wasn't happy. I was angry all the time." The theme of these walking wounded women is "Mommy Maddest."
If these tales of privileged women whining wearies you, you might pick up "Great American Conservative Women," a collection of personal experiences, philosophies and ideas gathered together by the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, to offer women on campus a different view of the world in an academic culture where women's studies programs dominate the attitudinal agenda, and where "conservative women" are rarely regarded with anything but contempt.
Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Ronald Reagan's representative to the United Nations, raised three sons and nursed a beloved husband through a long terminal illness. She does not talk about her difficulties of juggling family life and a career, but focuses on her experiences in the Third World, where women have few legal rights and are stuck in polygamous marriages.
Star Parker, a black mother of two daughters, is president and founder of the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education, and offers a road map of her journey from welfare to independence. Randall Brooks Phillips, the child star of "Annie" on Broadway, describes how she learned the importance of personal responsibility through a "show must go on" tradition - "no matter how tired, how sick or how bored." Dr. Laura Schlesinger, the radio host best known as "my kid's mom," describes how she's most proud of giving support to parents who put children first.
The sexual revolution that accompanied the liberation of women often coarsened male-female relationships. In liberating women, the revolution liberated men from many of the traditional demands on them. This inevitably stocked the whine cellar with more battles. The fruit of the whine can be bitter indeed.
Contact Suzanne Fields | Read her biography
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