Reviewer takes aim at 'war' of rich mommies

April 30, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO have a tough time keeping warring factions straight -- Hutus and Tutsis, Serbs and Croats, Sunnis and Shiites; Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics -- let me add another battling duo to the list: rich stay-at-home mothers and rich working mothers.

It is the burdens of privilege that separate these factions from their sisters, the women who have to work to keep food on the table and the women who have to work two jobs to keep food on the table.

Sandra Tsing Loh, a performer famous for her one-woman shows and a new contributor to The Atlantic Monthly , introduces us to this battling pair in her scathing review of Mommy Wars: Stay-At-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families (Random House), a collection of self-indulgent essays edited by Leslie Morgan Steiner.

In the May edition of the magazine, Loh employs a clever word to describe these kinds of essays -- "afflufemza, wherein the problems of affluence are recast as the struggles of feminism."

The contributors, she says, remind her of old episodes of Dynasty, which featured those epic battles between "Alexis the Execu-Bitch and Krystle the Saintly Wife."

Loh brilliantly mocks the fretfulness of rich women who try to justify what for them is a lifestyle choice and what for other women is a battle for survival.

"No surprise, then," she writes, "that the battle between stay-at-homes and career moms is described unfailingly in terms of outwear and accessories." Kate Spade bags and Ferragamos versus khakis and clogs. At least it is easy to tell what side you are on: check your closet.

Among the lamentations in this collection: How dare anyone suggest that a woman is somehow less of a mother because she can choose to opt out of the work force? Are you following this? Stay-at-home mothers defending their stripes against mothers who have no choice but to work.

All this time, I thought it was the working mothers who were supposed to feel defensive. But Loh's satire of our angst makes it clear that we should be embarrassed less about whether we choose to work or not than about our self-indulgent hand-wringing. Snap out of it!

And if there is indeed a Mommy War, look around and you will see what side you are on. "Wealthy, powerful left-leaning women will never be able to admit that they have much more in common with wealthy, powerful men than they do with their poor, disenfranchised pseudo sisters," Loh writes.

Loh, who takes Caitlin Flanagan's place at The Atlantic as the designated quisling and chick basher, changes the tenor of the mommy wars into an elitist cat fight. She makes women look ridiculous for wanting special praise for the choices they make when there is a whole class of mothers who don't have choices or the luxury of therapy to learn to defend those choices at cocktail parties.

And what about the kids? They aren't just props or chits in this whole Madonna arms race women have going. They are the point.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear an audio clip of this column and others, go to baltimoresun.com / reimer.

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