Ms. Magazine
 

Ms.CELLANEOUS:
*What?
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*Word: United
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**Sisters Spin Talk
on Hip-hop
**
Two feminists who came of age with the music and the culture take a long, hard look at its impact--for better and worse--on young women, and reassess its importance in their lives. > by Tara Roberts and Eisa Nefertari Ulen

**The Mommy Wars**
How the media pits one group of mothers against another. It all boils down to the Haves versus the Have-Nots. > by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels
**Going Underground**
One woman's moving account of the painful decision to give up family, friends, and identity, and flee with her daughter to a safer life > by Anonymous Plus: Information about hiding in plain sight > by Hagar Scher

YOUR WORK:
*Road Scholar: Women in Academia
* Women's Work: Police Officer
* Worknotes

ARTS:
*Indie Filmmaker Christine Vachon
* It's Schapiro's Time
*Artswatch

BOOKS:
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*Editor's Page
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* Women Organizing Worldwide
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Columns > by Patricia Smith and Gloria Steinem

*Making Waves
*No Comment

**Turning the Tables on "Science"**
When Natalie Angier wrote Woman: An Intimate Geography, she took on accepted truths about women, poked holes in them, and offered an exciting revisionist view of our bodies. Oh boy, did she ruffle some feathers! > by Marilyn Milloy

NEWS:
*Ten Laws That Will Make Your Blood Boil
*Epithets Deleted: French Women Demand Respect
*Women in the House
*Free Kosovar Albanian Activist-Poet Flora Brovina
*Madrid's Back Alleys
*
Newsmaker: Dawn Riley *Reviving the ERA
*Opinion: Count Me In
*Amazon Bookstore Update: Beware the Lesbians!
*Pakistan's Turning Point
*A New Law for Unmarried Couples in France
*Recognition for African Women Farmers
*Clippings

 
 

 

 
*4*

<cont'd Even the New York Times' Jason De Parle, one of the more sympathetic white male journalists to cover welfare, gets blinded by class privilege. Roslyn Hale, he wrote in 1994, who had been trying to get off welfare, had a succession of jobs that "alternatively invite and discourage public sympathy." She had worked as a maid and as a clerk in a convenience store during the overnight shift when drunks came in and threatened her with a knife. Hale "blames economics for her problems," De Parle reports, since these were crappy jobs that paid only minimum wage. "And sometimes she blames herself. 'I have an attitude,' she admitted." Hello? What middle-class woman would not have "an attitude" after having been threatened at knifepoint or being expected to be grateful for such jobs? In the Boston Globe's "Welfare Reform Through a Child's Eyes" we see little Alicia, who now has a room of her own, Barbies, four kittens, and a ferret because her mother got a job. But although this story appears to be through the child's eyes (never the mother's), it's actually through the judgmental eyes of the press. Sure, the mom has quit drinking, quit crack, and is now working at a nursing center. But the apartment is "suffused with the aroma of animal droppings and her mother's cigarette smoke." Presumably everyone but welfare mothers and former welfare mothers knows how to make their litter boxes smell like gardenias. One of the sentences most commonly used to characterize the welfare mother is "Tanya, who has ____ children by ____ different men . . ." (you fill in the blanks). Their lives are reduced to the number of successful impregnations by multiple partners--like zoo animals, but unlike Christie Brinkley, although she has exactly the same reproductive M.O. And while the celebrity magazines gush that Christie, Kirstie, and Cindy are sexier than ever, a welfare mother's sexuality is depicted as her downfall.

In the last three years, we've seen the dismantling of the nation's welfare system. Meanwhile, the resentment over the ridiculous standards we're supposed to meet is rising. Sure, many of us ridicule these preposterous portraits of celebrity mom-dom, and we gloated when the monumentally self-righteous "I read the Bible to Cody" Kathie Lee Gifford got her various comeuppances. But the problem is bigger than that: the standards set by celebrity motherhood as touted by the media, with their powerful emphasis on individual will, choice, and responsibility, severely undercut sympathy for poor mothers and their children. Both media characterizations have made it easier for middle-class and upper-middle-class women--especially working women facing speed-ups at work and a decline in leisure time--to resent welfare mothers instead of identifying with them and their struggles.

Why does the media offer us this vision? Not surprising, many reporters bought into the myths that began in the Reagan era, with its dogma of trickle-down economics, its attacks on the poor and people of color, and its antifeminist backlash, through which patriarchy got a new name--family values. Becoming rich and famous came to be the ultimate personal achievement. Reagan's message was simple--the outlandish accumulation of wealth by the few is the basis of a strong economy.

In that context, celebrity-mom profiles haven't been just harmless dreck that help sell magazines. They have encouraged self-loathing, rather than reassurance, in those of us financially comfortable enough not to have to worry about where our kids' next meals are coming from. And they play a subtle but important role in encouraging so many of us to think about motherhood as an individual achievement and a test of individual will and self-discipline. That mind-set--the one that promotes individual responsibility over community and societal obligations--justifies letting poor women and their children fend for themselves until mom makes the right lifestyle choices.

These stories suggest that we, too, can make it to the summit if we just get up earlier, laugh more, and buy the right products. These stories are about leaving others behind, down below. Phony images of joyful, ever-nurturing celebrity moms sitting side-by-side in the newsstands next to humorless, scowling welfare mothers naturalize a pecking order in which some kids deserve to eat well, have access to a doctor, or go to Disney World, and others do not. Under the glossy veneer of maternal joy, generosity, and love lurks the worst sort of narcissism that insists it's every woman for herself. Paying lip service to a collagen-injected feminism, celebrity momism trivializes the struggles and hopes of real women, and kisses off sisterhood as hopelessly out of style.

Susan Douglas teaches communication studies at the University of Michigan and is the author of "Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media" (Times Books). Meredith Michaels teaches philosophy at Smith College. Her most recent book (with Lynn Marie Morgan) is "Fetal Subjects, Feminist Positions" (University of Pennsylvania Press). Douglas and Michaels are working on a book about media representations of motherhood.