Betty Friedan’s epochal work, The Feminine Mystique, inspired the feminist movement nearly fifty years ago. Today, blogs like Working Moms Against Guilt, gives hardworking mothers a place to voice their struggles in balancing work and family. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Working Moms Against Guilt (workingmomsagainstguilt.com) is a blog whose aim is to bring motherly perseverance to the forefront by fighting against the powerful and numerous forces of guilt.
WMAG’s mission statement is to “resist the guilt and embrace the journey” of nurturing a family and career simultaneously. At first, such an idea seems like a sad morsel of white flag, quasi-feminism, but it soon unravels as a celebration of matronly accomplishments. Its Sartrean exploration of responsibility rivals the age-old Andrew Jacksonian self-made, brass-balled man who turned a blind eye to circumstance.
Delving further into the blog, a sense of guiltless relief passes over this male reader, and the workings of a real cultural phenomenon arise from the text: women are built tough. Like, built Ford tough, tough. Browsing through the entries, one gleans an extraordinary pride emerging from the ordinary, but in a refreshingly matter-of-fact tone. Susan blogs about her efforts to lose 100 pounds, stating, “I have to constantly resist urges, temptations, habits to reach for the fattiest, sweetest junk. I have to force myself to leave my work or kids behind and exercise.” Guilt, the sweetest treat, beckons from the cupboards and sheds a salty, delicious teardrop as it faces a crushing defeat.
The other guilt, or what is known to many as “white guilt” (the pork of guilt), is examined through the perspective of an exhausted mother seeking chore-relief: “Don’t you know, the only way to maximize your time and enjoy life more is to outsource the sucky stuff?” she posits. However tempting it may be to relate such a sentiment to the “first-world versus third world problems” trend, we can all bask in the glow of time off, especially from solitary tasks.
Historically, guilt fails without its older, sneakier brother shame, which found its niche in the rhetoric of Madison Avenue admen who started pointing out inventing flaws in women to promote beauty products and vacuum cleaners. The most recent incarnation, the Dove Corporation’s PitiCure (Have YOU tried it?), finally blows the whistle on the unsightly chasm of filth known as the lady armpit. Add to that the renewed attacks on Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights, and one is despairingly forced to ask: should people have a political stance on the choices women make? Does the government dictate when a man should have children? Obviously, a fundamental gender inequality in how Americans view family affairs is at work here, but in reality, women end up bearing most of the guilt. The general mistrust of women to be responsible for everything from fetuses to armpits imposes a much deeper, existential form of guilt that expects an accountability that men almost never learn.
Can a mother not unload her guilt on a child or husband every once and a while? Should mothers feel guilty for invoking guilt in their less occupied family members, or should we encourage mothers to take shelter from the pressure by taking an occasional trip to the guilt islands? Or is blogging sufficient? How much has the migration of common grievances from the streets to the Internet contributed to the rise of the American youth’s complacency?
A recent study referenced in the WMAG blog shows a positive correlation between the hours a mother spends at work and her children’s BMI. The study is income and family-unit controlled (75% of the participants are high income, 80% two-parent families), and does not account for the hours that fathers spend at work, nor does it reference the presence of legal guardians or babysitters. In a related entry concerning child monitoring, guest blogger Dana notes, “I really know very little about what my kids really do every day,” and she then expostulates on the dangers and benefits of giving a child too much freedom.
To helicopter, or not to helicopter: that is another question. Oftentimes working mothers must rely on the beneficence of neighbors, teachers, community members, and of course the TV and the Internet to temporarily raise their children.
But to suggest that women return to their roles as housewives or significantly sacrifice their careers to mold traditional family units is laughable. As standards of living grow harder to maintain and a decent education becomes more of a privilege than a right, the family unit must morph to adapt. Much of that adaptation requires a secondary stream of income.
What this campaign of guilt-defying working mothers subtly relies on, however, is the hope that the husband will increase his participation in family affairs. Introducing the elements of customary roles (lawnmowers versus dishwashers) and inherited ideals of relationships can further complicate good intentions, much like genetics complicate fate.
Ultimately guilt is pervasive, and despite a recent cultural push away from guilt, snitching, grieving, sniveling, snorting, or other means of contention that do not pay immediate dividends, it is hard to imagine a world without guilt. However, the imposition of guilt has, to a great extent, run its course due to its overuse by advertisers, charities, political campaigns, and religions. As the exasperated masses of media consumption tread lightly in the waters of compassion, they look for ways to escape the guilt industry to pursue the relief industry. Are working moms capable of surmounting at-home guilt, media guilt, and class guilt? If they brought us into this world and they can take us back out, they can do anything.
Written by: Jakob Schnaidt