Thursday, January 15, 2004

Where am I going with this?

It seems the blog circuit is buzzing about Caitlin Flanagan and her review of Dr Laura's new book, but generally about Flanagan.

So I had to check out what it's all about.

For starters, there's a contrasting review of that book in the Washington Post, with which I agree.

On the "other" side is Flanagan, who points out, "Our culture is quick to point out the responsibilities husbands have to wives—they should help out with the housework, be better listeners, understand that a woman wants to be more than somebody's mother and somebody's wife—but very reluctant to suggest that a wife has responsibilities to her husband." OK.

She goes on about all Dr Laura's contradictions as a person. Fine, I don't know much about Dr Laura (though from what I know, I don't think she's my cuppa tea). Flanagan criticizes the book for not once mentioning the stay-at-home dad.

Then Flanagan explains of Dr Laura that:

"If she had admitted up front that as a young woman she lived a life of sexual liberty and experimentation (rather than waiting for the press to discover and reveal this past, one humiliating episode at a time), and if she had explained that motherhood had produced profound changes in her, she would have earned herself a lot less derision and ire. There are many of us who understand that once you have children, certain doors ought to be closed to you forever. That to do right by a child means more than buying him the latest bicycle helmet and getting him on the best soccer team. It means investing oneself completely in the marriage that wrought him, for there isn't a person in the world who won't date his moments of greatest happiness to the time his family was the most intact, whole, unshakable."

Well, yes.

Flanagan casually mentions in her reviews that she's a mother. This is what she's all about.

In last issue's column, she reviewed a handful of books of the subject of marriage and sex, "The Wifely Duty." Among Flanagan's observations:

Men can be cajoled into doing all sorts of household tasks, but they will not do them the way a woman would. They will bathe the children, but they will not straighten the bath mat and wring out the washcloths; they will drop a toddler off at nursery school, but they won't spend ten minutes chatting with the teacher and collecting the art projects. They will, in other words, do what men have always done: reduce a job to its simplest essentials and utterly ignore the fillips and niceties that women tend to regard as equally essential. And a lot of women feel cheated and angry and even—bless their hearts—surprised about this.... I might be quietly thrilled if my husband decided to forgo his weekly tennis game so that he could alphabetize the spices and scrub the lazy Susan, but I would hardly consider it an erotic gesture.

Well, yes, again.

[As an aside, when I read, "The reason abortion rights hold such a sanctified position in American political life is that they are a critical component of the yuppie program for maximum personal sexual pleasure," my regard for Flanagan plummeted.]

But here's where it gets complicated. Before I had a baby I would've responded differently. To all of this stuff. A woman needs a balanced life. And it is the crux of my discomfort that I might be a person who believes "having a baby changes everything." It shouldn't. Not everything. If anything it should only improve, nurture, highlight (and sometimes mask) the cores of goodness, of being, already within us.

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