Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Motherlode or Motherload? Third Wave Women's Movement?

On March 14, 2010 in the New York Times I read an article in Fashion and Style entitled “Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand.”

The article is about mommy blogs that have blossomed from being needed outlets for creativity, stress relief, and isolation blues to practically an industry as well as a cultural phenomenon.

I am writing to celebrate the twenty-second anniversary of my ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church. It took me a record eleven years back then, so I'm indulging in a record blog rant.

Some of my troubles getting ordained were because I was, let's say, an active mother. Things have improved but anyone who says the issue is all settled in the Church just because the law allows women's ordination is delusional.

Is there a third wave of the women’s movement for liberation? How many waves do we need? Silly question. Statistics in both government and the corporate world for women’s full participation are pitiful in the Unites States compared to other countries who have actually set quotas to assure the inclusion of women! (See Boston Globe March 23, 2010, Derrick Jackson op-ed.)

The Winter, 2009-10 issue of Lilith magazine reports similar statistics just about Jewish communal organizations in America, saying that to be attractive to postmodern American Jews more female leaders and their voices in leadership structures are a must in all organizations. Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, director of Rabbis Without Borders wrote an op-ed essay headlined: "Jewish community ignores female leaders at its peril."

The blogger article drew my attention because I remember, I'm an elder-blogger, and I feel the same branding pressure in publishing. Also because I saw a cow being branded once—more than a little sting!

The article by Jennifer Mendelsohn reports on the latest in conferencing called Bloggy Boot Camp in which corporate America shines. Attendees, mostly thirty-something women, were offered lectures on branding themselves, guidance on beefing up their blogs, selecting a brand name, how to market and sell their brand for the sake of a cause or maybe even to get a job for which you they may not even have a resumé, as one woman did.

A friend commented that sometimes it (life in this culture I assume) feels like the hall of mirrors at Versailles. I popped back with: Are the mirrors in this blog hall fun house mirrors?

Something felt distorted and I feared that once again it was something not respectful of women, their needs and their lives.

Are these mommy bloggers being exploited, their needs for relationship connections being used for commercial purposes? Some companies offer perks if the blogger touts their brand, as in brand for brand, a mutual admiration society. Win-win!
Or are they being empowered, finding voice, being counted?

Perhaps this is a good thing for women who long for community, an outlet for day to day frustrations, conversations with someone over four, conversations that are honest not structured but collegial.

It is a psychological truism now that women derive their well being and selfhood from mutually growth-fostering relationships. For turning around psychological assumptions about how women operate psychologically we owe thanks to the late Jean Baker Miller’s, Toward a New Psychology of Women.

The bloggy phenomenon might be called "motherlode" ( a fertile market for corporations) or “motherload” (an outlet for deep self-identity and creativity in the face of an overload of societal expectations for mothers and serious ongoing cultural ambivalence about motherhood.)

I can easily see that mothers are just as desperate as they were in my day, desperate for connection, for a sense of being professional or developing their own talents.

One of the speakers at this conference began her speech with “You’re here because you want to be seen as professional.”
Read, therefore we bring you a professional business conference just for you. But is that about the speaker or her audience? Women pay to go to these conferences.

I remember when I had all these same needs and longings as a young mother. I loved my children. I was lonely. I dreamed of a job. But I was internally and externally slammed with guilt about not being home when the kids got home. I worried and baked cookies and I’m sure my kids felt my preoccupations. They probably felt abandoned even though I was there. I wondered if the quality of my relationships with them might have improved if the quantity were less.

Would I wait till they all went off to college? By then I’d be too rusty, cranky and old. We had no computers and blogs. I wanted to be professional without becoming a man. I chose to follow my sense of call into the the ordination process in the Episcopal Church. The Church turned me down saying it would be a "dual vocation." They meant I couldn't be a mother and a priest.

I set out to prove otherwise and still live up to the expectations (heavy) of the day (1980's) for mothers. When I was in seminary I remember saying once to one of my children as I both thrived and chafed under the heavy but exhilarating reading of the Old Testament (very wordy) something like, "Shut up. I'm reading my Bible!" Not as nice as "Honey, don't bother Mommy. I'm too busy building my brand."

For how many of these young women bloggers is blogging meeting basic and deep spiritual needs: to be heard, taken seriously and listened to? Or is there an illusion of depth going on? I don’t know. I just know it’s hard. For me blogging is a way to keep writing, keep my voice in tune, while I wait to publish.

What happens post-mommying of the direct care kind?
Will mommies find a way through blogging to do something they really want to do and are good at that enhances their post-mommy lives? Or is it just a coping mechanism while staying at home with kids? Or will there be a new diagnosis called post-mommy traumatic stress disorder?

My solution was to get a job. I still felt guilty! I was lucky my mother lived near enough and had told me that being a mother was the most important thing a woman could do, so I didn't feel guilty about letting her try it again for my growing kids. I was grateful.

I remember my first little pay check, even contemplating framing it. I wrote for a small weekly paper and later as a hospital chaplain while I waited for the Church to ordain me which they eventually did thanks to my pit bull perseverance, lots of grace and time. I was fifty.

So part of me feels with all these women. They are trying to find something just for themselves and all the old familiar traps are still there. But for now they can be clever creative bloggers, have real life conversations without having to get a babysitter, and be a stay-at-home mother. They have found a way for now to have a “dual vocation," and to add professional polish to their thoughts.

It's better than addiction to Facebook
a kind of sharing which serves similar purposes I assume. I’d like to hope that the race to blogging is a symptom of sexism resistance. A lunge for pride of place in a patriarchal society in which women can get idealized and enslaved all at once. The blogger conference could be a product of this lunge for liberation.

The problem I suppose is still seated, most obstinately, in the rigidity of our American patriarchal system (not just about men) based as it still is for its functioning on the necessity of -isms. To sexism, genderism, ableism, heterosexism, racism and all the others add mother-ism the irrational gripping fear that your mother or someone else's might just take over the world. Yes, we've come a long way but not far enough.

Perhaps for me the fun house mirror distortion is my own mixed feelings. While I think women are very resourceful in getting their needs met through blogging re. stay-at-home mothering and self-realization, I wonder if this is being mocked as "just another woman thing." I wonder too if this blogging is an energy outlet that masks a deeper longing for full societal (and church) acceptance of women's ways and needs.

We don’t yet in Church or society help women, through policy, attitude or financing, know that mothering is truly valued, that their choices don’t have to be either/or, that they are not alone in their efforts to be both good mothers and fully contributing citizens in the world of work for pay.

I have read that when Rosie the Riveter and her ilk went back home to full time motherhood they got depressed. And it wasn’t because the kids were difficult!

All this leaves me sad as a woman and as a Christian and priest. The fact that we need a third wave women’s movement is a sign that spirituality is wounded, that distortions still exist of God’s image, Jesus’ compassion, the biblical prophets’ call for justice, and resurrection theology— not to mention human relations and relentless domestic violence.

So I’m blogging about it!