Photo: Kai Heidel
Photo: Kai Heidel

Women We Read This Week

Heather Kirn Lanier’s “How Parenting Became A Full-Time Job, And Why That’s Bad For Women” in The Establishment

When I was pregnant for the first time, I decided to be a stay-at-home mom. I vividly remember thinking that I had to stay home because I should be the one to raise my son, not some daycare. I tried my best at attachment parenting—co-sleeping, breastfeeding, infant carriers—but nothing seemed to soothe my colicky baby. Cut to two years later, and I was going stir crazy: bored, depressed, unfulfilled. Motherhood as career proved an empty promise.

This piece by Heather Kirn Lanier is a well-researched takedown of the notion of “parent” as a verb. She explains how, as women began to enter the workforce, society needed to find ways to fight back, ways to subtly encourage women to occupy their “rightful” place as mothers and homemakers. Thus began the very American idea of mothering as an all-consuming profession.

The verb “to parent” didn’t enter the American lexicon until 1958. It’s telling that this is the only familial role to be verb-ified: although a woman would never say, “I need to daughter better,” she might say, “I’m working on my parenting.” A daughter is only something you are, but parenting is something you do. (“Mother” and “father” are also verbs, though it’s noteworthy that only one of them is a job. “Mothering a child” is a form of parenting, an all-consuming personal vocation, while “fathering a child” is a one-off event.)

Mothers are reminded daily that everything we do or don’t do for our babies will have an irrevocable effect on their development and future success. Commercials remind us that a child’s brain growth is basically set after three years: the clock is ticking!

I now have three kids, and have long-since embraced a more relaxed, intuitive parenting style. I am an avid proponent of the CTFD parenting method (Calm the F*** Down) because seriously, there aren’t enough hours in the day to worry about all the things mothers are told to worry about. Besides, this new book seems to think parents don’t really even matter all that much.

Kaitlyn Greenidge’s “Who Gets to Write What? ” in The New York Times

I greatly enjoyed this thoughtful, nuanced addition to the continuing conversation on cultural appropriation and writing outside of your own experience. Many writers of fiction want to believe they have the right to write about whomever or whatever they want without being questioned about it. That’s true to some extent, but being allowed to write about something and being critiqued for how you write about it are two different things.

A writer has the right to inhabit any character she pleases — she’s always had it and will continue to have it. The complaint seems to be less that some people ask writers to think about cultural appropriation, and more that a writer wishes her work not to be critiqued for doing so, that instead she get a gold star for trying.

Did you write another race in a reductive, stereotypical way? Did you throw in a hastily created, non-dimensional character of color just for the sake of it? Or did you truly try to portray an experience that is not your own through extensive research and artful, compassionate narrative? Greenidge seems to say that it boils down to how well you write the “other” and to the importance of knowing that “other’s” history of power and/or oppression.

Now I look back and I can say I felt so strongly that Bill had a right to write that scene because he wrote it well. Because he was a good writer, a thoughtful writer, and that scene had a reason to exist besides morbid curiosity or a petulant delight in shrugging on and off another’s pain — the fact that a reader couldn’t see that shook my core about what fiction could and couldn’t do.

Selina Cheng’s “An outdoor clothing brand mockingly fixed GQ’s sexist fall photoshoot” in Quartz

Ok, so this isn’t a brilliant essay, but it is an article about something awesome and important. I just can’t resist highlighting a piece about a truly splendid rebuttal to some blatant sexism.

Last week, GQ Style Magazine thought it would be cool to run a fashion feature that played on some very worn-out gender stereotypes, with intrepid men scaling rocks, and their “cute” female friends doing little more than, well, looking cute in bikini tops. Outdoor Research, a brand for hiking and climbing clothing and accessories, brilliantly responded with its own pitch-perfect parody series.

The women apparently don’t even deserve names. They are scantily clad eye candy watching as their cool guy friends do amazing feats. The glorified clothing ad is attempting to sell designer clothes to outdoorsy men to the tune of $3,000 and up a piece. Besides replicating every photo shot-for-shot, but with the genders reversed, Outdoor Research also poked fun at the exorbitant cost of the clothing. As an avid thrift store shopper, my favorite is the photo labeled “Vest from Goodwill Thrift Store, $5.”

“[The GQ Style article] created a little bit of a buzz in the climbing and outdoor community, people were reacting not only to the ridiculousness of the expensive clothes in the climbing setting, but more specifically to the pretty blatant sexism shown in the article, only highlighting male climbers, not highlighting really awesome female climbers,” says Outdoor Research spokesperson Erika Canfield.

Olivia

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