Babies: Katie Roiphe’s anti-drug

Found through Pandagon, author and noted anti-feminist Katie Roiphe, a first-time mother of a six week old infant, wonders why feminists, particularly those of the childfree variety, just refuse to admit how wonderful babies are.  After all, motherhood for her so far is a hippie, touchy-feely wonderland where every waking moment of her life is consumed in her child, and she loves it.

There is an opium-den quality to maternity leave. The high of a love that obliterates everything. A need so consuming that it is threatening to everything you are and care about. Where did your day go? Did you stare blankly at the baby for hours? And was that staring blankly more fiercely pleasurable, more compelling than nearly anything you have ever done? One of the minor dishonesties of the feminist movement has been to underestimate the passion of this time, to try for a rational, politically expedient assessment. Historically, feminists have emphasized the difficulty, the drudgery of new motherhood. They have tried to analogize childcare to the work of men; and so for a long time, women have called motherhood a “vocation.” The act of caring for a baby is demanding, and arduous, of course, but it is wilder and more narcotic than any kind of work I have ever done.

Some of the pressing tasks I do—say, running to the drugstore to buy more pacifiers—are just excuses to think about the baby, to obsess and dwell upon every little thing about him. Here again is the singular fixation that characterizes addiction rather than calm productivity.

Ah yes, spoken like a new mother who has not yet had to deal with teething, tantrums and bodily effluvia in a variety of fascinating colors and textures.  There is something charmingly irritating about a woman who has just very recently given birth and is already convinced that she has this motherhood thing down, that every moment she spends with her child is spiritual and poetic, that she has all the answers and can’t understand why other mothers can’t get it together.  These are the women who claim that as their children grow they will make every outing with them a “learning experience,” that they’ll never resort to fast food or frozen chicken nuggets even for a quick meal, that they’ll never lie to them, that they’ll always make time for them no matter what.  They have not yet discovered that the first six weeks of parenthood is the easiest time you’ll ever experience, because your child does little more than sleep, poop and cry.  After that, it gets a lot harder.  It becomes more rewarding and entertaining too, but make no mistake, it gets harder.

Katie Roiphe has long been a thorn in the side of feminism, mostly because she says stupid things like claiming that the fact that she’s never met anyone who was date raped must mean that date rape is an overexaggerated problem, not to mention that she seems to be one of those women who thinks we’re just better off being soft and feminine and letting men be in control.  I’m not surprised that she would have a similar, overly romanticized view of motherhood, to the point where she implies that anyone who doesn’t share her opinion on it couldn’t possibly know what they’re talking about, they just don’t know what they’re missing.  I am, however, surprised that she mentions going back to work soon (although I suspect Roiphe’s definition of “going back to work” differs from average, lower middle to middle class mothers), as I pegged her to be the type to immediately quit her job upon giving birth, declaring that she’s found her calling, there is no more to her life, at least for the next ten years or so, than to be a mother.  Considering she later states in the article that she can’t imagine choosing to write award winning novels over having children, as Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf did, clearly she believes that a woman who gives birth is worth more to the world than one who contributes to culture and the arts.  You’ll note that Roiphe has done both, so there’s a smugness to her essay that makes it damn near insufferable by the time it gets to the end.  It’s reminiscent of pretty much everything Caitlin Flanagan writes, especially on the subject of the “choice” we make to be working parents or stay at home mothers, a “choice” the majority of American women don’t actually have.

I wouldn’t wish colic or ear infections on an innocent baby, but it will be interesting to see what it will take to pop Katie Roiphe’s little bubble of self-satisfaction.  Once the hormones wear off and reality sets in, and she realizes that there isn’t anything all that poetic about discovering that you haven’t brushed your hair in two days because you’ve been chasing a growing toddler around the house, one that seems to grow extra arms and legs when you try to pick them up, as well as the ability to scream at a decibel equivalent to a 747 jet engine, she’ll get off this “feminists just need a whiff of new baby smell and they’ll see what’s really important in life” trip.  Motherhood is an incredibly important task, and it’s a choice I never once regret making for my own life.  However, I’m not going to kid myself and others by claiming that it’s the end-all, be-all for every woman, especially since I’m not naive enough to believe that parenting is a breeze for everyone.  The “I could just stare at his bitty little eyelashes for hours” phase doesn’t last long.  After that, it involves a lot of cleaning, a lot of soothing of tears, a lot of putting off either things you really need or at least want to do to watch Veggietales for the fifth time in a row.  Motherhood ain’t always pretty, and you’re in for a big disappointment if you’re picturing it through some hazy, Victorian-era lens, where you sit beatifically in a wicker chair with a pink-faced, perfectly dressed infant dozing adorably in your lap.  I’m fairly certain that the decision to not have children is not made lightly by most women, and I doubt Katie Roiphe’s holier-than-thou insistence that feminism is preventing women from experiencing the unending, incomparable joy of motherhood will change most minds.

5 Responses to “Babies: Katie Roiphe’s anti-drug”

  1. Word. :-)

  2. insufferable, indeed, but i say let her enjoy it while it lasts!

  3. CatalyticDragon Says:

    See, I read that kind of “obsessive all-consuming love for my child” stuff and think “paging Dr. Freud to the white courtesy couch, please”.

    Seriously, Oedipal complex in oh, say, 15 years?

    (but I don’t and never will have kids, so what do I know about the sanity of calling your child the “love of your life”?)

  4. In her defense, I just want to mention that this is not her first child. She has another daughter, and knows about teething and playgrounds and such.

  5. I thought it was a charming essay. Her basic point was that there is a nice side to motherhood. And from what I’ve read, a lot of feminist writers tend to ignore that. They tend to fixate on the less glamorous, the drudgery.

    It’s all very Darwinian though. Women who don’t experience it the way Mrs. Roiphe will have fewer children, or none at all, and will eventually disappear. It doesn’t serve the future. Either way it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, in the end we’re all just helical pawns in the game of evolution.

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