Welcome to Family Drama! For the next eight weeks, we'll be guest blogging on Bitch about the portrayals of families on TV and in movies. We'll delve into what makes fictional families functional (or not), different types of familial arrangements in media, relationships between family members, and a ton of other issues.
Our background is that we're siblings whose family has often been defined as "dysfunctional." This label is a simple umbrella term that covers the myriad problems of abuses, rotating caregivers, and ever-present instability we've faced. When we were young, no one ever dissected or defined that term for us. As adults, we've had to unpack it for ourselves.
On the sitcom The Office, as in real life, middle class working mothers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
They often face the choice of either compromising their career—working part-time or quitting altogether—or feeling like an absent mother. Men, on the other hand, are typically not held to the same standard. Rarely do employers worry whether their male employees will have children and scale back their working hours. Seldom do people worry whether men can "have it all." The Office paints a fairly balanced portrait of what it means when a husband and wife clash over their careers and their families. In the evolving relationship of Pam and Jim in the American version of the series, the married coworkers are equally responsible for their marriage's breakdown, and they should be equally responsible for fixing it—if it can, in fact, be fixed.
The show's central relationship echoes dynamics that feminist writers have pointed out for decades. This week is the 50th anniversary of the Feminine Mystique, the book which so clearly articulated the tension between the roles expected of women in their work and home lives. Writer Stephanie Coontz spelled out the real-life statistics behind this continuing conflict this week in a great New York Times piece:
When family and work obligations collide, mothers remain much more likely than fathers to cut back or drop out of work. But unlike the situation in the 1960s, this is not because most people believe this is the preferable order of things. Rather, it is often a reasonable response to the fact that our political and economic institutions lag way behind our personal ideals....Female professionals are twice as likely to quit work as other married mothers when their husbands work 50 hours or more a week and more than three times more likely to quit when their husbands work 60 hours or more.
There's a difficult scene in toward the beginning of Candace Walsh's memoir, Licking The Spoon, where five-year-old Walsh is essentially force-fed her dinner amidst tears, gagging, and vomit. This particularly heartbreaking image propelled me back to my own memories of sitting at my childhood dinner table, locked in a fierce battle between myself, my father, and food. Walsh's tantalizing descriptions of both the recipes and people in her life help pull the reader into a story that's a perfect mix of memoir and indulgent foodie read. I spoke with Walsh about the challenges of writing a memoir, the notion of choosing our own families, and the erotic potential of food.
What compelled you to write a memoir in your forties? It's a relatively young age.
CANDACE WALSH: I was very influenced by Anais Nin, who kept a diary her entire life. I also kept a diary from childhood through my early twenties. I saw that I had lots of material. I had a consciousness of the narrative as it unfolded. It seemed to have an arc. I also didn't want to wait because I felt like the story elements were fresh in my mind now, in a way that they wouldn't be when I was, say, 65.
There's that axiom that can be seen as a curse: "May you live in interesting times." I had to overcome a lot of challenges. My parents were young and didn't have their acts together. There was a lot of addiction, rage, dysfunction, sadness and pain in my family during my childhood. But at the same time, as I grew up, the culture was shifting. People started telling the truth about their experiences, instead of keeping silent and perpetuating them. There have also been so many epic civil rights gains for gay people in the last 20 years. So I felt that I had a personal story to tell which highlights the relationship between those dynamics.
Welcome to the latest installment of Ms. Opinionated, in which readers have questions about the pesky day-to-day choices we all face, and I give advice about how to make ones that (hopefully) best reflect our shared commitment to feminist values—as well as advice on what to do when they don't. This week: When is it a "good" time to have a baby?
The holidays don't always go down as planned, but don't let that stress you out. If family starts to rub you the wrong way, that meal for 12 turns into some basic carbon, or all of these holiday fools stress out your non-observant vacation, take five, find your quiet spot, and listen to this calm-down mix.
Anne-Marie Slaughter's new cover story for the Atlantic is out today. In it, she discusses how "women still can't have it all" and outlines some possible solutions to the work-life conundrum she's faced in her career as a professor and government official.
The Pew Research Center offers startling, groundbreaking numbers on "Today's Woman" who "often balances her career with her husband and children." (Yes, this is a study from 2012, not 1975.) It is called "A Gender Reversal on Career Aspirations: Young Women Now Top Young Men in Valuing A High Paying Career." Hide your kids, people.
This post is about exclusion and the ethics of disagreement. Not exclusion by a dominant society of marginalized populations, but rather the selective practices of alliance and exclusion in anti-oppressive political circles. The theme I want to use to think through these questions is one of maintaining family ties (chosen family, birth family, or otherwise). I wonder if the idea of "unconditional care" (not to say this is the actual experience of all or many families!) or the practice of making a distinction between thinking critically and being critical/making ethical judgments versus being judgmental might help to foster an ethics of disagreement within social justice communities prone to being divided by political differences. I'm thinking of examples from school-based groups, to civic community organizations, to online commenter communities like the ever-changing group drawn into conversation by Bitch.
"Even Adorno, the great belittler of popular pleasures, can be aghast at the ease with which intellectuals shit on people who hold on to a dream" writes Lauren Berlant, who is not shitting on you or your dream. Her latest book, Cruel Optimism, is less brutal analysis than a dark, lush still-life of American fantasies and our Quixotic lunges toward them. An affective portrait of the 99%.