I never liked the term “Mommy Wars.”
The first half hits us below the belt. However much affection we may have for that endearment from the lips of our babes, large or small, it’s a diminutive. The diminutive— this one is of Scottish origin—not only involves diminution, a making smaller, but I would argue further, a kind of disarmament. As a child who calls you Mommy, I possess you. When I call you “mommy,” I downgrade you from, metaphorically, “cat” to “kitty.” You may have authority over me, but I temper it with that loving suffix.
“Mommy” is technically a form of address. It has migrated by osmosis, like a wispy Dementer, into nounhood, if not even further into the realm of AP style. “Mommy Wars” as a headline vaults mothers and motherhood into a tangle of kitties batting each other with their cute paws. I have no problem being called “mommy” by my daughters. I have a big problem being called “mommy” by the media or other third parties.
Whether or not you’re equally irked by that, do join me in protesting the second half of the phrase in question—wars. Many political and cultural conflicts may be tagged as a “war,” but “Mommy wars,” implies mothers are fighting each other to death, perhaps—in that hallowed tradition of all oppressions—even that they ought to do so.
The history of women’s discourse over the role of motherhood in our lives hasn’t been hand-to-hand combat between mothers who work for pay and mothers who don’t. It looks that way through a certain lens—say, the Atlantic Magazine’s lens. Apply some defogger, and you’ll see more than Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg vs. State Department ex-official Anne-Marie Slaughter, the two juxtaposed recently in a nice piece of writing by Rita J. King. Plenty of institutions, cultural movements, and men, as well as women, are flinging javelins, constraining troop movements, and laying siege to households, families, and children. I’m not at war with any mothers, working or otherwise. There is far too much to be done for that.
In fact the whole construct smells awfully like reality TV, deftly deconstructed by one Jennifer L. Pozner. I’m also with Sandra Tsing Loh, whose 2006 Atlantic review essay named names and made delightful fun of the women media professionals (and their luxury brand accoutrements) who have dominated the published debate about “having it all.”
Along with the “Mommy Wars” we’ve now got some other terms to contend with—”Mommy Brain,” with several authors brandishing that catchphrase like Virginia Slims. But let’s arrest that encroachment. Let’s bring “Mommy” back where it belongs—into the mouths of babes. And refer to me as a mother, or better yet, as a woman or a parent, if you’re not my offspring.