Ms. Magazine
 

Ms.CELLANEOUS:
*What?
*Women to Watch
*Word: United
* Just the Facts

**Sisters Spin Talk
on Hip-hop
**
Two feminists who came of age with the music and the culture take a long, hard look at its impact--for better and worse--on young women, and reassess its importance in their lives. > by Tara Roberts and Eisa Nefertari Ulen

**The Mommy Wars**
How the media pits one group of mothers against another. It all boils down to the Haves versus the Have-Nots. > by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels
**Going Underground**
One woman's moving account of the painful decision to give up family, friends, and identity, and flee with her daughter to a safer life > by Anonymous Plus: Information about hiding in plain sight > by Hagar Scher

YOUR WORK:
*Road Scholar: Women in Academia
* Women's Work: Police Officer
* Worknotes

ARTS:
*Indie Filmmaker Christine Vachon
* It's Schapiro's Time
*Artswatch

BOOKS:
*Finding the Words
* Reviews
*Bold Type: Maureen Holohan

*Editor's Page
*Letters
*Uppity Women: Wynona Ward
* Women Organizing Worldwide
* Fiction: Bravo America

Columns > by Patricia Smith and Gloria Steinem

*Making Waves
*No Comment

**Turning the Tables on "Science"**
When Natalie Angier wrote Woman: An Intimate Geography, she took on accepted truths about women, poked holes in them, and offered an exciting revisionist view of our bodies. Oh boy, did she ruffle some feathers! > by Marilyn Milloy

NEWS:
*Ten Laws That Will Make Your Blood Boil
*Epithets Deleted: French Women Demand Respect
*Women in the House
*Free Kosovar Albanian Activist-Poet Flora Brovina
*Madrid's Back Alleys
*
Newsmaker: Dawn Riley *Reviving the ERA
*Opinion: Count Me In
*Amazon Bookstore Update: Beware the Lesbians!
*Pakistan's Turning Point
*A New Law for Unmarried Couples in France
*Recognition for African Women Farmers
*Clippings

 
 

 

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BY SUSAN DOUGLAS AND MEREDITH MICHAELS
It's 5:22 p.m. You're in the grocery check-out line. Your three-year-old is writhing on the floor, screaming, because you have refused to buy her a Teletubby pinwheel. Your six-year-old is whining, repeatedly, in a voice that could saw through cement, "But mommy, puleeze, puleeze," because you have not bought him the latest Lunchables, which features as the four food groups: chips, a candy bar, fake cheese, and artificial coloring.

To distract yourself, and to avoid the glares of other shoppers who have already deemed you the worst mother in America, you leaf through People magazine. Inside, Uma Thurman gushes, "Motherhood is sexy." Moving on to Good Housekeeping, Vanna White says of her child, "When I hear his cry at 6:30 in the morning, I have a smile on my face, and I'm not an early riser." Brought back to reality by stereophonic wailing, you feel about as sexy and euphoric as Rush Limbaugh in a thong.

Meanwhile, Newsweek, also at the check-out line, offers a different view of motherhood. In one of the many stories about welfare mothers that proliferated until "welfare reform" was passed in 1996, you meet Valerie, 27, and "the three children she has by different absentee fathers." She used to live with her mother, "who, at 42, has six grandchildren." But now Valerie resides with other families, all of whom "live side-by-side in open trash-filled apartments." Hey, maybe you're not such a failure after all.

Motherhood has been one of the biggest media fixations of the past two decades. And this is what so many of us have been pulled between when we see accounts of motherhood in the media: celebrity moms who are perfect, most of them white, always rich, happy, and in control, the role models we should emulate, versus welfare mothers who are irresponsible, unmarried, usually black or Latina--as if there were no white single mothers on the dole--poor, miserable, and out of control, the bad examples we should scorn.

Beginning in the late 1970s, with the founding of People and Us, and exploding with a vengeance in the '90s with InStyle, the celebrity-mom profile has spread like head lice through popular magazines, especially women's. "For me, happiness is having a baby," gushed Marie Osmond on a 1983 cover of Good Housekeeping, and Linda Evans added in Ladies' Home Journal, "All I want is a husband and baby." These celeb biographies, increasingly presented as instruction manuals for how the rest of us should live our lives, began to proliferate just as there was a dramatic rise in the number of women who worked outside the home while raising small children. Pulled between established wisdom--if you worked outside the home before your child entered kindergarten you were bound to raise an ax murderer--and the economic and psychic need to work, many of these mothers were searching for guidance. And celebrity mom magazine articles seemed to provide it.

Celebrity moms were perfect for the times. They epitomized two ideals that sat in uneasy but fruitful alliance. On the one hand, they exemplified the unbridled materialism and elitism the Reagan era had spawned. On the other, they represented the feminist dream of women being able to have a family and a job outside the home without being branded traitors to true womanhood. Magazine editors apparently figured they could use stars to sell magazines and to serve as role models.

But now, in the year 2000, things have gotten out of control. Celebrity moms are everywhere, beaming from the comfy serenity and perfection of their lives as they give multiple interviews about their "miracle babies," what an unadulterated joy motherhood is, and all the things they do with their kids to ensure they will be perfectly normal Nobel laureates by the age of 12. These stories are hardly reassuring. They make the rest of us feel that our own lives are, as the great seventeenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbes put it, nasty, brutish, and short. So why should we care about something so banal as the celebrity mom juggernaut? One answer is that it bulldozed through so much of American popular culture just when working mothers, single mothers, and welfare mothers were identified, especially by conservative male pundits, as the cause of everything bad, from the epidemic of drug use to the national debt to rising crime rates. Remember all the hand-wringing by George Will, William Bennett, and Allan Bloom about America's "moral decay"? The biggest culprit, of course, was the single welfare mother. These guys attacked celebrity single mothers now and then, but the mud never stuck--not even, heaven help us, on that fictional celebrity single mother Murphy Brown.

As the push "to end welfare as we know it" gained momentum and reached its climax in the welfare reform of 1996, the canonized celebrity mom and the demonized welfare mother became ever more potent symbols, working in powerful opposition to each other. We rarely saw these very different mothers in the same publication, or even considered them in the same breath. Celebrity moms graced the covers of magazines designed for self-realization and escape; welfare mothers were the object of endless stories in newspapers and newsmagazines and on the nightly news that focused on public policy and its relation to the tenuous state of morality in America. CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE>>