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The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women [Hardcover]

Susan Douglas , Meredith Michaels
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Feb. 3 2004
Susan Douglas first took on the media's misrepresentation of women in her funny, scathing social commentary "Where the Girls Are." Now, she and Meredith Michaels, have turned a sardonic (but never jaundiced) eye toward the cult of the new momism: a trend in American culture that is causing women to feel that only through the perfection of motherhood can true contentment be found. This vision of motherhood is highly romanticized and yet its standards for success remain forever out of reach, no matter how hard women may try to "have it all.""The Mommy Myth" takes a provocative tour through the past thirty years of media images about mothers: the superficial achievements of the celebrity mom, the news media's sensational coverage of dangerous day care, the staging of the "mommy wars" between working mothers and stay-at-home moms, and the onslaught of values-based marketing that raises mothering standards to impossible levels, just to name a few. In concert with this messaging, the authors contend, is a conservative backwater of talking heads propagating the myth of the modern mom.This nimble assessment of how motherhood has been shaped by out-of-date mores is not about whether women should have children or not, or about whether once they have kids mothers should work or stay at home. It is about how no matter what they do or how hard they try, women will never achieve the promised nirvana of idealized mothering. Douglas and Michaels skillfully map the distance traveled from the days when "The Feminine Mystique" demanded more for women than the unpaid labor of keeping house and raising children, to today's not-so-subtle pressure to reverse this thirty-year trend. A must-read forevery woman.

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From Publishers Weekly

In the idealized myth, mothers and babies spend their days discovering the wonders of life, reading, playing and laughing. Mom wears her baby in a sling, never raises her voice and of course has unlimited time and patience. Baby grows up safe, happy and respectful. In real life, however, it's a different story. Douglas (Where the Girls Are) and Smith College philosophy professor Michaels, "mothers with an attitude problem," blow the lid off "new momism," "a set of ideals... that seem on the surface to celebrate motherhood, but which in reality promulgate standards of perfection that are beyond [a mother's] reach." The authors examine the past 30 years of television, radio, movies, magazines and advertising to show that the bar has been increasingly raised for "the standards of good motherhood while singling out and condemning those we were supposed to see as dreadful mothers" (notably harried working mothers). Using ample humor (e.g., buy the wrong toys and your child will "end up a semiliterate counter girl in Dunkin' Donuts for life"), abundant examples and an approachable style, Douglas and Michaels incriminate not just Republican administrations and Dr. Laura, but also celebrity mothers, Drs. Spock and the evening news. While the authors are occasionally repetitive and sometimes condescend to moms who stay at home, their thought-provoking, accessible foray critiquing new momism will be of interest to liberal mothers-and possibly fathers-helping them to judge the media's images of motherhood with a more critical eye.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Douglas and Michaels have fashioned an absolutely fascinating expose of the media- generated motherhood frenzy that they dub the "new momism." Fed up with the trumped-up myth of maternity promulgated by TV shows, movies, advertising, women's magazines, and the news since 1970, they analyze, in scathing detail, how and why motherhood has become the number-one media obsession during the last three decades. Explaining, in convincing detail, how these idealized images have actually harmed childless women, working mothers, and stay-at-home moms, they link the current emphasis on "intensive mothering" to a powerful conservative subculture determined to "re-domesticate the women of America through motherhood." Although hampered, at times, by a somewhat strident tone, this eye-opening report contains a wealth of valuable insight into the never-ending, and ultimately self-defeating, quest for the maternal perfection glorified by contemporary American society. Margaret Flanagan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not perfect, but who is? July 10 2004
I began reading this book fully prepared to end up hurling it out of a window in anger and disgust. You see, I am one of those women who idealizes motherhood. I practice attachment parenting, believe strongly in child-led weaning, co-sleep even with the human equivalent of a hand-mixer, and relish every moment of the precious time I have with my daughter. However, as I progressed further and further into the book, I realized I had yet to feel any wrath directed toward the authors. In fact, with the only exceptions being ones I found mildly annoying, I agreed with almost everything they said.
The title is a bit misleading because after reading the book, I do not have the impression that the authors feel that motherhood, or even the idealization of it is what undermines women. It is much more complex that that. They rail against the politicians who voted to subsidize daycare, the media who sensationalizes every abduction and every crime committed by a caregiver, and against those who strive to pit mothers against other mothers. They explain feminism and detail how feminists are friends to the stay at home mothers and housewives as opposed to a foe like some in the media would lead us to believe.
They also talk about the "celebrity mom." You know, the one who appears on the cover of the women's' magazines at the checkout line in the grocery store at her prepregnancy weight gushing over an angelic three month old. These mothers talk about how motherhood is so much better than any movie role. However, many of these mothers have full time nannies and housekeepers allowing them to be fun mothers while pushing the stressful jobs off on someone else. Some of these mothers, whom the media portrays as so 'devoted' even have nannies to do the nighttime feedings for them!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book whose time has come March 28 2004
By A Customer
A straight-talking critique of the Cult of the Perfect Mom, told with a healthy dollop of exasperation. The authors deconstruct this image -- peddled relentlessly by our media -- and assert that it's OK if you don't love parenting every minute. This is *not* an argument against having kids or loving them! The authors are simply trying to let the millions of guilt-ridden moms in this country off the hook, because being a parent isn't easy and it's so much harder when the media suggests otherwise. How this message can be perceived as "anti-child," as a number of reviewers here seem to suggest, is beyond me. So many mothers blame themselves if they aren't euphoric over every dirty diaper and spilled sippy cup. We believe the problem is within *us* and that if we only tried harder, we'd fit those media images. Why aren't we looking at the ways society fails to support mothers -- and fathers? Corporate America and the government get off scott-free, when in reality these institutions could be doing so much more to truly support families. "The Mommy Myth" shines a light on these unasked questions, and encourages mothers to stop blaming themselves and demand more from the institutions that benefit from our efforts to raise responsible, productive future workers and citizens.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, A Book That Tells the Truth March 15 2004
By J. Ivry
This book does a fantastic job of painting a very clear picture of the political, socio-economic, and hypocritical media forces that continue to punish women and pit us against one another. Instead of spending our precious time and energy sniping at one another about the merits of breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping, and the evils of television, non-organic food and yelling at our kids once in awhile, we should be rising up to demand subsidized daycare, decent maternity leave, healthcare for ALL children and their mothers, and the chance for all of us as women to make the choices that are right for us, be it working or staying at home. Feminism should be about each and every one of us being able to make a choice about what type of mother we want to be (working, staying at home, or both) without being judged and punished by other women!! Until we stop constantly competing with one another over who does the best job as a parent, until we stop wasting our time second-guessing every single decision we make in terms of our children, until we stop lying to ourselves and everyone around us about the all-encompassing, transforming and magical power of being a MOM, the women and children of this country will continue to be victimized, undermined and forgotten. Bravo Douglas and Michaels, thank you for this HONEST look at motherhood in the United States. (Written by Janelle Ivry)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mocking Tone Begins to Grate May 10 2004
In the early months following the birth of my son, and even now, I have found myself wondering whether I am enjoying motherhood the way I'm supposed to--the way others mothers do. The right all-loving, all sacrificing way. This book illustrates for me that this "perfect" way is likely a carefully crafted illusion.
However, after I got this message, established in the opening chapters of the book, the mocking tone that the authors are fond of using began to grate and I feel that they take their hypothesis too far.
I appreciate the section regarding welfare mothers and the illuminating contrasts of media representations of moms. I like being reminded that I don't have to love and adore parenting every single moment in order to be a good parent. (Though the authors seem to believe that the only way to combat not loving every moment is to get away to your real job and make sure the kids are in a comprehensive system of government sponsored child care.)
However, the authors seem to clearly feel like there is a right way to mother--and that is to reject the cozy media images of motherhood that tell you the right way to mother (ironic, eh?). They do not seem to believe that there are mothers out there who truly believe in homeschooling, homebirthing, babywearing, extended breastfeeding, etc. and who enjoy their lives with their children (not all aspects, granted, but do enjoy it). Or, if they do recognize that some mothers are committed to these concepts, they seem to feel that those mothers have stupidly bought into a vast conspiracy to undermine women (not that they might hold these ideals because they actually make sense!).
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Most recent customer reviews
This book should be given out at every hospital/birthing center/etc - to any new or experienced American mother. Read more
Published on July 18 2004 by L. Johnson
1.0 out of 5 stars Disrespectful & Poorly Researched
My primary criticism of the book is the authors' blatant disrespectful attitude toward people with opposing viewpoints as well as inadequate research. Read more
Published on July 15 2004 by Jean
1.0 out of 5 stars Ridiculing the mother/infant bond
In the words of Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels; - "Then there is "babywearing. Read more
Published on June 30 2004 by My Second Language Series
5.0 out of 5 stars Thank you for this book
I am grateful for a book that tells the truth -- we moms CAN'T do it all, and DON'T NEED to do it all -- and certainly not at the level that our hyper-competitive society happens... Read more
Published on June 5 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Why have children if others take care of them?
Anyone who concludes that to be a good mother one must get a "real" job and dump their children in the hands of strangers is, in my opinion, immoral. Read more
Published on May 16 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Interesting view of motherhood
Anyone who owns this book should also own "7 Myths of Working Mothers: Why Children and Most Careers Just Don't Mix. Read more
Published on May 11 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read
This book offers a highly critical take on the quite complex and often misrepresented topic of motherhood in America. Read more
Published on May 7 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Analysis of New Mommism
This is a much-needed and valuable book on the myth of the perfect, ever-so angelic mother that seems to permeate American society day-in, day-out. Read more
Published on May 6 2004 by "huzun_03"
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read for Any Woman Considering Motherhood in the US
This book uses content analysis to dissect the American culture of motherhood and how motherhood has changed over the last thirty years. Read more
Published on April 26 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars MUST READ
This book is by far the best book that I have read this year. I recommend to anyone, male or female, kids or no kids, read this book!! Read more
Published on April 21 2004 by Heardon
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