Count me out of the I-hate-Caitlin Flanagan club. I think Flanagan, whose new book “To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife,” has released a new torrent of criticism from the feminist establishment, is a fine writer who deserves all her success.
Still, there’s a weakness to her constant commentary on working mothers and housewifery, which is essentially that Flanagan’s a rich lady writing about middle-class issues. That’s why people react to her so differently than they do to my friend Sandra Tsing Loh, who pokes the same fun at privileged baby boomer parents and has similarly conservative notions about family life (although both are in all other ways liberal democrats), but from the perspective of Van Nuys, a decidedly dumpy L.A. neighborhood, not Hancock Park, a decidedly undumpy one.
I gave the L.A. Weekly a quote recently for their profile of Flanagan:
Catherine Seipp, a peppy Republican writer in her own right…says, “[Flanagan] has full-time help for her two boys and can write her New Yorker/Atlantic stuff or hang around with them as she pleases… She landed right on the top of that heap without putting in years in the reporting trenches, or scrounging around for those Crappy Hackington celebrity-interview assignments. But here’s the difference between Flanagan and most essayists of her ilk, which, besides her large talent, is her saving grace: She fully owns up to her privileged position. Most first-person writers spend a lot of fake energy presenting themselves as a Nice Person. She seems more honest than that.”
Notice that “Republican writer in her own right,” implying that Flanagan is also a Republican – which she most definitely is not. “I’m a Democrat, and only a conservative on family issues,” Flanagan told the Weekly, adding: “We, the Democrats, have a real small tent. The Republicans have a big tent.”
Boy, is that ever true. But conservative opinions are now like the old one-drop rule in the Jim Crow South; one drop is all you need to need to lose your standing with respectable white people.
Sandra is more generally beloved than Flanagan. (Click here for free and easy access to her latest Atlantic magazine piece, a review of Leslie Morgan Steiner’s “Mommy Wars,” without having to go through the wretched Atlantic magazine registration process.) My favorite line in Sandra’s essay is an observation about Steiner’s shock and hurt at being insulted by a stay-at-home mom at her kid’s school:
I have a modest proposal: mix it up, people. In Los Angeles, I’m happy to say, I myself have experienced zero mommy wars. (My daughter goes to a non-white-enclaved public magnet school, where she is the only blonde in her class of twenty-two.)… I’ve never smarted at catty remarks from other moms, partly because those catty remarks, if made … would have been in Armenian. Which I do not speak. Or Spanish. Or Tagalog…
Well, she’s been banging that particular tea-kettle for quite a while now; early last year, in fact, I even got a column here out of it.
Speaking of working moms, I think my favorite recent horrendous example comes courtesy of this New York Times piece about the dreadful Amanda Scheer Demme, widow of the late film director Ted Demme. Mrs. Demme was recently fired from her job running the celebrity-riddled bars at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, one of which is named Teddy’s:
She was devastated to tell her daughter that “Mommy wouldn’t be at Daddy’s bar anymore,” she said quietly. “There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve failed your kid.” [Hotel property manager] Mr. Brandman pointed out, however, that Teddy’s had been the name of a bar at the Roosevelt for more than a decade, and was named for Theodore Roosevelt, the president, not Ted Demme.
Not to worry, though. I’m sure a new job failing her kids is in the works soon for Amanda Demme.
Now as it happens, I’ve noticed that when men become involved in obsessively micromanaging their children’s every move, they tend to be pettier and more obnoxious about it than women, who traditionally have been in charge of monitoring kids and schools. (I suppose this is the flip side of women who act even worse than the bossiest of men when they enter traditionally male spheres, like Joan Crawford in “Queen Bee.”) A few weeks ago, for instance, I wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed about my daughter Maia’s success getting into UC San Diego as a Russian/Soviet Studies major, even though her grades and scores were less than perfect. We’d also ignored counselor advice not to skip 12th grade, and opted out of expensive private tutoring for the SATs.
This brought on a slew of angry criticism at the fascinatingly addictive website College Confidential. By far the most outraged were men – one had the online moniker name “The Dad,” which I think says it all. They accused me of being naiíve, or (alternatively) “gaming” the system, presumably by raising a daughter who unfairly impressed admissions officers with all those after-school Russian classes.
Some of these guys thought Maia was uppity for expecting to get into any UC except maybe Riverside or Merced – although, as one of the more reasonable commenters noted (a lefty mom from Berkeley, as it happens), since Maia was indeed accepted to UC San Diego her hopes couldn’t have been that unrealistic. I think other commenters may have simply detected, just beneath the surface in that Times op-ed, my usual impatience with officious blowhards and took it personally.
Another controlling dad, this one a guy named Cal from a righty site called Football Fans for Truth, complained on my blog about my “placid enjoyment” that Maia got in to UC San Diego despite her “extremely unimpressive” test scores and grades. This reminded me that last year Cal had compared me for some reason to Hanoi Jane Fonda. I actually rather enjoy (if not always placidly) people like that. I mean, what’s Groucho without Margaret Dumont?
But I’m afraid that Cal and his ilk will be even more miffed to learn that Maia’s high-school resume included not one team sport. You don’t know how grateful I am that her lack of interest there saved me untold hours of boring chauffering and pretend cheering. Oh, I know, I know – girls should be encouraged to play sports so they won’t be anorexic or obsess that boys don’t find them attractive. But I say it’s P.E., and I say the hell with it.
I was just as amused to find that, on the opposite side of the political spectrum as Cal and friends, the lefty blog Sadly, No! disliked my L.A. Times op-ed because my “soccer mom mendacities regularly pollute the L.A. Times.” Soccermom? Happily, no.
Catherine Seipp is a writer and visiting fellow with IWF. She also maintains a blog, “Cathy’s World.”