I love when the left starts eating its own. The latest example is this catfight launched by Susan Douglas, co-author of “The Mommy Myth,” a lugubrious 2004 tract about how stay-at-home motherhood warps women’s brains, against Judith Warner, author of “Perfect Madness,” a lugubrious 2005 tract about how stay-at-home motherhood warps women’s brains.
Douglas’s claim, put forth in a column for In These Times: Warner plagiarized her and co-author Meredith Michaels by stealing, not their prose, but some of their ideas, such as that there are “unattainable standards of perfection surrounding motherhood,” so full-time moms ought to quit finger-painting with their kids and get jobs outside the home.
Douglas bolsters her argument by citing some other examples of supposed plagiarism. One is that New York Post story quoting a UC-Berkeley professor who claimed that Ann Coulter had stolen some snippets, all reporting factual material, from her sources. (Even the reliably leftist Daily Kos deemed the charge ridiculous; there are only so many ways you can state a fact.)
Another of Douglas’s targets: Caitlin Flanagan (she likes stay-at-home moms, so the rad-fems just hate her!). Flanagan is under assault by Valerie Lawson, author of a 10-year-old biography of P.L. Travers, author of “Mary Poppins,” because Flanagan also wrote an article about Travers for the New Yorker that Lawson says used factual material that she had dug up without giving her enough credit.
And here is what Douglas says about Judith Warner’s book:
“Much of the argument, point after point, was identical to our book-we compiled six pages of eerily similar passages-yet we were not cited once. Like Lawson, we saw research we had done included without attribution. But because there were no lengthy passages containing identical prose, we had no recourse. Moreover, we were told that if we sought to go public with this, it would hurt us: We would be the ones tainted, not her, as resentful soreheads with no class. After all, as a Newsweek reporter, her book became a cover story for the magazine while ours had not-weren’t we just bitter?
“In our current hyper-commercial and anti-intellectual environment, it is the large corporations and publications that can afford to trademark, patent and copyright everything. Prominent and profitable journalists, unless their borrowing is exact and extensive, are protected. The Coulter case suggests that we may be on an even more slippery slope about how much word-for-word copying will be tolerated by bestselling writers in the future….
“Meanwhile, for drones slogging away in archives, tracking down people to interview, checking their facts and struggling to develop fresh ideas about how to see the world and new arguments about history, culture and society, forget it. Your work is increasingly fair game.”
Well, you can’t copyright ideas, you can’t copyright facts, and you can’t copyright history. I think Douglas has trouble distinguishing between a “new argument” and a tired liberal meme. Saying that full-time-motherhood makes women neurotic isn’t a new argument. It’s an old argument, old as Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan. It’s a meme, Susan, a meme.