Why I’m Sick of Mommy Writing—even by Tina Fey

It hit me suddenly on Mother’s Day. My son and husband brought me breakfast in bed and a vase of roses. My nine-year-old son made biscuits, one shaped like a heart. My husband brought me a bowl of malted milk balls with my morning coffee. On this day of days, I was allowed to loll in bed, reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants.

Is this not heaven? I asked myself.

Some of you may be asking why heaven involved precious moments alone with a trashy book. Most of you will know the answer. And that’s my problem: middle-class motherhood has become a cliché.

I’m sick of mommy writing. I’m not a mommy blogger, but I have on occasion perpetrated this form of writing—especially the lightweight, kids-are-so-cute-and-annoying-and-aren’t-they-the-most-precious-geniuses-that-utter-the-darnedest-math-formulas style of column that has been in vogue since Hints from Heloise,* Erma Bombeck, Dooce, and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Caveats: I am not talking about wonderfully written literary essays that involve children. I love children, and there are many serious—and genuinely funny—things to be said about the gender wars and contemporary constructions of motherhood. What I am talking about is an argument that’s really as old as the crone hills: Are we writers or “women writers”?

Some of you may believe this rant has been brought on by reading Bossypants and eating malted milk balls all day—and I am aping Tina Fey’s style here—but you would only be partially right. It’s more about my late-to-the-table realization that the term “mommy blogging” is demeaning to women writers and yet has now become the yardstick against which all moms—including witty celebrity moms—now write about the experience of parenting.

If you google “mommy blogging trend,” you’ll come up with all sorts of hits about what the current trends in mommy blogging are—including snarky complaints about the FTC guidelines requiring said bloggers to reveal when they’re paid for product endorsements or other forms of viral marketing. But this trend has crested, and in a disturbing way that feels too familiar:

Shocking News! Mommy Bloggers Are…Working Mothers!

There’s the inevitable backlash, which is hard to pick apart and analyze when moms themselves are agonizing about their choices. In "Trends Amongst Mom Blogs," Heather of Home to Heather writes:

"We’re no longer chastising each other over taking work via PR—or not. Pretty much everyone is doing it, it’s just that we’ve figured out how to do it well and within our own terms.  Now we’re chastising each other over getting paid—or not"

It was ever thus. Motherhood is apparently still all about self-sacrifice and love, though these days we have permission to be ironic. This attitude now extends to writing about motherhood, because blogs are personal, not anything like women’s magazine articles or an actual J-O-B that takes mom away from her little babies, even if she works at home in her pajamas. See 1970s feminist arguments in favor of wages for housework.

This is where Tina Fey could have claimed more high ground for the rest of us humorless women—and there are some hilarious set pieces in Bossypants. I wanted to love a book that kicks off with observations like this:

"[E]ver since I became an executive producer of 30 Rock, people have asked me, ‘Is it hard for you, being the boss?’ and ‘Is it uncomfortable for you to be the person in charge?’ You know, in that same way they say, ’Gosh, Mr. Trump, is it awkward for you to be the boss of all these people?’ I can’t answer for Mr. Trump, but in my case it is not.”

Right on, sister. And if you enjoy slumming with network TV, what’s not to love about back-stage Saturday Night Live anecdotes and how 30 Rock came to be? (Well, a few things—like, how do I know if any of this is true, because it all sounds like one-liners? But I don’t want to be completely churlish.)

What disappointed me most about Bossypants were chapters like “Juggle This” and "What Should I Do with My Last Five Minutes?", which involved standard-issue hand-wringing about whether Tina, with her fabulous dream job, should have a second child, and you know, bossing around a nanny is so challenging—because me, I’m just a regular person—and maybe I should quit my job to spend more time with my daughterhey, just kidding!

It reminds me of the mid-nineties, when some stars paraded around in fake glasses carrying prominently displayed issues of the Economist.

Believe me, we have heard this all before (except the usual upper middle-class mom dream job doesn’t involve working with Alec Baldwin). For some, a celebrity book that waves even the vaguest of feminist flags may seem daring. For me, these sections are self-serving filler that do not advance the working-mom argument anywhere beyond 1985.

That’s not why I lolled around all day reading Bossypants, of course. But what that mini-binge made clear to me is how boring this particular feminist discussion has become.

And that’s a dangerous thing, moms.



* Heloise has a blog—"Real-life Adventures of America’s Premier Hintologist—with one recent entry titled "Another Use for Toilet Paper?"  As she claims, "My life has been a Reality Show for over 40 years." Okay, pass the malted milk balls….


5 thoughts on “Why I’m Sick of Mommy Writing—even by Tina Fey

  1. thanks for linking to my post – you’re right, it is awfully boring isn’t it? If a person works, a person should be paid. If a person holds a high powered job and performs well, that person should be respected. Why does it matter if it’s a man or a woman or if her uterus has previously expelled a life form? Great post 🙂

  2. You’re very welcome, Heather. Thanks for dropping by. I posted this piece on my Open Salon blog as well, and you might enjoys ome of the comments there…

  3. Hi Martha
    Really interesting. There is an underside that is borderline stage mom competitiveness wound into the writing mommy issues you raise. In the tiger mom format it’s full frontal, but it can be subliminal, even unconscious, among writers who see themselves as playful, humorous and stridently light hearted. It’s another long,complicated conversation, on both a personal and a persona/narrator perspective, but your essay awoke the essence of it, and, as usual with your writing, started me thinking.

  4. I would like to read the other comments too, (more, please?) but I can’t seem to find the URL. Can you post it here in the comments. I have been poking around, but I can’t find my own catsup bottle in my own cupboard. thx

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