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May 17, 2006

Happy blogday to me

So I'm going to honor my third anniversary as a blogger (Friday!) by leaving for four days.

As a matter of fact, I'm going to Washington, D.C., where I'm going to be...well, it's nobody's damn business what I'll be doing, but let's just say that if anyone's been tracking my call patterns, they'll have noticed some very specific and interesting deviations from the usual calls to Noah, our cell phone, and my mom.

Rise up with fists!

Seriously, if any heavies are monitoring PuddingTime!--and it wouldn't surprise me, because we're a high-traffic site, and we're no friends of the Bushies--I'm just going to some museums and a baseball game. Possibly a bar or two. That's all.

Posted by pk at 7:18 PM

May 3, 2006

One daddy's war

I've been following Caitlin Flanagan's trajectory through the cultural ether for, oh, about three weeks now. I haven't read her book, but I've read several reviews and discussions with and about her. She portrays herself as a traditional stay-at-home mom who forsook her career to be with her twin boys; even though, obviously, she has a career--an enviable one--as a book and magazine writer. But good for her! She says she always has a hot meal on the table when her besotted, be-suited husband drags himself off the front line, and she also says she puts out for him readily, but she's self-deprecating and clever about her lack of any other domestic skills, or any desire to cultivate them.

That witty candor is supposed to be refreshing; unfortunately, it's as honest as she gets, with herself at least, about her dubious status as a homemaker. She admits to having a full-time nanny and housekeeping help when she was at home, not working, with her sons. She admits to calling for the nanny to clean up when one of them vomits (it's cute: Caitlin hovers at the door making funny faces). And she admits that, now that the boys are in school, she works part-time and has people to clean and organize her house and personal schedule. But she's oblivious to the fact that all this might disqualify her from being a paragon of devoted domesticity, or any judge of how the rest of us live with the choices presented to us by our somewhat less gilded reality.

I'm sure Flanagan and her publisher have gotten more than they ever dreamed out of her book tour. I don't know who was cooking for the men back home while she skipped through the media centers lighting feminists' ponytails on fire, but the feminists have predictably flamed right back. Flanagan congratulates herself on her willing (non-)sacrifice and asserts that something is lost when mothers work, and the feminists sputter, "How DARE she?!"

Flanagan's willfully denied disingenuousness compellingly hints at an insecure hysteria lying just beneath her crispy crust, and this was never more evident than in her appearance on The Colbert Report, when she misguidedly sought to make meta-sport of her message and its critics by sarcastically presenting herself as the very shrieking harridan that her shrieking opponents believe her to be. It was weird, and I didn't get it at first, then I sort of gave her props, then I thought she was weird again. She didn't quite hit the right note of absurdity, but any watcher of Saturday Night Live knows that many talents don't translate into sketch comedy, so I gave her a raised eyebrow for nerve.

Of course...

Everybody in show biz is a good sport these days, poking fun at their own celebrity image, going along with the gag, no matter how lamebrain it is...catering to cynicism about celebrity and autographing it with their own smirk...[this] hip jadedness that's become de rigueur today and winks at the audience as it winks back. All that winking has degenerated into a spastic tic.

Indeed, Jim Wolcott. Stephen Colbert's gag, which touched brilliance last weekend, is to riff on both the buffoonery and the conscious duplicity of Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, and Caitlin Flanagan, who simultaneously say, "Buy me--I'm the manifestation of your most bigoted, exclusionary fantasies," and "Buy me--I'm just ironically lampooning the bigoted, exclusionary fantasies you can't admit you have." Who cares if making bigoted, exclusionary fantasies permissable in mainstream discourse, whether done straight or in jest, is dangerous? "BUY ME!"

Obviously, I digress. The feminists, once again predictably, took Flanagan's conservative drag at blackface-value. And, OK, she did look naturally pinched enough to be for real; and it wasn't really funny--but come on. All of them--both "family advocates" who sternly declare that women who work are failing their children, and "feminists" who feel guilty and defensive about being conflicted without realizing it's their good fortune to be conflicted rather than compelled--are failing to acknowledge the reality of our society, because none of them actually lives in it.

The fact is that "women deciding to work" isn't some hobby or luxury like "men taking up sailing"--it's actually something women pretty much have to do these days. It takes two salaries for my family to have a modest life in a modest house in a modest neighborhood in a modest city. I'll willingly grant Flanagan the point that something is lost when both parents work. I feel it and wonder and worry about it every day. Our life is more than fine, and there are luxuries we could live without, but they don't add up to how much we'd lose if one of us stayed home. And Cindy is the primary breadwinner, so the fact that the whole dispute is still predicated on the idea that men make the money and women can choose or choose not to have coy, boutique "careers" only shows how dated the whole conversation is.

Which is why I'm so impatient with feminists who shout, "How DARE she?!" Of course she's an idiot, but this isn't just about you, you fancy contemporary-lit majors! This is about reality and choices and trade-offs that, assuming no actual domestic upheaval, are being made by responsible mothers and fathers--together. The Mommy Wars are a parlor game played in a tiny, rarified world. I don't have any idea what the fathers there do--the women seem happy to tussle it out among themselves--but I'm sure they're nothing like me.

Meanwhile, Caitlin Flanagan and her family values minstrel show dances merrily on. It doesn't matter to her whether she's honest or valid, she just has to stir up that culture-war muck and get a few gigs defending the family on cable. Pretty soon books with her brand will be selling themselves. That's why it was clearly part of her overall strategy to publish a column in TIME that politicizes the sideshow debate she and her book have created:

I have spent much of the past week on a forced march to the G.O.P. And the bayonet at my back isn't in the hands of the Republicans; the Democrats are the bullyboys. [...] When did I sign up to be the beaten wife of the Democratic Party?

Pretty strong metaphors there, Miss Caitlin! I've read the words of those she cites, and none of them said anything about "Democrat" or "Republican" or "politics," but Flanagan has to attach the feeble cause of her image advancement to the larger partisan wars, because the net/cable hurly-burly loves an apostate. She's the Zell Miller of the Mommy Wars! A Homemakin' Holy Joe! She's worse, actually, because, unlike Miller, she claims to still believe in all the important things Democrats believe, and yet she declares herself cast out for one little thing:

I have made a lifestyle choice that they can't stand, and I'm not cowering in the closet because of it. I'm out, and I'm proud. I am a happy member of an exceedingly "traditional" family. I'm in charge of the house and the kids, my husband is in charge of the finances and the car maintenance, and we all go to church every Sunday.

It's a small but very vocal minority, the Democratic pundits, who abhor what I represent because it doesn't fit the stereotypical image of the modern woman who has escaped from domestic prison.

The poor dear--Democrats pick on her for that? Well, no, they don't. Here's Joan Walsh at Salon, speaking not as a Democrat but as herself:

My problem is not Flanagan's putting her children first, if indeed she's done that; my problem is her misrepresenting her choices and then boasting about her fantasy family--and then having the gall to condemn other women for not living that fantasy life themselves.

The people who denounce her don't do so as Democrats, nor do we "abhor what she represents." Well, OK, we do abhor what she represents, but not what she claims to represent. She doesn't represent "exceedingly traditional" families--she represents privileged, preachy hypocrites! She's not "in charge of the house and the kids"--she's in charge of the domestic staff!

But Flanagan presses on, channeling Archie Bunker with a hangover to perpetuate the myth of the martyred, middle-American man:

The Democrats made a huge tactical error a few decades ago. In the middle of doing the great work of the '60s--civil rights, women's liberation, gay inclusion--we decided to stigmatize the white male. The union dues-paying, churchgoing, beer-drinking family man got nothing but ridicule and venom from us. So he dumped us. And he took the wife and kids with him.

This is horseshit and, if she believes in what she says she does, Flanagan knows it. Not only does it ignore the Republican tactical "success" that peeled off large sections of white voters by pandering to their bigotry and xenophobia, it also plays into two historically classic conservative stereotypes: of liberals as the enemy of traditional values, and of the majority of the most powerful nation on earth as embattled victims. Democrats don't thump the tub for the majority as much as Republicans do. Democrats are liberals, you see, and they look out for minorities and let the majority take care of itself. Which the majority does, in case you hadn't noticed--Supreme Court, Congress, White House, the NFL. Us white American men are gonna be just fine.

I'm a product and now an upholder of the traditional family. My parents, my wife's parents, our siblings--all of us are married, child-rearing Traditional Americans. I've also been a Democrat since at least the 4th grade and, in my years of yawning through convention speeches, campaign debates, and Sunday morning interviews, I have never once felt that a prominent Democrat stigmatized, ridiculed, or threatened me as a straight white guy with a mom, a dad, a wife, and two kids. I'm touchy--if they had, I would have noticed.

Nobody, and no Democrat, is criticizing Caitlin Flanagan for anything but her laughably false representation of herself. But if her values are less important to her than her desire to dishonestly flatter the beliefs and biases of a mass audience in order to elevate and enrich herself, then she'll be right at home in the Republican Party.

Posted by pk at 12:09 PM