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Friday, July 10, 2009

Domestically Disturbed

This morning, I sat on the hardwood floor between Toddler and Baby, brokering peace negotiations between the pajama-clad girls who are many long months away from receiving their Masters in Sharing. Mission accomplished. Within a few moments, Toddler was playing with her Mama Tape Measure and Baby was playing with her Baby Tape Measure. And I had a few fleeting, but delicious moments to go online before Baby pulled up on my back and yanked out a massive fistful of my hair. Maybe she wanted me to get off my computer. Or, maybe she's envious because she's bald.

Anyway, before snapping my laptop shut and giving my girls the absolute, unmarred attention they deserve, I was able to read this article. It's the latest entry in Judith Warner's NYT blog Domestic Disturbances. And I was sufficiently disturbed (in the best possible way) to forgo that much-needed shower and read it over a few times, read all of the comments it elicited, and then write my own comment. In that little comment box, I wrote one of my Insecurely Yours letters. I thanked Judith for her brave words, for speaking up, for defending those of us here on ILI and beyond who are educated and interested and insecure. If you are curious, you can read my letter below.

Now, off to analyze my infant-induced hair loss and take that much-needed shower. In case you are interested, while I am showering, I will be giving myself a very articulate pep-talk to prepare myself for the attacks I fear are headed my way. And if there is time left over, I will contemplate the symbolism of those tape measure "toys" with which my girls love to play. Cheerio.

Dear Judith,

Thank you. For daring to lift that proverbial lid on our society’s simmering stew of resentment of women with “major educations,” of women who are intellectually-curious and interested, of women who are unwilling to stay mum behind a lipstick smile just because their lives are charmed in some way.

In writing this post and triggering the comments that precede mine - many of which are unnecessarily snarky and collectively serve as a prime example of the very resentment you explore — you cast a light on profound and provocative topics of education and wealth and social perceptions. Many of your readers are missing the point here - and maybe willfully so. Patently, your article is not about the law of child endangerment, or what it means to be a responsible mother. Nor is your article truly about this one woman, a professor in Montana.

Rather, your article (bravely) points to an arguably wider phenomenon, namely our culture’s apparent desire to put a muzzle on women who are affluent and educated. There does seem to be a belief that because these women enjoy noteworthy privileges of elite educations and financial freedom, they should keep quiet. Often, it seems that acceptable stories - of struggle, of adversity, of that enigmatic “real world” that we all live in — can only be voiced by members of the more “normal” species of women. I recently started a blog called Ivy League Insecurities in an effort to give these women a voice, to combat the societal message to stay mum and enjoy my “good” life and I have been criticized and - shocker - told to keep quiet, that my story is not a story worth hearing, that my insecurities are inauthentic because of my objectively “privileged” life.

So as one of the well-educated women you write about who is simply unwilling to stay mute, I applaud you for writing this and for welcoming and weathering the very predictable and revealing maelstrom it has triggered.

Insecurely yours,

Aidan Donnelley Rowley


  1. Aidan and Judith,

    Thank you for having the courage to write and post these thoughts. I share the experience of having my insecurities - even my anguishes - deemed less legitimate or real because my life appears conventionally privileged. My sense is that to draw conclusions about how authentic someone's troubles are from such superficial indicators as these is precisely the same kind of surface judgment that "educated" people are sometimes accused of passing on those who are less conventionally so.

    I think that life is the great educator, and to make assumptions based on where someone went to school, the contents of their bank account, or what's on their face is almost impossible. Some of the most privileged people I know are some of the most conflicted and unhappy. I've been on the receiving end of such stereotypes before and it doesn't feel good. I also strive not to do that to others, either those who look on the surface like me and those that do not.

    Cheers to you, Aidan, for being a bright and educated woman who won't - who can't! - stay silent. I can tell you you have a compatriot in me.


  2. Another compatriot here. Thanks for speaking up, Aidan. I was only halfway through the article and was interrupted. You know, by my glamorous, privileged life. I had to make my children lunch.

  3. Lindsey & Mama - Thanks for your support. Nothing like posting something heartfelt and honest (and yet admittedly a little provocative) to make me feel anxious. But anxiety is what ILI is all about anyway - the anxiety every little thing can cause. So now I am (apparently) learning to not only cope with the anxiety that is inherent in life, but I am courting extra amounts of it by writing such posts. Cheerio, compatriots!

  4. Dude, try writing a Motherlode blog post. I got ripped to shreds!

  5. You make a very important point here.
    Since people put their expectations so high on 'the privileged' -- as in they are to take the problems of the whole world on their shoulders -- it seems as if they are not allowed to even mention their own grievances. Furthermore, people concerned 'lucky in life', or however you wish to call it, are expected to give so much from themselves, whereas the ones who put those expectations upon them are not obliged to anything. (?)
    Unfortunately, the truth is that every problem is seen differently by those who are directly affected by it and those on the outside. Whatever it is we go through is important in its own light, at its own time.

    I enjoy reading your posts a lot. Thanks for this one.

  6. You know, all suffering is relative. We're all much better parents than our parents were, so much more aware, and we all work hard to give our children a better experience than we had, a leg up. But to our children, who have only their own experiences to draw from, we will be woefully inadequate and absolutely wonderful in ways that we can't anticipate and tried desperately to avoid. My mom sees now how she might have done better; I'm seeing a little bit of my own regret along the way.

    When I read Warner's column, I knew she was about to be blasted by everyone for not crucifying the mall-professor mom. I'd like to take a few of those posters to task for not raising more mature children. I have 9 and 11 year old daughters who could have handled that job with responsibility beyond their years. I think people are crippling their children by never allowing them to practice independence and responsibility. It's not always wrong to leave your kids in the car. Sometimes a 12 year old is better than a grandparent. Tell that to the authorities at your peril. Mothers are women, that's a problem for a lot of people, including a lot of women. Don't dare be different -- too smart, too successful, too sexy, too rich, too poor, too religious, too secular.

    I'm happy to see your blog. Though I come from the opposite end of the tracks and have only one year at Berklee and no real resume, I understand where you are coming from. It's life, and it's challenging for all of us.

  7. Anonymous - Very interesting point re: expectations placed upon "the privileged" vs. those deemed to fall outside of this category. An interesting question worth exploring is who is doing the labeling here? Are people self-labeling themselves privileged or non-privileged or is this categorization usually coming from the outside? I agree that it is unavoidable that each and every problem - economic, societal, legal - is seen through the personal prism of one's own subjective experience. This is perhaps why Judith's piece was so incendiary; her readers are diverse and are coming to her arguments and examples with notably different life experiences.

    Eve - Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree 100% that age alone is not an indicator of the responsibility-level of a particular child, that there are many young children who are far wiser than their adult counterparts. And I think you are right on when you suggest that we women have expectations to be savvy, successful, attractive, responsible, etc WITHIN LIMIT. It's when a woman excels in any of these areas or a number of them that there seems to be a backlash of sorts.

    Screw tracks and schools and resumes. If you really dig into the contents here on ILI, you will see that this is about so much more than these things. My hope is that I am exposing and examining questions and insecurities that crop up in all of our lives regardless of pedigree and profession and level of privilege. I sincerely hope you continue to visit ILI and comment!



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