When I was a (precocious, bratty, alarmingly widely-read) child, I used to call my mother “Mommie Dearest” to irk her. I didn’t actually understand what the big deal was, probably because my notions of the obligations of motherhood were yet unformed and because I lacked the experience of widespread judgment, censure, and equally inappropriate approbation and opprobrium with which perfect strangers feel entitled to shower us on the basis of our motherhood. So that little barb, coming from me, wasn’t an indictment of my mother’s parenting skills, kindness, or commitment to her family; it was just a way to make my mom grit her teeth and cast her eyes heavenward.

Now I am an adult, and my husband is an avid reader of Vanity Fair, so I understand a little more about the alleged sins of Joan Crawford. And I have to regret my callow callousness a little bit. But I’m growing up, you know? I’m realizing the depth of my insensitivity, my total failure to appreciate the pressures and circumscription that even my mother, a relatively liberated mid ’70s West Coast mom, experienced. Unfortunately, I have also realized that there’s probably no way to make up for the grief I gave her.

In Salon today, Phyllis Chesler writes about motherhood, parenting, second- vs. third-wave feminism, and Rebecca Walker’s public recriminations of her mother, Alice. It’s a piece worth reading. But what stands out in it is this rebuttal to Rebecca Walker’s public decrying of her mother’s failure to fill the stay-at-home mom role amply occupied by her stepmother, Judy:

Yes, and Alice did all the things that women like Judy don’t want to do and can’t do: Write great poems and novels, devote oneself to world work, crusade for human and women’s rights. Rebecca: Trust me, a woman really cannot do both. The myth that we can is a dangerous one.

Chesler makes some important points about the fact that third-wave feminism may not always appreciate the oppression of motherhood and how it was applied to past generations of women. She describes the danger women risk when they try to do anything else but mother well. And she makes the revolutionary and yet entirely relevant, necessary observation that women are still measured by their success as mothers (and demonized for their failures at mothering):

However, great men are allowed every excess and failure; great women are never forgiven for making a single mistake. Great men are allowed their female mistresses, male lovers, wife-secretaries, binges — and they rarely see their children. Or they exploit and abuse them.

Are we conscious of how ingrained this kind of bias, this negative judgment, is in all of us? Is a writer like Rebecca Walker (whom Chesler damns with the faint praise of being “beautiful and talented in her own right” as opposed to Alice Walker’s “world-class talent”, and, having caught more than one essay, radio piece, etc. by the younger Walker, I have to agree) aware of the unfairness of the lens through which she views her own childhood? Did anyone ask how much time Obama was spending with his kids during this primary — the one where Hillary Clinton was accused of every sin of character in the book, not to mention “pimping out” Chelsea?

I doubt it. And that brings me back to what Chesler says, and what I said a few days ago: you can’t have it all. And you are crazy to even try. Sorry, kids — I know you were hoping that you could raise a beautiful family and have an organic garden and write thoughtful, above-average literary novels and go to your kid’s baseball games, but you can’t, or rather, you could, but who wants to write above-average literary novels? Nobody’s going to remember them in fifty years; above-average means that your date was polite and wearing a pressed shirt and could converse intelligently about current trends in the habits of the bourgeoisie (slow food, tap water vs. bottled water, David Sedaris, and anything else recently featured on NPR). Rebecca Walker is above-average. Rebecca Walker is making a living and has a following (probably of mostly white, upper middle class women too timid to question her assertions and regaled by the exoticism of her mixed-race ancestry and the fact that she named her kid after a Tibetan lama, but that’s another post).

But in love, as in literature, we’re not looking for above-average. “Good enough” is a phrase often tossed around as definitive in mothering, but not so in art. The date that’s adequately groomed and reasonably articulate is OK; we can survive on that, biding our time and confirming our assumptions about life until something sublime comes along, something that will sweep us off our feet and have us waking up, bleary-eyed and breathless, in Tahiti with a new and charming tattoo on our left palm — a tattoo we would never have considered getting, one that challenges our assumptions, one that transforms us.

Alice Walker is not above-average. Alice Walker will take you to Tahiti and to an unbelievable (and sometimes scary) tattoo artist.

In my own life, I’m a lot of things, impatient and stressed-out and caustic and supercilious being chief among them. But I’m usually not a liar. And I hope I’m not a coward. And I think I’m clear-sighted enough to say, again: No. You can’t have it all. Transformative art does not have a lot of respect for families, for stability, for parenting skills, for environmental quality, for regular and thoughtfully-planned meals. So if these things are important to you, make your choice — and that goes for men as well as women, because even if we still tend to blame women when the parenting isn’t up to snuff, men are no longer expected to supply nothing more than a dinnertime appetite and a paycheck.

And if you are lucky enough to be the child of a parent who maybe didn’t make nutritionally balanced meals and wasn’t around as much as you’d have liked, but who transformed this world and the people in it, think about this before you complain: think about how much bigger and more interesting your world is because of it. Think of how not getting the attention you wanted enriched you, even as it stung. Think of how your mother’s “failings” cannot be laid entirely at her door, but must be shared with your father and with every person in your life and in this world who expected the lion’s share of parenting to go to her.

Because the truth is that all our parents fail us, and none of them manages to always give us exactly what we need. And many, many children do not have the benefit of a mother who transformed the world. Many children, in fact, having nothing but human frailty to blame their parents’ failing on.

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Well. The discussions of how misogyny and racism play into this Democratic primary keep on raging fast and furious. Mostly misogyny, because, as Robin Morgan points out, racists know better than to out themselves, but nobody thinks twice about a couple of slams on women.

However, I was part of a discussion on a blog I read occasionally this morning that demonstrated to me that racism, too, is alive and well in America. Here it is:

Let’s be honest – Hillary and Barack have made it this far because of their gender and race. The people who got forced out of the race were all more qualified and had better , smarter policies. If anything, we should be upset that gender & race preferences are leaving us with less qualified candidates.

Wow. Who knew that people felt so comfortable airing out their racism in public (as well as claiming superpowers that enable them to know the whys of things even the most seasoned political analysts can’t explain). To be fair, this was a comment to a post, not by the author of the blog. However, the author of the blog (whom I won’t name here out of a wish not to make anyone feel scrutinized, whom I had considered an enlightened and gentle person, and who started the discussion by asking why the backlash against women voters for Hillary seemed so much greater than that against black voters for Barack) chimed right in with:

[Name Redacted], that last paragraph? Very well said. I’m still chewing on it a bit, but I think you touched upon something very, very interesting.

Yeah. It’s very, very interesting all right. It’s very, very interesting that the poster in question feels completely comfortable claiming he knows that the reason Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have made it this far is because of preferential treatment based on gender and race, that they are the beneficiaries of some kind of wrongheaded Affirmative Action on steroids, that they are Not Worthy of being where they are and would not have been chosen if the white male candidates hadn’t been run out of the race so that The Powers That Be could prove they were p.c.

Apart from the problem that claiming there is any monolithic decision about whose candidacy survives is ridiculous (and the American people, even the rich ones who give a lot of money to campaigns, are hardly a monolith, as the fact that Mike Huckabee exists demonstrates), that statement is based on such deeply-rooted racism and sexism (and ignorance — does the poster think that Affirmative Action means “hiring lame-ass candidates who are token representatives of minority groups?) that all I can say is this:

I am ashamed. I’m ashamed to be in the same country as that kind of attitude — or in the same world. I am ashamed that bloggers who seem like nice, normal, kind people can swallow such racist claptrap with nary a murmur. I am ashamed to see the attitudes of educated, moderate people are so little removed from the type of violent racism that causes things like this to happen.

I’ve had a stomach ache for days due to being continually bludgeoned with woman-hating remarks about Hillary. Now my stomach is revolting with revulsion, disgust, and disheartening disillusionment at what this kind of attitude — particularly from my own peers — betrays. I don’t want to look at my children and know that this is the kind of attitude they will continually confront in their lives, for being minorities, for being female, for being anything other than cowardly, goose-stepping supporters of the fucked-up status quo. I don’t want to, but I have to — because I know that they will confront these attitudes and, worse, be the victims of them.

Because I have been confronting racism and sexism my whole life. Because I have been the target — as so many of us have — of racism and sexism my whole life, and I just got a big fat piece of proof that little has changed.

I’ve been hammering and hammering away at all my privileged white friends, all of whom are voting for Obama for indefinable reasons, and it’s the indefinable reasons that bug me: because this campaign is so tainted by deep-rooted misogyny and because these selfsame white liberals I hang out with are giving themselves a free pass to indulge in it, and a pat on the back for being cool enough to get past the racism endemic to America and cast a vote for the black dude, that my internal justice meter is roiling with agita: I do know a couple of people who are voting for Obama, but most of the people I know are voting against Hillary (see this), and frankly, it’s starting to remind me of fifth grade, when arbitrary selections of “cool” became a reason for the ravening ten-year-old wolves to get their teeth in anything that didn’t conform and rip it to shreds. I saw a comment in the NYT that explained Obamamania thusly: “I just want something to believe in.”

And I thought I had low expectations of politics.

What this primary has demonstrated to me is that being a woman, particularly a woman married to a powerful man, is deeply not cool, because our consciousness is not yet mature enough to realize that a woman can be powerful without rejecting her womanhood (see: Amazons, Artemis, Joan of Arc, Thatcher).

And that our unconscious protection of these entrenched anti-woman attitudes will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo.

Prince wrote a song about this kind of problem, and the name pretty much sums up the problematic: “Pussy Control.” I think he’s right to say, “All y’all’s loaded.”

Or, as blogger Election-year Weltschmerz says, “Many whites understand that black people are justified in a legitimate struggle against their own oppression (however problematically they might think about it); many men (and some women) do not think that women’s struggles against patriarchy are so justified.”

Pity, isn’t it?

In the wake of a flood of gender-politicking around the election and the attribution of Hillary’s New Hampshire win to her “emotional outburst,” especially by the likes of Maureen Dowd, who manages to not only misread and misinterpret Gloria Steinem‘s Op-Ed piece in the Times but also to evince that she is, in fact, as screeching harpy who has no greater insights to offer than a bad parody of Chris Matthews, I started to feel, with no little exasperation, sick of the whole misogynistic, jeering refrain about Hillary’s gender, because what it really indicates is that we so readily accept the notion that being male is normative and being female is being sub-normal (despite genetic/evolutionary evidence to the contrary) that we accord male voters a respect we wouldn’t dream of giving women, who are clearly always led by the estrogen coursing through their veins. A charming little post at Bitch, Ph.d expressed my sentiments exactly: “pundits and other commentators insist on acting as if we’ve just admitted people with vaginas to the electorate, and it’s just so crazy because how will this affect the election?!…But no, we never talk about how men will vote, because it’s just not as interesting. Or scary. Men have been voting for years! They are the average voter! They don’t vote based on little things like crying episodes or whether someone is black. They vote the issues. (…) From now on, I will be presenting analysis of the man vote. Will they vote with their penises? Are they indignant? Do they want to see a man in the White House?”

Do they, indeed. Who can’t answer that? And where is the cause for the grotesque Hillary-focused rubbernecking and prurient desire for questionable motives and/or failure? Well, according to Bob Herbert, it’s simple: we are a society that delights in dehumanizing women, in causing them pain, in observing their sufferings with dispassionate fascination. And although his piece makes some pretty big leaps of logic, it’s pretty obvious he’s not wrong — just as it’s pretty obvious that a lot of the men out there whip out their Johnsons to mark up those ballots.