For the better part of the last 13 years, I’ve lived and breathed the ‘Mom Movement’. Since forming the first ‘Mom Rock’ band in 1997, with a specific goal of setting the struggles, dreams and desires of mom-culture to music, my band ‘Housewives On Prozac‘ (on NPR) put a whole new spin on domestically intriguing themes.
We were wooed by Hollywood, starred in the indie film ‘Momz Hot Rocks‘ by Kate Perotti, played to millions on Good Morning America and wrote and performed our own rock musical called ‘Shut Up And Drive’ in a six week run of an equity production here in New York.
When Mamapalooza staked out a place in the stratosphere, we were first out of the gate with a strong mission to create an entire culture of Mom-based business and art. I guess, looking around, we’ve been more successful than I ever could have imagined. Mom bloggers abound. Mom-made businesses are claiming their real estate in the small business and corporate world faster than you can blink. Café Mom has gone on to become a phenomenon, and I have stopped having to describe to people what ‘Mom Rock’ is. *I sold the saying to Ephemera in 2004 so they could create buttons and magnets that say ‘Moms Rock’.
Fast forward to our 10th Mamapalooza Festival season.
In 2011 we’ll begin another year of highlighting women’s accomplishments in the area of music, literature, comedy, entrepreneurship and much, much more at events around the country and in the media we create online and in print.
Most of our work has been extremely exciting. There were years when camera crews and magazine writers followed us everywhere we went. Those relationships have mellowed into long-standing friendships and partnerships with press around the country.
The women who formed the core of the original performers and event coordinators have gone on, in most cases to become some of my most treasured friends. They have each exceeded expectations and the list is so long: Judy Davids, ‘Rock Star Mommy‘, Sue Fabisch, bound for Broadway, Tina deVaron making Mom Music professionally everyday, Patrice Moerman, who now teaches for the School Of Rock, Tiffany Petrossi of Rockin’ Moms, Jennifer Edwards who writes for the Huffington Post, Alyson Palmer, internationally acclaimed rock star with the band BETTY, Amy Simom, She’s History, Eileen Motok, helping to expand our Licensing Program with events in Columbus, Ohio, Annette Daniels Taylor, actress, writer, Mamapalooza Event Coordinator, and REW who’s created a weekly internet phenomenon with her ‘REW and WHO’ show in NYC and so many more to mention. Even the ones I’ve lost touch with are still in my heart.
As I look around today at what the ‘Mom Movement’ has become and where it might go next, I can only say three things:
1) While giving voice to women and specifically mothers has been my life’s work, I am disappointed at how many of those voices have only chosen to join the chorus of consumer directives. When my team sat in the offices of FOX, and they wanted to create a TV show depicting a battle of the Mom Rock bands – winner gets a washing machine, I said no. In case my reasons for that aren’t obvious, I wanted the Mom Movement to challenge stereotypes and empower women. I wanted women to work together to create better family systems and more cooperative collaboration and I wanted women to be paid for what they did.
When I see the Mommy Bloggers with their cartoon caricatures on the web-headers, touting mounds of baby advice and discount coupons, I get frustrated with the direction and the messaging.
2) This leads me to an even clearer place for Mamapalooza and for my personal messaging. We are decidedly NOT status quo. We, myself, the women I work with, the teams I create, the events we empower, the message we bring, has to have deeper undertones that not only offer reflection on how to live better lives, how to honor the woman at the center of motherhood, but also how to continue to celebrate the authentic individual voices that make up each family and community. We are complex. Our lives are not one-dimensional. We have issues. They are:
a) Violence against women is still rampant around the world and in our homes.
b) Feminism still has a bad rap and we are devoted to changing that. Mothers in particular are seen as “‘virtuous vessels’ who must be good housewives, careful of their stores, and obedient to their husbands.” I am quoting Socrates, ‘The Concept Of Women‘ here. So, whatever lamentations have fallen from my lips regarding the 50′s housewife, are ill conceived. The reality is, we are talking about a collective concept that dates back to 750 B.C. that defines and limits women.
c) Mothers don’t get paid for what they do. Work-Life Balance continues to be an issue for women in particular. That’s why organizations like Moms Rising and Working Mother inspire and inform us. The financial issues facing mothers are critical. “A college educated woman will earn almost half a million dollars less that a college educated man.” Or, this, ” All too often, women come out on the losing end.” -Smart Money Oct. 2010. The work for caregivers, and especially mothers, has to be reexamined and we simply must find better ways to financially bless the people who give birth and raise our children.
d) We are not our children. We are vibrant, concerned, complicated, vivacious, intense, caring, concerned and talented individuals who are doing our best to make our way in the world. We are caregivers, mothers and others. As Ercia Jong recently wrote in her Mother Madness article for the Wall Street Journal, “Bearing and rearing children has come to be seen as life’s greatest good. Never mind that there are now enough abandoned children on the planet to make breeding unnecessary.”
While I don’t see Motherhood as a vocation disappearing anytime soon, we do need to be ‘green’ in our thinking and wary of our planet. We need to find ways as women to empower ourselves and give up on the notion that becoming a mother is that thing we do when we don’t know what else to do. And, if and when our destiny is so blessed as to procreate, let’s not forget that we are first and foremost, people. Women specifically, who had a life before our children were born and will have a life after our children are grown, and that each of us has one precious life that is ‘our’ life. It should never be forgotten or neglected, because each of us are charged by the great Divine to be a light. That means keeping your candle burning bright in the midst of reflecting others.
3) My last and third point in this article is this; I am tired. I have been carrying this ‘Circus Without A Tent’ across America and the world with every breath I take, every day, day in and day out, since 1997. When I became an event coordinator and then a business woman, and finally a publisher and promoter, media mentor and creator and finally the biggest piece of all – which is finding a physical home for the Museum Of Motherhood in 2011, I can honestly say, I am physically, mentally and emotionally spent, which is probably why I haven’t been myself for the last month or so.
Tomorrow, November 30th would have been my 25th wedding anniversary. It also marks the 10th anniversary of the kidney transplant that saved my life. Pamela Van Hoesen gave her kidney to me on November 30th, 2000, as a direct result or her generosity of spirit and interminable kindness, and because of my personal battle with Lupus (SLE) since the birth of my last child in 1994, which ultimately destroyed my renal function.
I’m moving forward cautiously and slowing into the 2011 season. I love what I do. I love the women I work with. I love bringing beauty, music, empowerment and community experiences to the planet. I’m just not sure how to keep doing everything as I have been, so I’m looking for some new ideas, welcoming small miracles and continued strength and yes…. I need some more help and continued inspiration & strength….. Bless you all this Holiday Season. ~ Joy
So you know last week I was trying to figure out the “good mom” thing to do, about whether to drag my son with me to family night (I don’t want to be misleading here—“family night” is not a thing we manage to pull off regularly; we aren’t the kind of fam that has a stack of Milton Bradley games that we pull out and rejoice in every Friday night nor, as you probably know from previous posts, the kind of family that sits down every night around the table. This is one of the reasons why the dilemma last Friday was sort of a big deal). (And, as another parenthetical, am trying to work away from wording my decisions as “good mom/bad mom” ones; I do know better. But the cultural thinking about this dichotomy is so entrenched, I have to work really hard at thinking of it some other way. I wish the news media would work at talking about moms some other way too. More on that later.)
One of my commenters suggested that we do a version of double “date night”—my son doing his thing and my partner and me (and, as it turned out, my daughter and hers) going to see the play Lysistrata. And indeed that’s the course we took and a good one it turned out to be too. His sister took him and his date to the mall, and from there they walked with another young teen couple to the movies for a double date of their own (her parents are two of the very few in our community who will actually LET their children walk anywhere on their own, who will LET the children have time independent of them. Don’t know what that’s about—not having taught them how to function on their own, or fear of media-sensationalized bogeymen of one kind or another but I can tell you my son’s usually the odd one out on that one. Lenore Skenazy is my heroine on this issue. She’s the mother of the “free range kids” movement. Her story is here, in her blog, and her book is here along with a video clip of her talking about mothering and her book).
I talked with him early that morning about what I thought was appropriate dating behavior for someone his age, and about how kissing was OK but that more than that was probably not, that people can get caught up on passionate moments and do more than they wish they had later, and so basing decisions-in-the-moment on the feelings-of-the-moment could be problematic and the source of relationship troubles down the road, like the following Monday in junior high school. I didn’t have to do much with “no means no,” since I’ve been teaching him that since he was quite small—beginning with him carrying a “no means no!” sign in a Take Back the Night rally on my campus when he was in pre-school. My language was more explicit in our conversation than I am being here, but that’s the gist of it. I had expected that he might do a good bit of eye-rolling and embarrassed looks to the side, but he was super cool about it. In fact I’m remembering now that I had said to him, “I want to talk with you about something and you may already know all this and it’s probably going to be a little awkward but I want to be a ‘good mom’ and to have had this conversation with you.” There’s that phrase again. Anyway, it was all good on his end I do believe.
On the other end of our double “family date” night was attending the Lysistrata production on our campus, which was a delight. I’m happy to say that the director did a good job of portraying women as both sexual and powerful—a tricky thing, since so often we see either images of women as sexual OR powerful, or we see men’s versions of women’s sexuality which doesn’t, in the end, function very powerfully for the women, though the men in these images seem to rather prefer that. Now there were problems with the show. The men, deprived of sexual activity by the women until they lay down their arms and wage peace, are driven to the peaceful negotiations by erections, which ostensibly are caused by sex deprivation, which I’m pretty sure is not how erections typically work. This element was portrayed in early Greece by the actors sporting large phalluses, but in this particular production it was portrayed, quite cleverly, by having their long neckties constructed with wire or something so they stuck out erect. Another problem was the use of elder women and men who were comedic characters which, at some level is OK since the players were rather cartoonish throughout, but at most levels functions as insulting and cruel and unnecessary. I think it’s OK to laugh at ourselves at life’s various ages and stages but I think we draw too heavily on the “old people” trope for comedy which functions, in the end, more as mockery than comedy. So that was a bit disturbing for me. But the production for the most part was very funny, very sexual, and very playful. It would have been, as it turns out, fine for my son to see, though it’s a very “talky” play and, while modernized, retained a good bit of the ancient language structure, so he may have drifted off wistfully thinking about all the richness that the mall has to offer a young teen.
Last week I had the opportunity to sit on a Feminist Mothering Panel as part of Minnesota State Mankato’s diversity week festivities.
So what makes me a feminist? I am a feminist because I see the privilege I am afforded through no effort of my own. I am white. I am upper middle class, (not because of my salary, but because of my husband’s). I have the legal right to be married and all of the rights that this country bestows on me. I have kids who are well suited for school and public situations. Some nurture perhaps, but they are biologically and chemically able to be compatible with the social norms and structure. I was raised well, with a mother and a father who really wanted me and really supported me to become who I was intended to be. I have a husband who is not abusive or addicted. I have the ability to learn and have used that ability to obtain a good education. I am mentally stable and have never suffered with any of the mental disorders or struggles that plague many. And I didn’t DO anything to get these gifts. I didn’t throw them away, I have used what I’ve been given, but they were mine for the taking. I am a feminist because I realize the fact that this uneven playing field exists. I realize where I am starting on the journey of motherhood and that many, many mothers are struggling to just make it to my starting line.
This may not be the definition for every feminist or every feminist mother, but I think having the opportunity to define feminism is one of the most inalienable rights that the women’s movement have given us. Labels are somewhat necessary, but instead of just slapping the label on, I challenge everyone to explore how they define the label and how the label fits into their life and experience.
I was at a conference last weekend, the National Women’s Studies Association conference to be exact and, as always, it was awesome. I was on a panel that talked about personal narrative in Motherhood Studies and we were discussing whether or not such narrative held any radical or transformative potential at the end of the metaphysical day and if so, what kinds. One of the highlights of the conference for me was when I was sitting at the booth for the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement with my good friend Dr. Andrea O’Reilly; a woman walks up to me and said she had a question about mothering and introduced herself as Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes (!). Dr. Estes wrote Women Who Run with the Wolves, a wildly popular book and one many women have clung to to find their inner strength and core. Aside from practically leaping out of my seat to grab her hand and tell her how amazing she is and what an honor it was to meet her, it was fun to be reminded that super popular and even amazing people are just regular everyday folks too. When I was having dinner with Andrea, we were talking about family life and she told me that her son didn’t mind reminding her that if it weren’t for him, she probably wouldn’t have a career because she wouldn’t have anything to write about. That she’d have plenty to write about anyway because she has two other daughters notwithstanding, I wondered what my own son would do with this information, with the understanding that without him (and my daughter), I’d certainly not have the career I’ve got; certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog or my books. If it weren’t for my children, I most likely would have a very different professional life.
So I decided to ask him this week what I should blog about. He thought, you may not be surprised to hear, that I should blog about him. He is trying to arrange a date with his girlfriend (at 13 he doesn’t drive) and trying to figure out how do a mall-and-movie gig with her tomorrow. In particular he is making a case that he should not have to go with the family to see the play we were going to see so that he could go on this other escapade. Now the interesting thing about it is that the play is Lysistrata, an ancient Greek play written by Aristphones in the 400s B.C. And it’s a pretty sexy play about women employing sexual power to keep men from going to war. To be exact, women come together in agreement that they will withhold sex from the men until the men stop fighting. The plan works and the men lay down their arms but until then it’s a pretty titillating show (if done right). So I was thinking as I drove home last night about how I am so often caught as a mother insisting on a particular course of action from my kids when the outcome may not be quite the one I thought I was going for. The thought of going to an ancient Greek play, of course, interests him not at all, though I suspect he will find himself quite engaged once it gets rolling. But I may be explaining and contextualizing several of the scenes (maybe not even able to focus and enjoy it much myself). Though maybe I am delusional. Maybe at 13, and having grown up in a household where we talk openly about sexual matters, sometimes to his dismay, he already knows what he needs to know to make sense of a very sexual drama.
Anyway, I have about a day to figure out whether I’m going to call family dibs on his time or help him orchestrate his early teen date. I’m imagining him sitting next to me during the play and me wishing he was at the mall…. I don’t know what choices the director has made in representing women and whether he will be adept at portraying them powerfully, and from a woman-centered perspective rather than a stereotypical one, so I’m a little nervous. I keep thinking about my days as a mother of young children, happily eating their “happy meals” in the backseat of the car as we scurry from one thing to the next and me getting frustrated at how they’re only eating the fries. (This was back before apples slices and mandarin orange cups and juice and other quasi-nutritional options emerged from fast food land.) I remember hearing myself say, “Don’t just eat the fries, you need something with some nutrition—eat the chicken nuggets!” followed by the recognition of the absurdity of that, followed by “Oh nevermind,” followed by a good dose of guilt for serving dinner on the road in the backseat of 1964 Chevy Nova. (I gotta say though, I probably couldn’t have cared less about that part if apples and milk had been part of the equation back then.) I’m seeing parallels here and thinking maybe insisting on chicken nuggets is a lot like insisting on family night at Lysistrata…I’ll let you know how that pans out.