Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Housewives and Mothers, Desperately Seeking Liberation

Amy Sohn is not sure whether she and her married girl friends are reverting or regressing, but she sees them suffering from nostalgia for their lost singlehood.

Calling themselves Hookers, Sluts and Drug Addicts these mothers get together once a month to commiserate about the constraints of married life.

Having embraced the notion that marriage is oppression they yearn for liberation. From time to time they act out their yearnings.

If you do not look at the situation through the lens of feminist ideology you might see them as recovering addicts. Having spent their twenties indulging all the thrills that life and drugs could offer they are having difficulty settling down into a life of conjugal stability.

Since there is no recovery movement for such women they would do well to form a support group. They should not be spending their time reliving their past exploits but should be working on the skills needed to succeed at marriage.

Obviously, that’s a pipe dream, but one has a right to dream.

The women in question are all fortyish, married with children, but they are living lives that perfectly replicate what Lena Dunham portrayed in her new show, “Girls.”

Sohn describes it:

When “Girls” hit this spring, I was shocked by how true the show rang to my life—not my old life as a post-collegiate single girl but my new one, as a married, monogamous, home-owning mother. My generation of moms isn’t getting shocking HPV news (we’re so old we’ve cleared it), or having anal sex with near-strangers, or smoking crack in Bushwick. But we’re masturbating excessively, cheating on good people, doing coke in newly price-inflated townhouses, and sexting compulsively—though rarely with our partners. Our children now school-aged, our marriages entering their second decade, we are avoiding the big questions—Should I quit my job? Have another child? Divorce?—by behaving like a bunch of crazy twentysomething hipsters. Call us the Regressives.

I am not quite sure why Sohn thinks that Hannah and her friends are living such exciting and thrill-laden lives. In truth they are trying to overcome their anomie with sex, drugs, and drama.

Still, Sohn asks the salient question:

Why do moms in my generation regress, whether by drugging, cheating, or going out too late and too often? Because everything our children thrive on—stability, routine, lack of flux, love, well-paired parents—feels like death to those entrusted with their care.

I know more than a few alcoholics who believe that not drinking feels like death. When you are an alcoholic, any time spent away from the bottle induces mental states that will try to convince you that you are dead without it.

Sohn recognizes that her first answer is not quite right, so she tries to do better: these women, she explains, are seeking liberation.

As I would put it, they are living the feminist nightmare.

One can only wonder why liberation always seems to involve bad behavior, but here is Sohn’s description of the characters she writes about in her new book, Motherland:

The characters are inspired by my neighbors, who seek liberation not through consciousness-raising and EST the way their mothers did, but through Fifty Shades of Grey and body shots. They arrive home from girls' nights at three a.m. on a weeknight and then complain about hangovers at school dropoff. (And this regression is not confined to upscale neighborhoods in New York City—I hear similar stories from friends in Los Feliz, Montclair and Rye.) In flux, jaded by parenthood, confused about work and life, mothers are bored. So we rebel, just like bored adolescents—except adolescents, at least, can say they are acting their age.

These women have supportive husbands, with whom they rarely have sex. Perhaps their husbands are feminists themselves, or perhaps they are happier when these termagants are out of the house.

Naturally, some of these women have fully liberated themselves from their conjugal lives. According to Sohn they are completely out of control, and insist on talking about it:

If married parents sound like they are misbehaving, they are chaste in comparison to divorced parents, the biggest Regressives of all. The divorced regressed themselves right out of their marriages and now they’re playing the field. Nothing wrong with that, except they want to tell you all about it. Divorced mothers have the sex drive of fifteen-year-old boys. They go all the way on the first date, because they still have IUDs left inside from their marriages, and then they corner you at parties to ask advice about eHarmony.

Sohn takes offense at the women who gloat about their liberation and who claim to have rediscovered their lost youth.

I suspect that these women keep talking about it because they are trying to talk themselves into something. They are, I suspect, acting out of desperation more than desire. They might have the sex drive of teenaged boys, but they might also be terrified that they are alone and losing their sex appeal.

Sohn hints at it, adding that her married friends do not really know who they are. They are suffering from anomie.

In her words:

At a brownstone Brooklyn party in June, perimenopausal mothers with bangs and strappy dresses drank ridiculous cocktails and rocked out to Biz Markie and C+C Music Factory, raising their palms to the air. “There are a lot of single women here,” said a dad friend from Spain.

“They’re not single,” I said. “They're just acting single.”

The question remains: why is it that married mothers are behaving, or misbehaving, like a bunch of liberated twentysomething singles.

Perhaps because old habits die hard.

Forget the thrills, forget the risks, forget the devil-may-care attitude… if a twentysomething lives the life that liberation would prescribe—irresponsible, unreliable, full of spontaneous enthusiasm and cheap thrills—when and if she does get married, she will find that it is not very easy to flick a switch and turn into a responsible wife and mother. You cannot just develop new routines and rituals when you have been living your life in defiance of all of society's rules.

For an addict it’s never just about the drug. It’s about the way of life, the social whirl, the ups and downs that accompany the habit.

Postponing marriage and childrearing in the interest of career makes it difficult to adapt to new lives as married mothers.

Once you organize your life around sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, you are going to think that that is who you really are.

The new routines and responsibilities, especially the ones that involve a child who is too young to have gotten drunk on feminist ideology, will feel like a compromise, a loss, even oppression. 


Anonymous said...

as my wife likes to say:

"it's the childrens' familes,
as much as it's the schools. more so really."

so these are the mothers of the "dumbed down kids"??

sounds like a pattern.


JP said...

Adulthood is all about loss and oppression.

Life as a kid is easy and fun. You're young with a tremendous amount of potential.

Then you enter adulthood and the working world where you learn that life is kind of like a prison where you have to do all kinds of things that have no meaning to you other than enabling life to go on and for you to live another day.

And I never really lived in defiance of society's rules. I was never into sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

It's just that adulthood is painfully boring.

n.n said...


I'm surprised you do not resort to "sex, drugs, and rock and roll." This describes the preeminent trifecta of outlets by which individuals escape reality, if only for a moment, thereby relieving their boredom.

What keeps you from running amuck or simply engaging in the involuntary exploitation of others? I will assume that you are capable of these actions, but willfully avoid doing so.

Dennis said...


I would suggest that you mark off an hour or two of your day that can be used to indulge in things that interest you. Life is only boring if one makes it that way. It may be hard to see when you are in the "arena," but there is a lot to be enjoyed.
Any of us who have worked at jobs we did not particularly enjoy know the feeling, but there is joy just being the best you can be and ensuring your family does well. Don't be like these selfish women depicted above.
I used to have what I called "My Brag Room" Whenever I got to thinking about the problems of life I would go in there and just look at the walls. The walls contained all the awards I have received, degrees I have earned, the professional certifications, pictures of people I have worked with and performed with as well. Looking at them reminded me that life has been good to me and still is for that matter.

DrTorch said...

Is this any different from the Rolling Stones' "Mothers Little Helper"?

Or more to the point, any different from Prov 14:1b?

Anonymous said...

I suppose you have to have a sense of who you are? And be able to transcend boredom. My mother had 5 kids, we each were given a small garden plot when we got to be about 4-5 years old- with flowers to grow & then pick & put in a vase on the dinner table. I was taught to hem a handkerchief by hand when I was about 7. (I'm not sure what the boy's equivalent was)
Mom was a portrait artist, and the defining phrase of her life was "Oh! Look!" sunsets, interesting people, pets, landscapes, paintings in museums... We had a library full of books - wneh we were cranky & bored in the summer, we were told, "Oh, for heaven's sake, Go Read!" We were disciplined throughout our childhood to have what you might call an "interior" life of the mind, as well as our "public" life.

Consequently, not only can I hem a handkerchief, but I am NEVER bored- even when I am in a.... really boring situation.

Thanks, Mom

Retriever said...

This isn't about femInism. These women are just drunken sluts who are reverting to their premarital habits. Why the guys I went to school with and worked with divide women into girls you date or hook up with and wife material. Personally, I feel sorry for their kids as their husbands at least were adults who chose their spouse.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I suspect that the drugs, alcohol, and lack of gratification-delay have blown out their pleasure circuits to some extent, and normal pleasures don't quite meet the challenge. It's the harvest of a crop sown years ago.

They likely are unhappy. They hoped that they could set the dial back down to zero and get used to a new life. But the dial stuck on 5, only scaling back a little each year, and they seek more of what got them here to get by.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Good point... it's very difficult to unring the bell... and I am sure that you are right about their pleasure circuits... I suspect that it goes something like this: people are depressed, they suffer from a diminished ability to experience pleasure, they require more stimulation and more thrills.... and then they decide to settle down and give it all up. Then they discover that it's not so easy.

Anonymous said...

Forced sterilization. Seriously. Else we'll all die of oversilliness.