Jessica Mason McFadden writes, studies and mothers in Western Illinois, where she lives with her wife and daughters. Jess graduated from Western Illinois University in 2006 with a B.A. in English. She will be pursuing a graduate education in English next fall. Jess identifies as a queer feminist and manages a wrecking blog at masonismymiddlename. blogspot.com.
Visceral reactions are where it’s at when it comes to Time Magazine’s cover story, “Are You Mom Enough?” While the topic of attachment parenting is relevant and in need of intelligent discourse, it’s the cover that’s making headlines. It isn’t the issue of attachment parenting that concerns the majority, it’s the gut reaction it produces in them. Does a provocative image have the power to educate? Does it create a space in which learning might occur or does it close the space entirely? These are the questions raised by this kind of moment of mass hysteria. Since the provocative image in the issue of Time most certainly elicits a response that speaks to feminism, it is important that feminists use this as an opportunity to contribute to, and thus shape, the conversation.
Since Time has a pretty grand bully pulpit from which to preach, even about messages they might not intend to teach, it is essential that feminists from around the globe make themselves heard in response to the article. It isn’t likely the article itself will determine the nature of the discourse, given that it’s the image that’s making headlines. The course and content of the conversation largely rests with the types of community involvement that it might engender. We can let the majority reaction come from outside the feminist community, or we can make this a Feminist Moment by making it by and about us – a collective of individuals coexisting peacefully and sharing feminist –egalitarian– values.
So what does this feminist have to say? Well, a lot of what I have to say is viscerally induced but also intellectually processed. I, like you, had my initial reaction to the cover. It went something like, “Wow, is that really on the cover of Time?” And that was before I saw the title of the issue. The image was powerful, indeed – particularly, Jamie Lynne Grumet’s confident, lackadaisical expression. No one can deny that the image is powerful. And any form of power can be used for good or evil, for or against equal rights and humanitarianism. I sense in its power a shade of revolutionary non-violent resistance: my favorite form of power. Whatever is written about the image and however it is characterized does not diminish its aesthetic power.
Some of the first responders to the article have mentioned what Grumet is wearing (tight jeans, for instance). I think it’s unwise to focus on what she’s wearing or what portion of the population she represents physically by being thin and white. Tori Amos wore an open jacket and an ambiguous expression when she posed breastfeeding a baby pig on the back cover of the CD insert for “Boys for Pele.” As for me, I’d prefer to wear trousers and an open waistcoat or a torn up Geneva gown for my débuts de la résistance, but what can ya do? To each breastfeeding or bottlefeeding woman her own (wardrobe)! And, besides, it’s what Grumet’s not wearing that’s causing the jaws to drop. More than that, it’s who she is wearing – her three-year-old son – that is stirring the pot of dichotomizing forces and filling the House of Social Media with the sour-milky aroma of controversy.
After my brainless gut reaction to the photo, the next semi-intelligent response I had was to imagine myself in Grumet’s shoes. I imagined the ways in which I would represent my version of motherhood if I were given the opportunity to stage it on a popular magazine cover. I thought about my breastfeeding experiences with each of my daughters. If I had to do two separate magazine covers for each of my girls, each cover would be dramatically different. If I had only one image from which I could represent my breastfeeding experience; it would feature me, sitting on a bench, split in half.
One half of me would be surrounded by a starry night – that half of me would feature a red-faced, angry baby child not breastfeeding but rather clenching my shriveled up breast and its clogged duct in her fist. My hair would be standing on end; the blubbery folds of my tummy would be bubbling over one another, making invisible any evidence of the giant belly cave that formerly was my bellybutton; the milk from the clogged breast would be on my face instead of in my child’s mouth; and half of my face would look like one of Aileen Wuornos’ mug shots.
The other half of me, in front of the clear-blue sky and white light of day, would feature a half-face of delight and peace, a drenched acid reflux cloth draped over one shoulder, a Harry Potter book in hand, a cup of tea within reach, and a baby child pleasantly dozing blissfully into dreamless fulfillment. Yes, night and day – that sums up my two and a half years of breastfeeding. Was I Mom Enough? If you asked one-half-of-me, she would have said, “Hell, yeah.” If you asked the other half, she would have said, “No, no, no; I’m defeated.” And the halves of me don’t even begin to encompass the continuum in which breastfeeding experiences exist.
We’re all Mom Enough if the circumstances line up well enough, but we can just as easily become Not Enough. That’s why it’s so important to honor individual experiences. The title of the article will mislead some to equate Being Enough with fulfilling whatever the image represents to them (whether it be avid breastfeeding, or militant and extreme parenting styles, or loving and nutritionally sound parenting styles). Being enough is what creates the whole parenting quandary, the philosophical divide, in the first place. So many of us are raised, or somehow manage on our own, to yield to external pressures in our pursuit of becoming ourselves. “Are You Mom Enough,” at a very basic level, validates and exacerbates the general pressure that women face to be something for someone else or for some cause other than themselves.
At the same time, we have the chance to respond to the question that Time has posed. We have the ability to say, “YES, I am Mom Enough. Yes I am.” We can answer – whether we adhere to attachment parenting styles, or not; whether we breastfeed, or not; whether we feel positively about extended breastfeeding, or not; whether we, ourselves, would put ourselves in Jamie Lynne Grumet’s shoes, or not. We have voices, as women and mothers, and we have the right to answer. The great thing about posing a question is that it solicits a response.
Let’s keep the conversation going so that the answer resounds equally as powerfully as the question. The answer will be different for each of us. The question may not be a good one to begin with. It may be derived from faulty logic or futility. It’s too late, though. It has already been asked. We cannot eliminate the question or deny its existence. What we can do is empower ourselves in the answer. A question is only as powerful as its answer. All parenting and breastfeeding issues aside, this is a moment in time in which women’s voices are undoubtedly in demand and CALLED for. If Time has initiated a dialogue, let’s engage! Where this conversation will lead, I suppose, ironically, Time won’t tell. It’s up to you and me.