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Afflufemza April 22, 2006

Posted by papundit in Uncategorized.
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I recently read Mommy Wars: Stay-At-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families by Leslie Morgan Steiner, but I'll confess that I found the book review in the Atlantic Monthly by Sandra Tsing Loh more thought provoking than the book itself. Have you ever heard of "Afflufemza"?

Here is how Loh defines the term:

"More and more these days, reading women's writing fills me with a vague, creeping, slightly nauseating feeling. Lying in bed the other night, cradling some seltzer water, my stomach gurgling, the word for my malaise suddenly came to me: 'afflufemza,' wherein the problems of affluence are recast as the struggles of feminism, and you find yourself in a dreamlike state of reading first-person essays about it, over and over again."

I doubt Loh will make many friends in the publishing industry with her withering review of this book, but I thank her for giving a name –afflufemza– to this cultural phenomenon. Her basic point was that:

"There are, in fact, great varieties of American mothers left out of Steiner's anthology. They're women for whom work is not a 'lifestyle choice' but a necessity — a financial one, gauchely enough, and not an emotional one. Why do they work? To keep the electricity on….A female member of the mediacracy can now seize the bully pulpit for all women without needing to give even lip service to those women whose lives, unglamorously enough, are more blue collar than blue state."

Loh gives an example of a woman suffering from afflufemza:

"Life at the top may be privileged, but it is not simple. Take the mini-autobiography proffered by Steiner, a graduate of Harvard and Wharton, the general manager of The Washington Post Magazine, and the former Johnson & Johnson executive who was responsible for the international launch of Splenda. Her dilemma, she explains, was being married to an investment banker who kept getting ever more attractive jobs in ever new places. The crisis came when he was 'offered the presidency of a hot Internet start-up,' which would require a family move to Minneapolis. The pain of it had Steiner lying on the parquet floor in her beloved Upper West Side, fighting tears: 'Within a ten-minute walk lay my son's favorite playground, my sister's apartment, my in-laws' condo, Gymboree, a pediatrician as kindly as Big Bird, five or six Starbucks, the Reebok gym, and at least a dozen museums.' But no. 'My husband calmly explained that we were very lucky and really had to go. Millions of dollars in stock options, he said.' (Again, for comparison, I don't want to go red state on you but a military wife might take the news of a move differently, perhaps even thinking something like, Yes, moving is inconvenient, but sacrifice is part of the duty our family owes our country … which in the "mommy wars" universe would be a strange notion full of foreign words.) Steiner's female-empowering argument is that her only choice, as a mother, was to return to full-time work at a plum Washington Post advertising job in order to gain the economic leverage needed to have a say in household decisions."

I wonder if Steiner, upon seeing her story in print, realizes now how ridiculous her complaint makes her look. Her husband asked her to leave her beloved Upper West Side apartment in exchange for millions of dollars in stock options. Sniff…how could he be so insensitive?!

Mommy Wars helped me understand how completely out-of-touch some blue state feminists are with the lives and concerns of women. Is this why groups like NOW are more concerned with abortion, "marriage equality" (aka gay marriage), and emergency contraception than the child tax credit, education, health care costs, and terrorism?

It's always bugged me that women voters are defined mainly in terms of their reproductive capability. But reading Mommy Wars helped me understand how the affluence of the blue state elites described by Steiner shelters them from real world problems and artificially inflates the importance of issues like "self actualization."

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