Momism

“Mom is everything and everywhere and damn near everybody, and from her depends all the rest of the U. S." (Wylie, 1942.)

To start, a few definitions of “momism:”

  1. “Excessive attachment to or domination by one's mother.” (Oxford Dictionary.)

  2. “A cliché or proverbial statement deemed typical of what a mother would say to a child.” (Wikipedia.)

  3. “Things that your mom tells you that can be considered wise, but most of the time you just do whatever you feel like and the one time she's right, you will never hear the end of it.” (Urban Dictionary.)

  4. A conspiracy by inordinately powerful women, most of whom have terrible politics, all of whom should be dead, to ruin American political life for everyone else.

That last definition comes from the 1942 bestseller A Generation of Vipers, written by extremely Mad Dude Philip Wylie, whose only regret in life was dying before the invention of Reddit. (I assume.) He’s the one I quoted up top.

According to Wylie, modern medicine had cursed the nation with an ever-growing number of women who refused to die while they were still hot — “every clattering prickamette in the republic survives for an incredible number of years, to stamp and jibber in the midst of man, a noisy neuter by natural default or a scientific gelding sustained by science… the machine has deprived her of social usefulness; time has stripped away her biological possibilities and poured her hide full of liquid soap” — and, worse, tried to participate in civic life, through neighborhood organizing, advocating their causes in public forums, and (shudder) voting. Such moms were single-handedly responsible for the demolition of the American left (“mom composes the majority of Senator McCarthy's shock troops… ‘McCarthyism,’ the rule of unreason, is one with momism”) and giving them the vote at all had ushered in an era of political chaos and corruption: “Mom's first gracious presence at the ballot-box was roughly concomitant with the start toward a new all-time low in political scurviness, hoodlumism, gangsterism, labor strife, monopolistic thuggery, moral degeneration, civic corruption, smuggling, bribery, theft, murder, homosexuality, drunkenness, financial depression, chaos and war. Note that.”

It’s… a surprisingly contemporary analysis. We live in a moment when the militant right claims that feminism exists “to help lonely middle-aged women feel better,” and the bright young men of the left vomit bile on “wine moms” who “found liberal politics after their divorce;” where a focus on so-called “women’s issues” is easily dismissed as vapid, neoliberal “identity politics,” even as crucial civil-rights protections like VAWA and Roe v. Wade are being stripped away; where the incoming Congress is more female than ever, and any one of a number of smart, tough middle-aged women could be our next President, yet women as a political force are still written off, and their desire for female representation is cast as mere tokenism. We have more and less power than ever; we are marching by the thousands and we are losing rights by the second; we are the beneficiaries of two centuries of feminist progress, and we can’t even get our bosses to put their dicks away.

Lots of feminist coverage — including the feminist coverage I’ve written — frames this, almost unconsciously, around the concerns of young and single women, who are the most visible objects of prey. Men may objectify a younger woman, haze her, condescend to her, assault her, attempt to acquire her for their own purposes, because it’s presumed someone her age doesn’t have the power or resources to fight back, and because no man has claimed ownership of her; she looks like low-hanging fruit, like an easy target. What she experiences is brutal.

But when a woman becomes Mom — no longer seen as sexually available, or primarily defined through her sexuality; no longer seen as a person, but as a life support system for her family — she is something worse than prey. She is useless. Or she has only one use, and it’s domestic; to exist or speak in public, at all, means she’s slacking off on her real job. It’s as if a refrigerator or a toaster oven had wandered out into the world and started raising points in meetings. She is not scrutinized, but invisible; men don’t want to destroy Mom so much as they wonder (as Wylie does) why she’s not already dead.

So this is about momism. All the different kinds. It is a place to put news about my life, which is suddenly much more stable and ordinary than I had planned — married, raising a toddler, in a small Rust Belt city north of NYC — and about the private, unpaid labor of holding a life together, which women do by the millions, and are told to keep quiet about lest they seem ungrateful. It is about how politics reaches into that life, and impacts it, and what I do to impact politics right back.

It is about being the sort of person who isn’t supposed to have a voice, or engage in the world, and it is about engaging anyway. Because Wylie was more right than he knew: Mom is everywhere. Mom is in everything. Mom is damn near everybody, or half of everybody, at least. The country depends on her more than they know. They should at least hear her out.

A note: To minimize harassment, this letter will be paywalled, and only paying subscribers will be able to leave comments on posts. That paywall is set at Substack’s minimum price of $5 per month; if you sign up before January 31st, your first year will cost only $2.50 per month. Hopefully trolls won’t pay to comment, and the rest of you shouldn’t even notice the money leaving your account. Talk soon.