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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 03/ 8/2011

Story Pick: Tina Fey, Witches, Hollywood and Working Mothers

By Brigid Schulte

I had just finished spending time in Frederick County, where a devout Mormon County Commissioner’s comments about the “ideal” role of a mother – in the home caring for her children – sparked and uproar. I was drawn to the story, not so much because of the well worn "War of the Sexes” controversy. But rather, as someone who lives everyday the exquisite agony of working motherhood.

I was indoctrinated early – by some pretty hard-line feminist Catholic nuns of all people – that in an evolved society, women as well as men were free to become their fullest, highest selves. Be all that you can be, we were told. But once I got into the workforce, no one seemed to have a clear vision of how to do that and, at the same time, have a family. Time studies show that mothers, particularly those who work for pay outside the home, are among the most time-starved on the planet. Because, though we’ve evolved, the world and workplace have not. And most of us are trying to live two lives at once. “To be a working mother,” one sociologist told me, “is to live in a state of constant contradiction.”

So into this uncomfortable contradictory state – which straddles Not Quite All You Can Be and Adequate Mother, at least when you’re not too tired and haven’t lost it over all that unfinished homework that fell out of the backpack again – Tina Fey’s essay in The New Yorker, The Juggler, about her own struggles with being a working mother in Hollywood and her agonizing over whether to have a second child, arrived like a welcome, affirming if depressing, friend.

"The topic of working moms is a tap-dance recital in a minefield,” she writes. “It is less dangerous to draw a cartoon of Allah French-kissing Uncle Sam – which, let me make very clear, I have not done – than it is to speak honestly about this topic.”

She writes with humor and clarity of her life lived straddling the supercharged, supersexed, supersexist world of Hollywood and a home where her preschool daughter brings home a book about working mothers, written by two men, about a witch who flies off to meetings and scolds her daughter for messing up her cauldron.

At the heart of Fey's struggle is this: most roles for women over 40 dry up. Women of a certain age are derided as crazy and worse.

“It seems to me the fastest remedy for this ‘women are crazy’ situation is for more women to become producers and hire diverse women of various ages. That is why I feel obligated to stay in the business and try hard to get to a place where I can create opportunities for others, and that’s why I can’t possibly take time off for a second baby unless, I do, in which case that is nobody’s business and I’ll never regret it for a moment unless it ruins my life.”

Fey, thankfully, does not end her piece with a resolution to her dilemma or an easy answer. Those of us who inhabit this Land of Contradiction know only too well that there aren’t any.

By Brigid Schulte  | March 8, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
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Thanks for this. It is my hope that my daughters, now in their 20s, will have an easier time than I did of tap dancing in the mine field. I also hope that I was able to provide some type of positive example for them.

Posted by: lydandy | March 8, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

When I was quite younger, I tried being a child care giver for young working women, who were married. I ended up losing both jobs, not because I couldn't do the job, but because, basically, I did it too well. No, I didn't encourage the babies to think of me as their mother. But, when YOU, the child care giver, are the one who sees the first smile, the first time they sit up, or the first steps, yuppie moms soon question, am I in this for the right reasons? They ended up taking over from me. Which is good.
Isn't welfare sort of the government's way of paying a mother to take care of her own children? Married moms can sometimes (not always but sometimes) have the priviledge of staying home to take care of their children. Yet, poor single moms are held to a different standard. THEY must go out and find work, leaving their children to be raised by others. And most times they don't make enough to make a difference anyway.

Posted by: rainbow_linda1957 | March 8, 2011 7:51 PM | Report abuse

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