It's always women's fault

Erica Jong finds US reaction to the Louise Woodward case a sign of unchanging prejudice

Share
Related Topics
MOMMY GUILTIEST? So reads the headline in the New York Daily News's rehash of "The Nanny Case" which has riveted the viewing public in my country. The Daily News, owned by supposedly dashing tycoon Mortimer Zuckerman, who loves to fire real editors and replace them with puppets, has proved once again the old saying "Vox populi is in the main a grunt". The News is supposed to cater to the down-market crowd that doesn't read the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, but in truth most people in the wordbiz read all three as well as the New York Post and the New York Observer. The Times is too politically correct, the Journal too plutocratic, the Observer too haute-gossipy and the Post too Murdochy. Without the News you can't possibly know all that's not fit to print. And of course that is what we must know above all.

The News tells me all I need to know about the vacillations in the Zeitgeist. And the Zeitgeist is currently into blaming mommies for the deaths of their kids. For this is the lesson of the nanny trial. Louise Woodward may have been 18, inexperienced, drowsy in the mornings and moon-faced at night, but Dr Deborah Eappen was really the one at fault because she worked three days a week as an ophthalmologist rather than staying at home full-time with her baby. Never mind that she came home at lunchtime to breast-feed on the days she worked. Never mind that she pumped out breast milk on the other days. Never mind that she was an MD working a drastically reduced schedule - a schedule no intern or resident would be permitted to work - she is the one to blame for the heinous crime of baby-murder.

In an age when most mothers work because they have to, it is nothing short of astounding that this case has resulted in raving callers to talkshows who scream that Dr Eappen deserved to have her baby die because she left him with a teenage au pair.

So much for 25 years of feminism. So much for oceans of ink, forests of trees, smug commentators who say we live in a "post-feminist age". The primitive cry is still "Kill the Mommy!".

Of course, we Americans already knew that welfare mothers were monsters. Dear Bill Clinton, champion of women and children, signed the most disgusting welfare bill in US history - a bill more appropriate to Dickensian England, basically reinstating the workhouse in millennial USA. But of course we know the American poor deserve nothing. Poverty is, after all, un-American. The US has abolished any definition of the worthy poor (children, mothers, the blind, the lame) and decided that they alone shall pay for the budget deficit run up by male politicians. After all, children have no votes - unlike Savings & Loan officers. Besides, the latter have lobbyists and poor children naturally can't afford them. So we have no worthy poor in the country I so lavishly fund with my taxes, but neither have we any childcare initiatives - let alone childcare.

Even some reactionary countries - la belle France for example - have mothercare, creches, kindergartens; but in the US we rely on nature red in tooth and claw, so creches are seen as "creeping socialism" and nobody's allowed to have creeping socialism except the Army and the non-taxpaying super-rich.

Okay - welfare mommies are monsters, but what about entrepreneurial MD mommies? What about women who delayed childbearing to finish their education, had babies in their 30s and 40s and work part-time? Well, now we learn that they are also monsters. Why? Because they don't stay home full-time. Apparently all mommies are monsters - the indigent and the highly educated both deserve to watch their babies die.

Wait a minute. What happened here? Is this 1897 or 1997? It doesn't seem to matter. Where motherhood is concerned we might as well be in Dickens's England or Ibsen's Norway or Hammurabi's Persia. Mothers are, by definition, monsters. Either they're monsters because they're poor or monsters because they're rich. Where mothers are concerned everything is a no-win situation.

Poor Louise was nice but somewhat incompetent. Maybe she did shake poor little Matty - the medical evidence is inconclusive. After all, she was a Brit and Brits love caning kids; shaking is nothing to them. But Deborah was even worse than Louise. She was a doctor's wife (and a doctor, but who cares?) who chose to work.

Both women have been thoroughly trashed. Nobody inveighs against the other Dr Eappen - the one with a penis - and nobody screams that his baby deserves to die. Nobody talks about Matty either. He's just a dead baby. Dead babies have no votes and no lobbyists. No - what everyone carries on about is which woman is at fault.

The Mommy or the Nanny? The Lady or The Tiger? Women, by definition, are always guilty. Either they're guilty of neglect or they're guilty of abuse. Nobody asks about the father's role or the grandparents' role. If "it takes a village to raise a child" as Hillary Clinton's bestseller alleges, then that village consists of only two people: monster mother and monster au pair. Everyone else is off the hook. (Including a government that penalises working moms in its tax policies, immigration policies and its lack of daycare.)

How must Dr Deborah Eappen feel, first losing her son, and then facing this chorus of harpies (for the women-haters are often women)? Imagine the trauma of losing your baby, and reliving the pain at the trial, only to face the further trauma of trial by tabloid. Dr Deborah chose her job because it allowed flexible hours. So did her husband, Dr Sunil Eappen. But nobody's blaming him. If we have come so far towards the ideal egalitarian marriage, why does nobody discuss the couple? Only the women are implicated. Nanny and mommy face death by tabloid firing squad.

If the trial is used as a litmus test for social change, then we must conclude that very little change has occurred. No wonder Generation Y is full of young women who want to stay home with their babies! They saw what happened to their boomer mothers (who won the right to be eternally exhausted) and don't like what they saw. If all feminist progress is dependent on the mother-daughter dialectic (as I believe it is), then we are in for a new generation of stay-at-home-moms whose problems will be closer to our grandmothers' than our own. Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique will be as relevant in 2013 as it was in 1963 - and our granddaughters will have to regroup and start feminist reforms all over again.

No wonder feminism has been ebbing and flowing since Mary Wollstonecraft's day. We never have solved the basic problem that afflicts us all - who will help to raise the children?

Erica Jong's most recent novel is 'Of Blessed Memory' (Bloomsbury). She can be reached at her website at http://www.ericajong.com

Erica Mann Jong

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Digital Content Officer - Central London - £33,000

£28000 - £33000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive (Digital Marketi...

SSIS/ORACLE DBA

£400 - £401 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SSIS Administrat...

The benefits of being in Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Hillary Clinton said the role of president had become even more difficult in the 21st century  

This was meant to be Hillary Clinton's moment, but everyone’s still talking about Bill

Alice Jones
People hold the iconic rainbow flags at Pride  

Let's stop LGBT people 'coming out of the closet'

Chris Godfrey
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform