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

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors and Omissions: In thrall to a word that we don’t quite comprehend

Guy Keleny
 

The No campaign has a classic advertising problem: they need to turn a negative into a positive

John Hegarty
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone