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Give us a break, Double X

Posted by Christopher Shea  August 27, 2009 02:49 PM

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This guy just wants to give you pleasure. Feminists say: no thanks

In case you missed what one Double X reader (accurately) called that site's effort to drum up a "faux feminist feud," here's a recap: Katie Roiphe recently published at doublex.com a piece titled, "My Newborn Is Like a Narcotic," with the absolutely unbeatable subtitle, "Why won't feminists admit the pleasure of infants?"*

In the piece, Roiphe first rhapsodizes about the profound link between her and her newborn, saying that in the six weeks since her baby's birth she has "lost all worldly ambition":

People often compare having a new baby to the early days of a love affair, which is true as far as it goes, but one's physical fixation on, and craving for, a newborn is much stronger and more intense that that.

Fine. Though love affairs can be awfully all-consuming, too, or so I've read. A bit later, however, comes the passage that turns the piece from a lyrical exploration of near-universal feelings into a polemic that brought beaucoup eyeballs to the Slate Group of publications:

One of the minor dishonesties of the feminist movement has been to underestimate the passion of this time, to try for a rational, politically expedient assessment. Historically, feminists have emphasized the difficulty, the drudgery of new motherhood. They have tried to analogize childcare to the work of men; and so for a long time, women have called motherhood a "vocation." The act of caring for a baby is demanding, and arduous, of course, but it is wilder and more narcotic than any kind of work I have ever done.

Now that she's discovered baby lust, Roiphe even affects to flirt with the idea of abandoning literary ambition for good. The women writers she most admires, she notes, had either one or no children. But "[h]ere, sitting in the garden, looking at the eyelashes, would you trade the baby for the possibility of writing The House of Mirth? You would not."

But wait: a mere six weeks after her baby's birth, Roiphe has already turned the experience into a high-profile freelance piece, no small task. How long, exactly, did that hormonally driven loss of "all worldly ambition" last? Let me hazard a guess and say that we shall be hearing more from Ms. Roiphe, including in book form. Like much else in the piece, the babies-vs.-books dichotomy is a false one (in the 21st century, at least).

Indeed, one suspects that, after her baby-"addiction" (her word) subsides, not to mention the high caused by penning a click-attracting, feminist-enraging piece, Roiphe will acknowledge the blindingly obvious truths she briefly feigned not to know: There is no contradiction between finding pleasure in infants and recognizing that they require hard work--yes, work analogous to "the work of men." (That's why we pay day-care workers.) She'll be wrestling with such banal questions as: How should spouses divide the arduous labor that pleasure-producing children require?

Relatedly, Roiphe may want to ponder why women authors of the past, but not, say, Saul Bellow-- or Katie Roiphe--believed that having children would derail their careers. Some feminists, I hear, have written about such questions.

*An odd consensus seems to have developed that the subhed "Why won't feminists admit the pleasure of infants?" misrepresents the piece. It does not. To the contrary, it homes in on its crux, as a subhed should.

PS Really, don't encourage them by clicking on the piece. (Oh … too late?)

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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