Sunday, January 30, 2011

So. About those online comments ...

As soon as I posted a link to my Salon essay "Regrets of a stay-at-home mom" on Facebook, friends started writing notes saying “congratulations” or “nice essay” or what have you, and then adding things like, "Whoa, but those comments!" or "Hope you have a thick skin!" or even "I want to punch some of those people."

240 people commented online within the first 24 hours after the essay was up. Then Salon closed the comment thread.  (I’m not sure why. Certainly they knew there would be negativity—my editor even warned me to expect it—so it can’t be just that. Maybe they just need to limit the comments for technical reasons of their own.)

Actually, I would estimate that maybe about half of the online comments were actually quite nice. They were from people who got my point or were in the same boat or wanted to encourage me in some way or maybe just enjoyed the writing. And of course, I loved seeing those.

The other half were, well, not so nice. Sometimes quite outspokenly not nice. And those were roughly divided into two camps. There was the (paraphrasing) “What kind of idiot fails to plan for her financial future?” camp, and the (again, paraphrasing) “What kind of terrible mother even thinks about money?” camp.

Heck, let’s just quote some verbatim.

There was, “Yes, of course, the last thing a child needs is to be raised by a loving and caring parent. Apparently, you're not one.” And “Given the dire financial circumstances in the USA today, this woman should be counting her blessings rather than whining about her current situation.”  And "Sorry, but the reason employers think mothers are unreliable employees is because they are" And, “Forget college. Your kids will need the money for therapy. What a mess this woman is."

One particularly prolific commentator kept writing things like, “It's a sin and a shame how fast women like her and the rest of the smug cocooning brigade found working ... too haarrd. They not only left the rest of us to pick up their slack, they looked down on us because we were cold pathetic career women who couldn't get a famblee--and who were unfashionable enough to still care about that tedious political/feminism stuff.”

Pretty unpleasant stuff. Apparently, expressing concern about my finances is "whining" that disqualifies me as “a loving and caring parent." Yet it was "smug" and anti-feminist of me to quit working in the first place. And by being such a "mess," I have screwed up my kids.

Yuck. But you know what? I loved seeing those comments, too.

OK, well, maybe “loved” isn’t quite the right word. Maybe I did occasionally share my friend’s impulse to punch. But really, I was glad to see all those barbs being hurled, all those resentments and hostilities aired. Because they told me that I’d hit a nerve. By raising the questions I did—questions about whether children need a parent at home, about how much of their own financial security mothers should be expected to sacrifice for their families, and so on—I had tapped a vein of conflict, confusion, resentment and fear. People still have really strong feelings about what mothers “should” or “shouldn’t” do, about what they owe to their kids. And despite all the tired debate about the so-called “mommy wars,” there are issues here that have not been thoroughly discussed.

I know, some of those letter writers are probably expressing a few issues of their own. Some seem to have strayed a bit off the deep end. Still, it’s fascinating to know that such strong feelings are out there, still underground for the most part, burbling away.

But the debate raged on, in blogs and elsewhere. Meanwhile, I'd love to see comments here--positive or otherwise. What did you think about those Salon readers' reactions? Do any of them, despite their rudeness, make valid points? Or are they just nuts? Why do people feel so threatened by this issue?

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