Rarely have I read anything as absurd as Caitlin Flanagan’s essay in the May 8 issue of Time, in which she claims she’s being driven out of the Democratic Party because she’s a housewife.
Flanagan, who writes for The New Yorker, has just published “To Hell With All That,” a heavily publicized book celebrating the virtues of stay-at-home motherhood. As a consequence, she says, she’s being persecuted by the party’s elite:
“Here’s why they’re after me: I have made a lifestyle choice that they can’t stand. I am a happy member of an exceedingly ‘traditional’ family. I’m in charge of the house and the kids, my husband is in charge of the finances and the car maintenance, and we all go to church every Sunday.”
Indeed, she explains, contempt for traditional families such as hers helps account for why Democrats keep losing elections (actually, Democrats have gotten more votes than Republicans in all but one presidential election since 1988, but never mind):
“The Democrats made a huge tactical error a few decades ago … we decided to stigmatize the white male. The union dues-paying, churchgoing, beer-drinking family man got nothing but ridicule and venom from us. So he dumped us. And he took the wife and kids with him.”
As a political critique, Flanagan’s essay is something worse than worthless, but as a glimpse into the fantastic forms of self-delusion lurking at the top of America’s class structure, it’s a fascinating document.
First, consider Flanagan’s claim that she is a traditional stay-at-home mom. While it’s true she’s the mother of pre-teen twin boys, she and her husband, like many rich Americans, have outsourced almost all the household’s domestic labor. (For instance, she doesn’t change sheets, do laundry, or know the price of anything in her refrigerator.)
She admits she remains unaware of the last name of the Central American gardener she hired two years ago, and, in an especially revealing passage, she summons the family’s “beloved” Honduran nanny to clean up Flanagan’s son’s vomit, while she herself hovers “in the doorway, concerned, making funny faces to cheer him up the way my father did when I was sick and my mother was taking care of me.”
Second, Flanagan has a highly paid, high-status career. It’s true she works at home, but writing 5,000-word essays for the New Yorker and then crafting them into a much-hyped book puts her light-years away from the world of the 1950s housewives her work celebrates. And how does she find time to do such high-powered work? Why, by employing an extensive domestic staff, including _ I kid you not _ a “personal organizer” (this is a human being, not a piece of office equipment).
Third, just how did Flanagan suddenly appear near the top of the literary world? It turns out that one of her best friends is the wife of an Atlantic Monthly editor, who, despite the fact Flanagan had never published anything, handed her a coveted spot on that prestigious magazine’s writing staff. (He was impressed by her witty banter at fashionable Los Angeles dinner parties.)
What people can’t stand about Flanagan is that she’s an extraordinarily privileged narcissist, who strikes a preposterous Everywoman pose while delivering lectures on motherhood whose sanctimoniousness is exceeded only by their hypocrisy. She has about as much in common with the average American homemaker as Paris Hilton. And I’m pretty sure Democrats can get along without the Paris Hilton vote.
(Paul C. Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu.)