The Barnes & Noble Review
Author Susan Maushart had better prepare for an identity crisis. Upon reading her book The Mask of Motherhood, some people will want to stone Maushart for being a heretic, and the rest will revere her as a saint. There will be no middle ground. Readers' reactions will be crisp and divided; however, it's probable that her followers will far outnumber her detractors. In fact, there's a good chance she'll be greeted everywhere she goes by hundreds of relieved women who chant, "Thank you for being brave enough to tell the truth."
The truth that Maushart a social scientist and herself a mother of three tells is this: Motherhood changes everything one's sexuality, marriage, friendships, career, body, and deepest sense of self and worldview. That's not all; Maushart argues convincingly that many of these changes are abrupt, unpleasant, profound, and permanent, and that any woman who denies this is subject to one of the greatest lies postmodern, postfeminist culture has ever created the mask or silence of motherhood.
You've seen this mask. It's the smile frozen on a mother's face as she tries to juggle her children's needs with her career and housecleaning and cooking and her husband's needs too. What's behind the frozen smile? A woman of the '90s utterly baffled and feeling as though the world has just knocked the wind out of her with a powerful punch. No one told her it would be like this. No one told her exactly how hard it would be to keep all of those balls (career, baby, husband, house, self) in the air. Everyone said she could "have it all" ifsheplanned carefully, if she took care of herself, if her partner was supportive enough (and he is, but...maybe not enough?). Why is this so hard? Why didn't anyone even other mothers prepare her for the jumble of confusing feelings that bombard her daily? Why didn't anyone especially those books on pregnancy and parenting tell her how buried alive she'd feel? Is it just her? Did she do something wrong? Do these confusing, overwhelming feelings mean that she's not a good mother?
The Mask of Motherhood offers new mothers an utterly frank look at the experience of mothering during a child's first years. The irony, Maushart reveals, is that even though women in the '90s are more educated than ever about the details and process of pregnancy, they are sadly unprepared for the stark realities of mothering. Books on pregnancy fetishize the nine months a woman carries a child and gloss rosily over the confusing experiences real women have as they learn to mother. Even books on parenting fail to give readers candid information about what new parents will feel, the changes the rest of their lives will undergo in order to adjust to the new child. This conspiracy of silence leaves mothers full of self-doubt, guilt, and unease at a moment in their lives when they need to be able to rely on their emotional strength and instincts.
Though The Mask of Motherhood is serious social science, many passages will leave readers roaring with laughter. When women shed their masks and speak with excruciating honesty about their pregnancies and how they feel about mothering, a surprising level of humor and (healing) cynicism surfaces. Maushart describes an exchange her pregnant and vegetarian friend Mary had with her husband: "'What on earth are you doing?' asked her husband, genuinely alarmed at the sight of Mary devouring a Big Mac. Mary paused briefly between bites, 'I'm knitting a placenta,' she explained."
Fast-paced and often humorous, The Mask of Motherhood slices through the silence about what motherhood really does to women. Maushart pulls up the mask and shows us what's underneath. She offers new mothers "the comfort that comes from learning that one is not alone; that the fears, frustrations, and confusions they are experiencing are not evidence of personal incompetence but the legacy of unworkable social structures and contradictory cultural demands." It's only when challenges are faced head-on, with full understanding, that we can summon the courage necessary to meet those challenges. Maushart believes quite simply that mothering may be the hardest thing a woman will ever do; however, what makes it especially hard is that women in this generation are so unprepared for it.
Radical? You bet. There will be many people (probably even authors of other parenting and pregnancy books!) who will smolder in shame at the brutal honesty in The Mask of Motherhood. Celebrating the author, however, will be thousands of grateful women who have finally found the courage to take off their masks and speak from their hearts about the real challenges of motherhood.
Cathy Young is a freelance writer living in Washington State.
Adopting the posture of a prophetic truth teller, Maushart (Sort of a Place Like Home) makes some valuable points about contemporary attitudes toward motherhood. She attacks the myth that women can have it all, warning mothers that they will find themselves instead "doing it all." Furthermore, she argues, if women dared to speak the truth, they would open themselves to ridicule from those who view "achievement, control, and autonomy as the highest of adult aspirations." Motherhood, she stresses, is not and has never been simply one of many ingredients in the "Easymix" lifestyle. She's less convincingand sometimes infuriatingwhen discussing childbirth: arguing that women's need for control dictates their childbirth decisions (a natural childbirth for some, a medically managed one for others), Maushart leaves no room for the possibility that a mother's choice might be driven by her desire to do what's best for the baby. Similarly, her insistence that breast-feeding women can't work outside the home because of a lactation-induced "hormonal fog" ignores or belittles the successful experiences of countless nursing, working mothers. In short, while Maushart provides a bracing reality check for women contemplating motherhood, she's not breaking any new ground. Any woman who has read Vicky Iovine's The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy or The Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood can consider herself a recipient of the truth that Maushart claims is so hard to find.
Offers a view of motherhood that goes behind the apparent balance of work and caregiving to the less sanguine reality that is a never- ending juggling act. Aspects of motherhood that are considered include the effect on marriages, friendships, relationships with parents, sex lives, and self-esteem. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknew.com)
...[S]he writes engagingly and persuasively about the fact that...mothers feel more pressure than ever to defend their choices by donning a happy face.