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The media loves a catfight. One of these conflicts, the so-called “mommy wars,” has raged for decades in print and on the airwaves. The skirmishes that are now flaring up on Internet blogs and message boards may feel new, but they’re just outgrowths of disagreements that began pitting working mothers against stay-at-home moms in the 1960s and ’70s.
The intense exchanges between today’s mommy warriors are fed by instant communication from laptops and Blackberrys and iPhones: Breast-is-best advocates assail those who assert formula is just fine. Attachment-parenting types defend themselves furiously against those who claim too much closeness makes for spoiled babies and enslaved parents. Natural childbirth enthusiasts decry those who choose Cesarean sections and are, in turn, chastised by moms who say forgoing pain medication during labor is masochism.
Mothers have always critiqued each other’s parenting methods. What’s new is the Internet’s anonymity and instantaneous mass audience; its users’ sudden empowerment can easily become zealotry and turn otherwise sane women into proselytizers.
Meanwhile, the insecurity and lack of experience inherent in a first pregnancy can make moms-to-be and new mothers vulnerable to the self-righteousness and misinformed campaigns that metastasize on the Web.
A made-up conflict?
Some people believe the mommy wars are a manufactured concept, a media-fueled fight that is periodically resuscitated to sell magazines, newspapers and books. “There’s tension and insecurity among mothers, especially new mothers, and there are some hot-button issues, but there’s nothing anybody could call a war,” says author Leslie Morgan Steiner.
Steiner knows something about the media’s proclivity for conflict. The provocative title of her well-received 2006 book of essays, Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, was accused by some of adding to the tensions. But Steiner maintains that her book aimed to bridge a gap, not widen it.
Fortunately, it’s possible for controversy, even manufactured controversy, to work the other way: While the proliferation of online forums has stirred up old debates, helped create new ones and sometimes given them a nasty edge, it has also created communities for a demographic clearly in need of support. Blogs that read like position papers on the merits or drawbacks of going back to work, sleeping with your baby or vaccinating children have provided a useful starting point for nuanced conversations among women who are more interested in seeking comity than conflict.