Media Misogyny Turns a Discussion on Mental Illness into a 'Mommy war'

Dec 18 2012 Published by under Featured News

You’ve probably read Liza Long’s “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” and you may have read writer Sarah Kendzior’s criticism of Long for using her real name and her son’ s picture, thereby violating her son’s privacy. This has apparently been dubbed a “Mommy War.” Gag me.

These two women are having none of that. Taking aim at our culture of misogyny that branded their disagreement a “Mommy War”, Long and Kendzior released a joint statement:

We would like to release a public statement on the need for a respectful national conversation on mental health. Whatever our prior disagreements, we both believe that the stigma attached to mental illness needs to end. We need to provide affordable, quality mental health care for families. We need to provide support for families who have a relative who is struggling.

We both agree that privacy for family members, especially children, is important. Neither of us anticipated the viral response to our posts. We love our children and hope you will respect their privacy.

“Our nation has suffered enough in the aftermath of Newtown. We are not interested in being part of a ‘mommy war’. We are interested in opening a serious conversation on what can be done for families in need. Let’s work together and make our country better.”

Ms. Kendzior’s tweets explain the mommy war narrative. @sarahkendzior, “Unfortunately I am still “mom blogger” in all of the other websites and newspapers that reprinted @LizSzabo’s article. Too little too late.” The media assumed that because she’s a woman, she’s a “mom blogger.” In fact, she is a mom, but she also holds a PhD and is a “Columnist for @AJEnglish, contributor to Atlantic, Registan, Foreign Policy.” And we wonder what the problem is with this culture.

She points out in another tweet, “@les_politiques @joshuafoust @USATODAY @WrongingRights I don’t write about my kids. Fathers who write on politics are not “daddy bloggers”.” And lastly, “@matttbastard @joshuafoust This is what happens when you refuse to play along in media “mommy war”.”

There’s a long history of female writers being dismissed due to their gender, but this is really out there. Mommy bloggers? Really? I bet there are a lot of women who write about parenting who would prefer not to be called mommy by the media, but perhaps the media is acknowledging their own cultural infantilism. There is an “about” section on Ms. Kendzior’s blog that might be helpful in the future. Whatever. There are many women who don’t mind the term “mommy blogger”, and that’s fine. But apparently I have to state the obvious: Just because a writer is a female does not mean that she writes about parenting.

Long’s story resonated with families across America who deal silently with mental health issues, violent family members, and more. She’s right that this is a national crisis. She never anticipated that her post would go viral, so while it’s important to clarify that she may have inadvertently stigmatized her son, as most mentally ill people do not become mass murderers (if indeed he is mentally ill—this is unclear to me from her earlier blog posts), it’s also important to remember that she probably had no way of knowing that her post would go viral. This shouldn’t diminish the importance of her personal story, or its impact on our national dialogue about mental health issues.

That said, I’d like to point out the irony that Long says in an earlier blog post that she was a Reagan supporter as a teenager. It was Reagan who dumped the violently mentally ill on the streets of America. No doubt she’s well aware of this now. I don’t bring that up to be partisan, but rather to point out that policies that sound like they make “common sense” at the time, but never bother to examine why the policies they take aim at were enacted to begin with, are often doomed to fail. We see this repeatedly with the simplistic arguments made by modern day conservatives who are loathe to examine the complexities behind policies with which they disagree.

Speaking of policies with which they disagree, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act does, actually, take steps to address mental health issues and make it affordable for struggling families. Those benefits will begin in 2014.

Starting in 2014, substance abuse or mental illness can no longer be used by insurers to deny coverage as a “pre-existing condition” – and insurers also won’t be able to use those conditions to raise your premiums.

Also in 2014, mental health and substance use disorder services will be part of the essential benefits package, a set of health care service categories that must be covered by certain plans, including all insurance policies that will be offered through the Exchanges, and Medicaid.

This is only the beginning of the kind of change we need, but the fact that Democrats fought to address mental health at all demonstrates that at least one party is attempting to deal with real issues. The other party is currently suggesting that arming our teachers and forcing students to pray to their chosen God will stop school shootings, neither of which are viable or even sane solutions to the problem.

Kendzior’s criticism and Long’s response to it go a long way in showing how we can actually discuss tough issues. They hashed it out and found common ground. We aren’t going to agree on everything, and we don’t need to agree. What we need to do is keep in mind the goal of reducing gun violence in America. We need to keep talking past our disagreements, realizing that none of us has all of the answers and that by listening to different (qualifier: sane) points of view, we will have better success in addressing the issues.

We need to have a national conversation about gun control and mental health issues, as well as economic policies that promote inequality, as economic disparity has a known correlation to violent societies.

Lastly, while it’s easy to label this a mental health problem, we have to admit that only one woman has committed mass murder in America in the last 30 years. The rest are men. The majoirty are white men. If it was truly just mental illness, then wouldn’t we have more female mass shooters? Is it possible that our culturally warped notion of American masculinity (see the Bushmaster ad that refers to the assault weapon as “your man card”) informs these statistics?

Our culture might do better to listen to American women instead of trying to diminish them with “mommy wars” labels. Kendzior and Long are showing the way to real dialogue, which is also the precursor to peace and the opposite of violence. Is anyone listening?

Note: I’m not linking to Long’s post out of respect for her son’s privacy. You can google her article, which raises many of good points about our mental health crisis.

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