Becoming Fearless: MomsRising on the MotherTalk Blog Tour
Today's the first time we've included MomsRising on a MotherTalk Blog Tour, and it's fitting that the book is Arianna Huffington's Becoming Fearless, her excursion into what stops us women in our tracks, and what life looks like when we meet fear where it is, toss it to the wind, and figure out what the hell we want in life and how to get it.
When I agreed to review this book for MomsRising, I thought I’d write about the sections on motherhood. Instead, I found myself drawn to the back of the book, and the chapters about fearlessness, speaking out in public, and changing the world.
It is not hard, for most of us, to go to a political march or rally. It's not hard to sign up as a MomsRising member. It's not hard to send a Onesie to Washington State to help activists there pass Paid Family Leave (especially when you can click-and-pay and not even have to wend your way to the post office).
It's much harder, for many of us, to talk about the politics of mothering and womanhood in private: with colleagues and bosses, or with people we love who may not agree. And Huffington's book really gets the way fear and fearlessness operate in our intimate lives.
Huffington dares to write about the small and personal. She’s seen her share of snarkiness and demeaning comments that undermine, like the criticism tossed her way when she dared as a fifty-year-old woman to walk into the virtual domain of twenty-somethings and launch The Huffington Post. She’s been all-too-aware of her own palms sweating before a speech. She’s felt the personal discomfort of being at a wedding reception with a public figure she’d criticized the week before in a column, and having to face not only his disapproval, but the anger of his wife. Huffington writes, too, about the collision of her shifting politics (away from conservatism) with her intimate friendships, shattering even, the connection to her daughter’s godmother.
In story after story, Huffington captures the female fears and consequences of speaking out: “One of the hardest—and potentially most fear-inducing—aspects of speaking out is upsetting your friends who might disagree with your opinions” she writes, and the element of the book that I found most helpful was not the examples of fearlessness, but the listing, clear and simple, of what comprises fear itself. Reading these descriptions, in their simplicity, demystifies that fear.
There's much we women don't talk about. Our culture tells us that the emancipated American woman doesn't show her fear. I got that message repeatedly during graduate school and throughout my career as a professor: "Work twice as hard, but don't ever let them see you sweat. Never let them know you're afraid.
Practical advice, but at what cost? The continuation of work environments that are toxic for mothers, perhaps? In which we can't imagine demanding what we need?
As a nation we were roundly horrified by the "nappy-headed ho’s" comment several weeks back. Gwen Ifill’s NYTimes Op-Ed dared, like Arianna, to make visible the damage done not only by over-the-top bias, but by the everyday, but that which skirts just beneath the radar. "Nappy-headed ho's" was an extreme point on a continuum that women deal with all the time in our workplaces, at our kids’ schools, in our communities and in our families.
We normalize the amount of energy we spend fighting off all the small, insipid, personal attacks that though small are still powerful—powerful because they seem too hard to name and cast off. The energy we spend fighting our way from under, from building the armor that keeps us going, could be used in so many other, positive ways.
Can we even imagine such a reality?
What would it feel like to speak in public and with friends without having to fight off the sweaty palms, butterflied stomach, and myriad feelings of inadequacy that take up our mindspace?
Still, how many women lately have told me they don't like speaking in public?
And understandably. Despite the veneer of feminism, we live in a culture that tells women not to speak out; that shapes our bodies to be small, so that we don't take up space; that rewards us for not stepping out of line. This is as true for conventional neighborhoods as it is for women and moms wearing all the hippest, coolest, unconventional clothes. We women and mothers are told in almost-so-many-words to conform, wherever we live. So that even in our living rooms, and especially in the presence of friends, we fear doing too much that sets us apart.
The final chapter of Becoming Fearless inspires us to take the newfound energy and increased personal quality of a life whose fears have been confronted, and use this to aim high and change the world. This message is crucial to us at MomsRising. Our lives as women have rarely been shaped by an ease with speaking out, with seeing ourselves as true citizens of our nation, with feeling not only empowered to find a good life but entitled to one. Few of us drink in with our mother’s milk the automatic, inherited sense that of course the world should be good to us, as women, as mothers ourselves.
In so much public debate over our lives as mothers and women, the tone is that of castigation. The assumption is that one generation in to such new visions of female life, we should all have changed, pronto, and if you’re having trouble, it’s your fault. Becoming Fearless doesn’t take that tact. By writing about the small obstacles, the tiny things that add up to large barriers, this book is empathic and energizing. Huffington stresses that we are responsible for taking fear by the horns, but she does it with empathy, and without forgetting that we live in a society stacked against us. We are not being scolded, chastised or reprimanded. We are being given a shoulder to lean on if we need it, clasped hands to help us with that first reach up the tree. We are cheered on, and it makes all the difference.
Read this and see:
Of course, if your goal is changing the world, fear is not an unreasonable response, especially for an “uppity woman” (a.k.a. any woman who expresses an opinion that doesn’t simply confirm traditional ideas and the status quo). She can reliably expect to get a lot of grief for stepping out of her prescribed roles. But of the choice is between being considered “uppity” for not going along and going along simply to get along, I’ll take the former.
Near the end of my own book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars," I was wondering why, when I was pregnant and faced a university—a huge, publicly-funded university—that offered me no formal paid maternity leave, I hadn’t spoken up. After five successful years, of research grants, teaching awards, and tenure-on-the-way, I couldn’t find the energy to negotiate the institution. I just got the hell out and started a new life with a baby at my hip. With the hindsight of 7 years, I realized we need to take lessons from our toddlers and preschoolers who throw tantrums and make a fuss when they don’t get their way.
We women worry about feeling ridiculous, about not being liked. Not so our children. They fuss without shame, without looking back, and certainly without wasting any energy wondering whether someone will get mad and not like them. Take a lesson from the toddlers, and inspiration from Arianna Huffington to make a fuss on our own behalf, as mothers, as women.