Alison Stine

Mother's Day is gaslighting

It wasn't until I became a mother than I realized how true the saying is: Moms make the magic. For holiday joy, I would be responsible, usually alone, for cooking treats, decorating homes inside and out, shopping for and wrapping presents, remembering parties — responsible even for my own holiday: Mother's Day.

I used to believe my dislike of Mother's Day stemmed from the fact that I was a single mother, my now ex-husband leaving our family shortly after our child was born. Few people think of single moms on Mother's Day. It became simply easier to let the day pass unremarked upon, just another day in which I parented alone, like every other day. No need to make extra work for myself. But in the last two years, my longtime partner moved in with my son and me and has become a constant, dependable fixture in my son's life. I no longer have to buy my own present, to bake any treat I might eat, to clean up a festive house alone.

I still hate Mother's Day. And many other mothers I know do too, in large part because it feels like slapping a smiley sticker on a gaping wound. There is simply a disconnect between the way we talk about mothers in this country and the way we treat them, a gulf too wide to be remedied by a day.

In 1914, then President Woodrow Wilson made Mother's Day a national holiday in America, building upon a memorial started by Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia, whose mother had organized women's groups and other service programs in her home of West Virginia. Jarvis had intended the day to be one of reflection, honor and service, and grew dissatisfied with the increasing emphasis on buying gifts and commercialism, even trying to abolish the holiday toward the end of her life.

Manufactured holidays love capitalism, though. As historian Katharine Antolini told the BBC "the floral industry, greeting card industry and candy industry deserve some of the credit for the day's promotion." The Mother's Day industrial complex is a big deal, with people predicted to spend $31.7 billion on the holiday in 2022, up 13% from last year, according to a report published by Forbes, dropping money on gift sets, beauty products, mail subscriptions, chocolates, fragrances, home goods and flowers.

"What do mothers really want for Mother's Day?" is the single most popular PR pitch I've received in my email inbox for the past few weeks. Stand down, publicists. I can answer that question myself. What moms really want is much more than a day. And we certainly want more than gaslighting.

Surviving birth — which many people in America, the developed country with the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, do not, especially not Black women — is only the start of the battle.

The toxic, mixed messages around motherhood start early. The elevation of motherhood is perhaps one of America's greatest tricks. To be a mother — that's the world's most important job say the empty platitudes from church groups and politicians. Strange that the world's most important job doesn't pay anything. It also comes with extreme risks and diminishing returns.

New mothers are ostracized, isolated with the encompassing reality of caring for a newborn which some moms, like me, must do totally alone, often not by choice. The food train from the neighbors only lasts for so long, and childless friends are less sympathetic when you're still dealing with sleep deprivation six months on. "Most new moms experience postpartum "baby blues" after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping," writes the Mayo Clinic. But over 30% of moms experience postpartum depression, a figure that some experts believe could actually be double that. Risk factors vary but can include traumatic birth. Researchers have realized that some mothers endure birth experiences so physically and emotionally difficult, it can led to post-traumatic stress disorder, different from postpartum depression.

But surviving birth — which many people in America, the developed country with the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, do not, especially not Black women — is only the start of the battle. Last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 10 million mothers living with children in the U.S. were not actively working jobs, an increase of 1.4 million more than the previous year.

The pandemic is to blame for the increase, with mothers expected to sacrifice their employment — in many cases, to completely leave the workplace — in order to become ad hoc teachers for their children. COVID set back women's gains in the workforce to the lowest levels since 1988. While many parents worked from home, 71% of fathers reported a "positive outcome" of remote work while only 41% of mothers did, according to a 2021 study, perhaps because mothers were still expected to do it all while working their jobs from home: to cook, clean and be the one whose meetings are interrupted, the one expected to entertain children or keep them on school task.

Fatherhood allows many men to get ahead at work, giving them a perceived advantage.

Even before the pandemic, mothers were less likely to be promoted at work. As reported in a UK study, "only 27.8% of women were in full-time or self-employed work three years after childbirth, compared to 90% of new fathers." Motherhood is seen as interfering with work in a way that fatherhood does not, and mothers are treated differently. According to Psychology Today, "Not only are working mothers often seen as lacking the determination to get ahead, they may also be regarded as violating social norms by failing to be 'ideal mothers,' i.e., putting their work ahead of their children." (Hell, even this "Fox & Friends" host just voiced his opposition to the Department of Homeland Security hiring a pregnant woman.)This attitude of childbirth and childrearing disrupting work does not extend to fathers. On the contrary, fatherhood allows many men to get ahead at work, giving them a perceived advantage: "Men with children typically receive higher starting salaries and are held to lower performance standards than nonparents."

We know that women, particularly women of color, are paid less than men, but mothers specifically are punished financially more than fathers, which some experts call the "Motherhood Penalty." Single moms are punished most of all. As reported by the National Women's Law Center, mothers earn 75 cents for every dollar paid to fathers — which ends up being a loss of $15,300 yearly — and single mothers earn only 54 cents for every dollar paid to married men.

As if the drastic gap in income and lack of promotions weren't bad enough, mothers also don't have enough support: in some cases, not enough childcare to even work. Columbia University describes the childcare crisis as "a threat to our nation," holding not only mothers back from employment, financial gains and advancement, but holding children back from educational and social development. In Denver, Colorado, childcare was described in 2022 as costing as much as a second mortgage. And that's if you can find a place. The burden of childcare, providing it or finding it, still falls overwhelmingly on mothers.

My country loves mothers, but only as an idea.

My name never budged on the childcare waitlist I put my son on when he was a newborn. When he finally went to all-day, public kindergarten, I sold and published two books within two years of each other, with a third forthcoming. I finally had the time to think, the space to get my work done. Before that, I stayed up until 2 or 3 in the morning most nights. I worked in my car, writing against the steering wheel while my child napped in his car seat. I wrote my dissertation one-handed, while he slept in a sling on my chest. That's no so unusual. That's what moms do. Because we have to.

The determination of mothers cannot be overstated, but our reward for getting things done no matter what is fewer jobs and promotions, lower pay and abysmal medical care. The latest attack is the most dire, with the Supreme Court predicted to reverse Roe V. Wade, which has permitted legal abortion for 50 years. Since the pandemic, it's hard not to feel like we're sliding swiftly backward when it comes to the advancement of mothers, an advancement that had never budged very far in the first place.

My country loves mothers, but only as an idea. The concept of motherhood as selfless, all-consuming and noble is outdated, and the notion that we celebrate mothers for one day out of the year while doing everything in our power to keep them down all other days is pathological. Tell me again why a greeting card is enough?

A day can't fix the way America treats mothers. Keep your day, your carnations and your breakfast in bed. What I want is change.

Elisabeth Moss says it's a 'lie' that cursing is 'almost a sacrament' in Scientology

When Elisabeth Moss won her first Emmy for her performance in "The Handmaid's Tale" in 2017, she thanked her mother, watching from the audience, in her acceptance speech for teaching Moss "you can be kind and a f**king bada**." Backstage in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Moss defended her onstage cussing (bleeped for the television audience), saying: "You guys got off easy. That was nothing."

Cussing came up again this week in an interview Moss – who stars in the new Apple TV+ series "Shining Girls" – gave to The New Yorker. The interviewer asked her to respond to a subsequent story by The Hollywood Reporter where a "Scientology whistle-blower" categorized curse words as "almost a sacrament" in Scientology, tracing the importance of well-timed f-bombs to Scientology founder, science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who once served in the United States Navy. (Everyone knows sailors curse, right?) Hubbard was also the son of a Navy officer.

The Hollywood Reporter article also links cussing to the "tone-scale" in Scientology where members allegedly adjust the way they communicate with someone based on that person's perceived importance to them: "Not everyone requires swearing. Journalists and gay people, for example, are classified as "1.1" on the scale, which signifies "covert hostility." "

Moss was born into Scientology to member parents, including a jazz musician father. Unlike some prominent former Scientology members who joined as young children with their parents but later left, notably Leah Remini, Moss has stayed with the controversial Church of Scientology throughout her adulthood. And while she says she does not want something like the religion, accused by many of abusive practices, to distract viewers, comparing Scientology to romantic dalliances or hobbies — "I know that she just broke up with that person, or, I know that she loves to do hot yoga, or whatever it is"— she also talked forcefully about the sacrament story.

"That pissed me off," Moss said, calling the story a "lie," and saying: "I didn't deserve that, and it was wrong." But a former senior executive in the Church of Scientology also quoted in The New Yorker piece, stressed the importance Scientology places on communication in general, as a "fundamental concept that is sold to new people to get them into Scientology."

The former Church executive, Mike Rinder, said: "You can't say that's a lie. It's a great line to use, because it's one of those things that you can't really challenge."

Is cussing a part of communication for Scientology believers, one officially sanctioned or dictated? In statements, the Church has denied it. But as with many things Scientology, who f**king knows.

Author, activist and scholar bell hooks has died at 69

Author, cultural critic, and scholar bell hooks has died, her family announced in a statement. hooks died Dec. 15 at home in Berea, Kentucky. She was 69.

Born Gloria Jean Watkins in 1952 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, hooks was one of seven children. As a child, she attended segregated schools. She went on to Stanford University, where she earned a bachelor's degree; the University of Wisconsin, where she received a master's degree; and the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she earned a doctorate in English Literature.

bells hooks was a pseudonym, intended to honor her great-grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks, a name which she first adopted in 1978 upon the publication of her poetry collection "And There We Wept," according to her family's statement. hooks utilized lower-case letters in her pseudonym because she wanted readers to center on the "substance of books, not who I am."

In 1981, hooks published "Ain't I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism." That was followed by the publication of over three dozen books from collections of essays to poetry to children's books, often focused on issues and stories of love, race, gender, socioeconomics, culture, and her native Appalachia. As the BBC wrote, "In particular, hooks wrote about how a person's race, gender and social class were interconnected."

In a 2000 interview with the NPR program "All Things Considered," hooks said, "I'm so moved often when I think of the civil rights movement, because I see it as a great movement for social justice that was rooted in love…I tell this to young people, you know, that we can love in a deep and profound way that transforms the political world in which we live in."

The bell hooks Institute at Berea College, where hooks taught since 2004, opened in 2010. In 2018, hooks was inducted into the Kentucky Writers' Hall of Fame.

The damaging myths 'Hillbilly Elegy' need to be countered

The day my novel was listed by the Los Angeles Times as one of "8 Books to Read Instead of Hillbilly Elegy," I was denied a screener to write about the film. Based on the memoir of the same name by J.D. Vance, the Netflix movie has received overwhelmingly negative reviews leading up to its release this week. The rumor was they had clamped down on advanced screeners—even for journalists with editors and deadlines—because they didn't want more bad PR.

As my friend and fellow Ohioan said: A bunch of rich people made a bad movie and a poor person's work is getting jeopardized by it.

A venture capitalist who has publicly aligned himself as a nationalist and who once entertained running for Republican office, Vance's backstory has a familiar ring for many whose families migrated, but not very far, from the farm to town. Like Vance, I too had a grandmother from Kentucky coal country, and my parents, the first in their respective families to go to college, also raised their children in an Ohio Rust Belt town, dominated by AK Steel, the employer of Vance's Papaw. I remember when the steel workers union went on strike and posted a "Scab of the Week" sign with full names. I remember when the factory was closed.

Vance (played as a child by Owen Asztalos, and young adult by Gabriel Basso) spent youthful summers in central Appalachia; I spent most of my adult life there. My son was born in Appalachian Ohio, at home, and when my then-husband left us, I had to temporarily drop out of school to care for him alone. We fell below the poverty line. Where we remain.

Single moms like me don't fare well in the Ron Howard-directed adaptation, which, like the book, focuses heavily on the addiction struggles of Vance's mother, Bev (Amy Adams), and the violence both experienced and perpetuated by his family, especially his Mamaw, played by Glenn Close. There's a lot of screaming in "Hillbilly Elegy." I'm reminded of my high school theatre teacher, Raymond Gerrell, who advised: If you start yelling at the highest level, there's nowhere for you to go.

Blaming the mother seems in line with Vance's public concern about fertility—which he later claimed was "a joke," but he did say in a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross that he believed the key to a successful "home life" was to marry someone with no experience of poverty or trauma, which in Vance's case means, apparently, a former clerk for Brett Kavanaugh. It's strange that marry out is not a bigger part of the "Hillbilly" narrative.

But to be fair, there's both a lot to deal with and nothing here in "Hillbilly Elegy."

I'm no film scholar, but I do tell stories for a living, and the film's reliance on voiceover narration is both jarring, inconsistent, and feels lazy: Viewers should be able to piece the story together ourselves. But both that and the chaotic back-and-forth narrative, with its manically inserted flashbacks, provide the structure for the film, because there's not enough real story for a story. It can't work chronologically. It can't be told without heavy artifice.

Perhaps fittingly, the movie was not filmed in Appalachia, but in central Georgia, so you don't even see many of those hills Mamaw waxes poetically about. There are no hairpin turns, no pawpaws or black locust trees.

The swelling music and weirdly-tinted shots that resemble an Instagram filter make "Hillbilly Elegy" feel like a Hallmark film without Christmas. It could be called poverty porn, except there's not much poverty, other than the run-down houses the camera pans over as B-roll: Vance's credit cards work, Bev is able to afford a motel. The Vance home in Middletown, Ohio, is nice. When young J.D. tries to shoplift a calculator, Mamaw buys it for him. That doesn't line up. As my partner, who is Chicano, said: White people's idea of poverty is basically being middle class.

Common facets of Appalachia—and most rural or small town life—accrue mythical proportions in the film, which lets you know it was created for outsiders: the importance of family, the reverence paid to grandmothers, even taking justice into your own hands because the sheriff is certainly not going to do anything about it.

What is not treated as myth in the film, but should have? That just anyone can "get out" of generational poverty through hard work.

In an article in The Washington Post, Appalachian sociology scholars Lanora Johnson and W. Carson Byrd talk of searching and failing to find the real Appalachia in the movie, concluding that "Unfortunately, we've seen this movie before." Some reader comments on their piece argue the message of "Hillbilly Elegy" is that support and encouragement are key to a child's success.

The key to a white, abled and male child's success, maybe. No women are getting out of poverty in the "Hillbilly" yarn. Nobody who doesn't look exactly like Vance himself.

Black people exist in the world of this film only as a sheriff's deputy, an employee pumping gas in New Jersey, and a Black woman rehab administrator Vance bullies into admitting his mom. None of these characters have more than a couple of throwaway lines.

From one of the very first shots, I knew the Appalachia of this film was not going to be the Appalachia that I, my family, or my friends know: When young Vance rescues a turtle crossing the road, he carries it off with him on his bike. Any self-respecting Appalachian knows you bring the turtle across the road to where it was headed, you don't take it off its (likely egg-laying) path.

My son had already stomped off to his room by that point in the film, refusing to watch any more with me.

Vance's caring nature and encyclopedic knowledge of turtles are early ways the movie lets us know this boy is different from the others: the kids who want to kill the turtle, the boys who beat him up when he can't fight back. J.D. is special. He wants to watch news about Al Gore and Monica Lewinsky. He is no good at cards. He is Other than his family and therefore he will make it.

The film presents Vance as the white male savior of his family, though how exactly he saves them all is unclear. Aspects of the story that might actually be useful to include are utterly absent from the film. How did Bev get clean? How did Vance get to Yale law school from The Ohio State University? My high school classmate who was a first-generation student there dropped out, unable to find support either from his family or from the massive state school. How did Vance manage? We won't know from this film.

No one who is actually poor is going to look at this movie as a roadmap, but people who are in positions of power to deny money and opportunities may. To only laugh at this movie is a mistake, and undercuts its danger, both of spreading inaccurate myths about poverty and completely overshadowing (and disbelieving) the stories of women, BIPOC, disabled people and queer people living in the region and in poverty throughout America.

When I posted on a freelancer's group, desperately seeking a screener so I could write this review, strangers responded by telling me just not to write it, not to give Vance more breath. They misunderstood a key issue: This is a paycheck, and I need a paycheck. Part of being a writer in Appalachia since 2016, when "Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir" came out, is refuting this man.

How better could that energy be served, that time better spent on our own creative projects, projects Hollywood and the publishing industry seem not to want to pay for? We like our struggle stories male with a side of white.

I don't think this review or most press that "Hillbilly Elegy" has received would make anyone run out and watch the film, other than to use it as a drinking game, which in some cases could actually be physically dangerous. I would not, for example, recommend drinking every time someone threatens to kill someone else or calls a woman a bitch.

But I keep coming back to what my friend said: This movie and the book that sired it not only perpetuate dangerous stereotypes about poverty, about a wide and diverse region, about women and about people struggling with addiction, but stories like these keep money and access from those who need it.

The $45 million Netflix paid to distribute the film means that many other projects will not be funded. It's not only that this movie gets so much wrong. It also takes up so much space.

When my novel was coming out this year, a publicist urged me to downplay the fact that the story was set in my home of Appalachian Ohio. We have Appalachia fatigue, this person based in New York advised, urging me instead to focus on the climate change storyline in the book.

Is there only so much attention we're willing to pay to stories of poverty? What if people will only listen for so long—and "Hillbilly Elegy" drowns out other voices, especially those who have a different experience than Vance's bootstraps act?

"Hillbilly Elegy" doesn't matter. Except for the focus, attention and income it draws away from actual Appalachians' projects. Except for the brain space, energy and time it occupies for rural people, women, people of color, queer people and disabled people living in the region, living in poverty and trying to do the real work of telling their own stories. I can advise you not to give Vance's myth another dime. But I cannot advise you not to give it another thought. Like the very real trauma of poverty — which means I and my neighbors will always work as many jobs as are offered, which means for the rest of my life I will calculate the price of the groceries in my cart to the dollar before the embarrassment of the checkout counter — the hurt lingers. We will continue to fight our battles with those stereotypes privately. Publicly, may we widen the stage so that a diverse array of narratives can dilute the overwhelming influence of Vance's personal story.


Alison Stine is the author of the novel "Road Out of Winter," (MIRA Books, 2020). A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she regularly writes for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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