The XX Factor

Katie Roiphe Responds

This is a guest post from Katie Roiphe, responding to the various critics of her recent DoubleX essay, My Newborn is Like a Narcotic .”

I’m mildly embarrassed to admit that credit for the interesting brouhaha surrounding my last piece belongs to the inventive subtitle writer, and not to me. (To answer some of the comments: No, I am not responsible for the subtitle, nor did I see it until the piece was on the site, which is in no way unusual.) I am, however, a little surprised that people would be so blinded by a flashy subtitle that they would not be able to read the substance of the piece itself: After all, it is the job of a headline to attract attention, not to present a nuanced or subtle analysis. It seems to me that we read too many millions of eye-catching headlines that do not perfectly distill the essence of the piece to take them quite so much to heart. And if people are not going to read past the headline, it would save writers a great deal of time and trouble to admit that now.

I have on occasion written a provocative or inflammatory piece. In fact, I teach a class on the art of polemic at NYU, which begins with Milton’s Satan, whom I greatly admire, but this particular riff I viewed in the category of “quiet personal reflection.” The one very tiny paragraph on feminism was not central to the argument. I was thinking about how we had come to talk about childcare as work or a profession. From Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper , through Betty Friedan’s brilliant The Feminine Mystique , to Naomi Wolf’s Misconceptions , feminists have long argued about the arduousness of babies. I don’t think this is a particularly controversial or original point: They wrote about the difficulty of child-rearing and they had their reasons. Any political ideology has to collapse the ambiguities and complexities of human experience in order to get things done, and feminism is no different.

To answer some of the other comments: Nowhere in the piece did I tell anyone else how to live. Nowhere did I suggest that my experience of the first days of motherhood was any better, richer, or more interesting than anyone else’s. (To me, the addiction metaphor implies a derangement and desperation not entirely to be recommended.) Nowhere in the piece did I attack anyone for having a different viewpoint or experience. (Though frankly one does worry about the fragile commenter: If someone chooses to wear an orange dress are you hurt because of the implied critique of your yellow one?) Nowhere did I say that feminists hate babies. In fact, my own mother was a feminist, and I like to think she liked me.