The XX Factor

Who’s Buying “Go the F**k to Sleep”?

Rachael, I don’t think a woman didn’t write Go the F**k to Sleep out of fear of being judged by other women (although I’d be all for that lightening up a bit). For one thing, plenty of the hater commenters are male, even if they’re not the ones reviewing the likes of GTFTS. Sohn (who asked ” Could a Mom Have Written Go the F**k to Sleep ?” in Babble) might be right that if a woman had written the book, it would have have prompted more controversy and fewer sales, because GTFTS may just be more funny (or less frightening) in a “male” voice. She absolutely nailed the tone of the Internet commenter who thinks a writer-mother has transgressed:

- If you hate being a mom so much, why did you have a child in the first place?

- Clearly your daughter can’t rest because you work.

- You have an anger management problem and you’re giving your kid ADHD.

- You need Zoloft.

- I pray that you bring no more children into the world because it will spare another individual the years of therapy he will need to get over the trauma of having been raised by such a selfish and insensitive person.

I do think Sohn’s point works both ways: Dads are allowed, as she quotes dad-writer and Babble contributor John Cave Osborne as saying, to be “clueless or inept” or “irreverent and dark and ridiculous,” but that’s about it. No dad-writer has the cred to produce something like Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs , with its look at parenthood that goes far beyond “irreverent,” or to achieve something classic like Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions , where the darkness goes far deeper than Go the F**K to Sleep attempts. There is a difference between the ways men and women are “allowed” to write about parenthood, but it’s a difference that limits men as well as women, and it’s not just about what we say about parenting, but how often we say it. I can imagine publishers looking at GTFTS , written by a woman, and sighing. “Motherhood cynicism is the ‘kiss of death.’ ”  “Oh, great, a ‘humorous look’ at motherhood. Been there, done that.” It’s less the blowback than the sense that we’ve heard that tale a thousand times before, and maybe a sense, among women writers, that it’s something that’s already been said. It took a dad, apparently, to believe that it would strike a nerve, and to be right.

It obviously has struck a nerve, but as a mother, and the owner of a house already far too full of books and magazines and toys and tchotchkes and things-that-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time, I’m still wondering: with who? Not only would it never have occured to me to write GTFTS ; I never would have believed it would find so many eager buyers. I still don’t. I’m neither dumb nor humorless, and I’ve had plenty of sleepless kids. A friend sent me a PDF of the book months ago, and I rolled with laughter and, of course, passed it on. It’s not that I don’t find it funny, or that I don’t love the trippy illustrations as well. But I wouldn’t buy it. What, having purchased it, would you do with it? Pass it on to a friend who’ll laugh just as hard, I guess. Share it around at a mom’s group or give it to the hapless dad at the baby shower. That, I suspect, is the root of most of the sales: It’s a very popular funny gift book, and you know about how happy you really are to get those once the laughter has died down.

Or you could read it to your kids at bedtime. Now, that would be edgy. I’ll bet even Adam Mansbach won’t cop to having done that. But if he does, I hope he does it in a forum that’s open to comments, because I’d really like to see those.