Rebecca Schuman–who often pisses off many on the Internet thanks to her writing on modern academia–recently made herself the target of a great deal of vitriol thanks to a post on Slate that featured her giving her sleeping baby the bird. The usual avalanche of abuse, characteristic of Internet furores, spilled forth: threats to report her to Child Protective Services, death threats, and of course, the ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ endearments that are so well-known to women who write online.
For any not-entirely-clueless parent, Schuman was simply articulating–in jest, with a pair of middle fingers–an emotion that is all too familiar: parental rage, one grounded in frustration with our little darlings, our angels, the loves of our lives. It’s not just ‘go the fuck to sleep,’ it’s also ‘will you please eat your fucking food,’ ‘sit still so I can put your fucking clothes on,’ ‘let’s fucking go; you’re fucking making me late for work.’ The number of f-bombs that have detonated in my cranium over the past thirty-two months would easily stock the arsenal of a mid-sized militaristic nation. And sometimes they don’t just go off in my head. (Earlier this morning, after carefully negotiating with my daughter the terms and conditions under which she would agree to eat her breakfast, I found out the contract had been torn up; but there was no one to turn to report this breach; and no way to convince the offending party that she had attacked the very foundations of a liberal society. Seethe, seethe, seethe; then subside.)
Lack of sleep and the mind-numbing catatonia it induces are to blame in part. So is the basic fact of parenting: a long, sustained encounter with a brand new human being, with all his or her personal vagaries, one seemingly put here on this planet to test your patience and fortitude. Schuman was merely expressing one facet of the emotions that surge through a parent who so desperately wants to sleep but is unable to; things will get much worse when that little ‘angelic’ infant will become a toddler with a louder wail, a fine repertoire of tantrums, and a functioning vocabulary with which to get sassy, talk back, and say ‘no’ an infinite number of times.
Quite honestly, I’m unable to understand the anger directed at Schuman. The folks who so raged at her were, at best, sanctimonious prigs; at worst, they were clearly misogynistic. For Schuman’s biggest mistake was to suggest–and this is not news at all–that motherhood or parenting is not an unqualified blessing. Unsurprisingly, it was a conservative woman twitterer who led one portion of the mob; for that demographic, even humor directed at the institution of parenting is sacrilege. And equally unsurprisingly, as will be evident from the nature of the abuse directed at Schuman, there was ample hypocrisy and just plain old incoherence on display.
Schuman will ride this one out; and when it is all over, she should publish a few photos of her baby giving her the finger right back. That’s what they seem to do on all too many occasions.