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Jewish World Review June 19, 2003/ 19 Sivan, 5763

Suzanne Fields

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When the Dowdies confront the mommies | When a successful (single) career woman pokes fun at women with babies in strollers, you know she's either feeling unsure of the choices she's made or she's down to her last idea for a Father's Day column.

Maureen Dowd, femme fatalist for the New York Times, may be feeling a little woozy after the sturm and drang at her newspaper. Maybe we should cut her a little slack. But knocking motherhood?

She describes women who have left careers to be full-time mothers as "Stepford wives" addicted to spending their days at Starbucks. She hates it that they actually enjoy "gabbing with the girlfriends" over an iced latte when they could be writing important columns bashing Rummy, Dick and W.

She reports that the moms talk about babies, recipes and gardens (which they do), but a reporter who actually went to Starbucks to listen (or hired a better stringer to do it for her) would have heard conversations about local politics as it affects the education of their children, safety on the streets and how the cost of malpractice insurance is driving up the cost of pediatric care for their children.

What the famous pundit may not know is that these moms match the contempt of the Maureen Dowdies of the world with pity for those mired in a '70s mindset, where what you "do" on the public stage defines who you are.

"I often work harder now than when I was a newspaper reporter," one offended reader wrote to the New York Times. "What I am doing now is more important and rewarding."

The Maureen Dowdies are 30 years behind the curve and they know it - and hate it. They're the childless chicks, robotically reacting to the women who enjoy family life more than their abandoned treadmills to the fast track.

The trend today is sharply toward full-time motherhood. In 1994, 9.3 million children younger than 15 had stay-at-home married mothers and working fathers, according to Jason Fields, author of a new report published by the Census Bureau.

That number had risen to 11 million by 2002. The number of working mothers with infants dropped from 59 percent in 1998 to 55 percent in the year 2000. Increasing numbers of mothers with teenagers, aware of the dangers of sex and drugs for the latchkey kid, are dropping out of full-time work outside the home.

These moms are not complaining about husbands keeping them "in their place." The places have changed, and changed utterly. They enjoy escapes to the gym, yoga classes, and - horrors! - coffee breaks at Starbucks. Technology has liberated them to run businesses out of their homes, if that's what they want to do.

The resurrected Stepford ladies, in fact, are the Maureen Dowdies themselves, the "working girls" toiling away in the vineyards of national politics, exchanging mother's milk for wine pressed from grapes of wrath. It's hard to be hip hidden away in this vineyard. The stylishly unstylish Miss Dowd concedes that life among the Washington pols leads her to assume that any man in an Armani suit must be a gigolo. (That's why she prefers men in Hollywood?)

The original Stepford wives were robot-like housewives without an idea they could call their own, with husbands who were not body-snatchers, but mind snatchers. The New Mommies have ideas and express them loud and clear. You could hear them at a symposium the other day celebrating the 100th birthday of Clare Booth Luce, sponsored by the conservative policy institute that bears her name.

The New Moms take as their "role model" a woman who was a mixture of brilliance, toughness and femininity, successful in reinventing herself at different stages in life as wife, mother, congresswoman, ambassador, playwright, socialite and the lady with the idea for Life magazine. Her husband was only the man who executed the idea.

She was a woman of courage and reverence for life, fearless in the face of controversy. She was also a celebrated war correspondent, winning an accolade from rival Dorothy Parker: "All's Clare on the Western Front."

But the New Moms don't have to cite Clare Booth Luce or anyone else to defend their choice of motherhood. Randall Brooks Phillips, for example, who appeared in over 640 performances on Broadway as the star of "Annie," told the symposium that her greatest satisfactions come not from great moments on the stage, but of the everyday pleasures with her toddler son.

Hollywood is casting a remake of "Stepford Wives," this time starring Nicole Kidman. We can only hope Hollywood gets it right. The conforming Dowdies are not the women with the strollers.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS