I recently read Amy Poehler’s 2014 autobiographical book, Yes Please which is a great light read that I’d definitely recommend if you’re a fan and enjoy getting life advice from funny ladies. I wouldn’t say this is really a feminist book; in my opinion it has many more “girl power” messages than real feminist discourse, but it’s definitely feminist-leaning. And it had some really great overlapping messages and arguments about how women should think about their own life choices and those of others.
Poehler certainly recognizes her opportunity to be a role model by giving her readers lots of catchy slogans about how to live our lives. Along with her three overall messages of “Say whatever you want,” “Do whatever you like,” and “Be whoever you are,” I found a few more specific arguments in her book that really interested me in regards to their prospects for feminist discourse.
First, Poehler addresses her role as a working mother by saying this:
“I have always had a job, so when I had my two children I didn’t assume I would stop working. I slowed down, which I was happy to do. I was grateful that I could. Most can’t.” It’s good that she acknowledges her privilege here. It’s true that this is not an option for most women.
“I had no plans of being a full-time stay-at-home mother. This is not to say I think being a stay-at-home mother is not a job. It certainly is. It’s just not for me. Remember my motto, “Good for you, not for me.”
I think this is a great motto to use for the choices we and others make and how we judge them. This relates to a vast array of issues surrounding ideas about parenthood, marriage, mothering, working, etc. Poehler specifically focuses on the debate of working mothers vs. stay-at-home mothers, subject that she says “inherently sucks. Not a week goes by without annoying and bullshit articles claiming “breast milk makes kids better liars” or “you should have only one child unless you live on a farm.” We torture ourselves and we torture each other, and all of it leads to a lot of women-on-women crime.” (This is similar to my horizontal aggression piece, but here it’s more related to ideas about motherhood.)
She then goes on to give a full page of examples. I’ll just give a few here.
“A stay-at-home mother is introduced to someone as “Aiden’s mom” rather than her own name, which apparently doesn’t matter.
A working mother is out at a function and people say, “What are you doing out? Don’t you have little kids? Who’s watching them?
8. A working mother talks about how “it’s not quantity, it’s quality.”
11. (Someone says to working mothers) “I honestly don’t know how you do it.””
Poehler says she’s gotten the last one a lot, but she would just hear “I don’t know how you COULD do it.” This is important to think about. She explains by saying: “There is an unspoken pact that women are supposed to follow. I am supposed to act like I constantly feel guilty about being away from my kids. (I don’t. I love my job.) Mothers who stay at home are supposed to pretend they are bored and wish they were doing more corporate things. (They don’t. They love their job.) If we all stick to the plan there will be less blood in the streets.”
Just because a choice is right for you, doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. We should respect everyone’s choices, whether we agree with them or not.
Poehler goes on to make the argument that “Every mother needs a wife.” Her choice is to use a nanny to take care of her children while she works. She says, “We are lucky. Some people cannot afford this option and have little family support. Every mother needs a wife. Some mothers’ wives are their mothers. Some mothers’ wives are their husbands. Some mothers’ wives are their friends and neighbors.”
This applies to every working person. She’s using the term “wife” to describe the stereotypical role we have historically expected wives to fill, but she’s saying that many other people could fill this necessary role for working parents, no matter their gender.
We should all use the motto “good for you, not for me,” and if we decide to be working parents or not, we should feel comfortable in our choices, while respecting the choices of others.