The Crazy Love TED Talkescaping a psychological trap disguised as love
Leslie Morgan Steiner is an author, blogger, and public speaker on violence against women, and other issues including motherhood, parenting, and infertility. She lives in Washington, DC. She recently completed her third nonfiction book, The Baby Chase, which explores the ways surrogate pregnancies are changing the face of the American family and expanding what it means to be a mother today. The Baby Chase was published by St Martin's Press in November 2013.
Her 2009 memoir about surviving domestic violence, Crazy Love, was a New York Times bestseller, People Pick, Book of the Week for The Week magazine, and subject of the first TED Talk by a domestic violence survivor.
She is the editor of the critically-acclaimed anthology Mommy Wars: Stay-at-Home and Career Moms Face Off on Their Choices, Their Lives, Their Families (Random House 2006) a frank, surprising, and refreshing look at American motherhood from 26 different perspectives.
From 2006-2008 she wrote over 500 columns for the Washington Post’s popular daily on-line work/family column, “On Balance.”
She currently writes the weekly column, “Two Cents on Modern Motherhood,” for Modern Mom and Mommy Track’d: Managing the Chaos of Modern Motherhood.
Steiner has been a guest on the Today Show, National Public Radio, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, MSNBC, and has been profiled by Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Elle, Parenting, Parents, Self, Glamour, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post.
Steiner holds a BA in English from Harvard College.
Her writing was first published in Seventeen Magazine when she was 21. As a writer and editor at Seventeen, she explored subjects ranging from eating disorders to teen runaways to family relationships. She went on to contribute to Mademoiselle, Money Magazine, and other magazines, and to work as a restaurant critic and feature writer for New England Monthly. Her essay “Starving for Perfection” appeared in the anthology The College Reader (Harper Collins).
In addition to years as a nonfiction magazine writer and editor, Steiner has an MBA degree in marketing from the Wharton School of Business.After graduating from Wharton in 1992 with an MBA in Marketing, she launched Splenda Brand Sweetener throughout Australia, the Mid-East and Latin America for Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest consumer healthcare company.
She returned to her hometown of Washington, DC in 2001 to become General Manager of the 1.1 million circulation Washington Post Magazine, a position she held for five years.
Over the years, she has turned her professional experience into advocacy for abused women as a spokeswoman at The Harriet Tubman Center in Minneapolis, and as a board member for The One Love Foundation and DC Volunteer Lawyers Project.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why did you write Mommy Wars?
Whether you work or stay at home after having kids has become one of the defining issues of our generation for college-educated American women today. For me, as a working mom with three kids, I was curious about – and sometimes jealous of – moms who decided to stay home. So I asked 26 REAL experts on motherhood – MOMS -- to explain what life is REALLY like for working and stay-at-home mothers today. My hope was that by explaining our lives to each other, we'd all feel better about our unique approaches to motherhood.
How did you find writers?
I could have flagged down the first 26 minivans driving by my house -- because every mom has a great story about work and family. I found moms everywhere – at work, on the playground, through friends. Some are famous – like Jane Smiley, Susan Cheever and Iris Krasnow. Others have literally never published anything. All 26 are regular moms – who happen to also be beautiful writers.
Is the tension between working and at-home moms real or imagined? Why is there so much conflict between women who ostensibly have a great deal in common?
The “mommy wars” are not a typical WAR where one side wins and the other loses. Women are not looking to defeat other women. We are looking to feel good about ourselves as mothers – which is a pathetically difficult task in the US today.
The tension between working and at-home moms IS real. But the worst mommy war is the one that rages inside each mom’s head as she struggles to feel good about being a mom -- no matter what her choices about work. This inner battle plays out on an external stage -- through judgments about other moms.
Our society is conflicted, between the “selflessness” of motherhood and the very real need women have to provide for themselves and their families.
Some critics complain that the "mommy wars" are a problem only among "privileged" women. Care to comment?
This is an example of a problem I see among all women: we look for what divides us, instead of what we have in common. Although some of the 26 women in this collection are better educated and somewhat more economically stable than many other women, nearly twenty percent are non-white, offering a mix of African American, Pakistani and Latina voices in a book of only 26 contributors. Here are some of the women critcs disparage as privileged: Natalie Smith Parra, a Latina former welfare mom and immigrants rights activist in Los Angeles; Lila Leff, founder of the Umoja Student Development Corporation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping at-risk Chicago youth; Veronica Chambers, who supports her extended African American family on her writing income alone; Jane Juska, a grandmother, teacher and prison literacy volunteer from Berkeley; plus the many stay-at-home moms in the book with $0s listed in their IRS income columns. The essays in Mommy Wars tackle universal problems of infertility, cancer, postpartum depression, abuse, financial hardship and lousy husbands. To dismiss the writers' honesty would be unfair and unwise, because this books tells us a lot about what motherhood in America is really like today.
Where are men today in the "mommy wars"?
Dads today are caught in a bind – they feel they are doing a lot, because they are more involved in their children’s lives than their dads were. But fathers are still doing far less than mothers are, in terms of household chores and childcare. Women have earned equality at work. But there’s a long way to go before women have true equality at home.
What are the trends among younger moms?
A good example is Mommy Wars writer Molly Jong-Fast, daughter of famed feminist writer Erica Jong. Molly became unexpectedly pregnant four years ago when she was 24 – and she was THRILLED instead of feeling like her life was ruined – which is what I would have felt if I’d gotten pregnant in my 20s.
Many younger women (and girls) take today’s choices for granted -- they don’t have a chip on their shoulder about proving they can “have it all.” And that is wonderful. I and many other feminists worked extremely hard to achieve that kind of freedom for women.
What kind of solutions do you see in the future?
First: Happiest moms tend to be the ones who have time with their kids AND paid work – they work for companies and have partners that give them the flexibility and support they need to be good employees – and good moms.
Second: We moms need each other –whether we work or not – and we’d be FAR better off if we supported all good mothering choices. We need to stand up for other moms, and stick up for ourselves.
There are millions of moms in this country, and no book can capture all of their perspectives – just as there’s no work/family formula that’s right for every mom.
Motherhood should unite women, not divide us.
It is a myth or at least an exaggeration that in the US today women have unlimited choices and complete freedom.
Don’t blame women – we have too much finger pointing as it is – this is a societal problem – blaming women makes it worse.
Even I’ve read every essay 50 times, I’m still surprised by their raw honesty and the emotional response the book elicits.
Whether you stay at home or stay at your desk, you risk insanity when you become a mom, AND it’s TOTALLY worth it!