Scene 1: A mom decided to camp out in her hall closet in order to conduct a business call while her two, grade school-aged kids were running about the house, loudly shouting her name.
Scene 2: After her child care arrangements fell through – via a frantic phone call from her soon-to-be ex-nanny while she was in the middle of a presentation to a group of clients – the mom had to continue the presentation via conference call from her office as she bribed her children (who were running about the room, loudly shouting) into silence. “Mommy is having a very difficult day trying not to lose it,” she said, promising ice cream to the kid who drew the best picture of “Mommy’s head exploding.”
Scene 3: The same mom later told her group of three career-oriented,
These scenes that played out in the first episodes of ABC’s new dramedy “Cashmere Mafia ” were illustrative examples of the difficult realities facing moms who work at high stress, high level jobs. The character Zoë Burden (Frances O’Connor), an investment banker, serves as the show’s everywoman/everymom . . . only she makes oodles of money and has a BlackBerry surgically attached to her left hand. But, for every good Zoë Burden scene like the ones described above, there were some ugly ones that erected a veritable Berlin Wall between moms who work outside the house and moms who are at-home with their kids. These included:
The demonization of an uber-Type-A at-home mom (Krista Allen) who had scheduled playdates for her children for every day until the end of time, who fed her kids tofu stir-fry, who publicly chastised Zoë by announcing that she “never” sees her at school drop-off, who eagerly volunteered to chaperone a school trip (Zoë forgot there even was a trip), and who took Zoë’s kids to a Build-a-Bear-type store where they made a “working mom” bear complete with a business suit, pearls, a Bluetooth device, a planner and who, when her paw was pushed, said in a slightly annoyed voice, “I can’t talk now, I’m on a conference call.” Oh, and the “Cashmere Mafia” writers then had Allen’s sexy at-home mom hit on Zoë’s husband Eric (Julian Ovenden), making the overture while arguing that since Zoë constantly works late, as does her own husband, that perhaps she and Eric could take advantage of the situation.
The piece de resistance was a mini-speech delivered by hotel executive, Juliet Draper (Miranda Otto) – who’s in a troubled marriage and whose snarky teenaged daughter seemingly wants nothing to do with her almost too-expertly-coiffed mother – who said of Zoë’s dust-up with the unrealistically perfect at-home mom: “It’s the classic mommy wars. We make stay-at-homes feel inferior for being throw-backs who live off their spouses. They make us feel guilty for not eliminating everything from our lives but our children.”
Those kinds of scenes, my friends, are unproductive. They will turn off legions of down-to-earth at-home moms and part-time working women. They will drive audiences away from a program that could potentially offer the opportunity for at-home moms to contemplate the challenges facing executive-level working mothers via the Zoë character. And that’s unfortunate.
TV dramatizations of working mom situations – think Lynette Scavo in season two of “Desperate Housewives” when she returned to work and fought for family-friendly policies – could help promote understanding between mothers while simultaneously entertaining them with outrageous “Sex and the City-esque” fashions and cocktails. At-home moms tuning in to “Cashmere Mafia” could’ve seen working mothers struggling, trying to be professionals while attempting to spend time with their children. Viewers could’ve understood that the choice of staying home while one’s children are young is not the right choice for everyone and that for many women it’s imperative for their own sanity and family harmony that they work (whose family is going to thrive when Mommy’s pissed off all the time because she’d rather be working than at home?). But then “Cashmere Mafia” had to go and tap into an ugly stereotype of the pathetic at-home mom who has no life outside of her kids, and have a character label at-home moms throw-back freeloaders. That’s where “Cashmere Mafia” lost me and likely, lost many other viewers who are sick to death of the “mommy wars” storyline.
There have been other programs that have sought to portray the contemporary issues facing at-home moms or who’ve temporarily left the paid work force. The premiere season of “Desperate Housewives” did that well, as did the now-canceled ABC drama “What About Brian.” For “Cashmere Mafia,” this was a golden opportunity to provide a glimpse into the fictionalized lives of mothers working at the higher echelon of the business world. But the show blew that opportunity and, despite some spot-on scenes (I myself have had to conduct business calls from home while hiding, literally, under my bed in my locked bedroom, so as to muffle the sounds of my kids stalking me around the house and screaming my name), “Cashmere Mafia” employed too many “mommy wars” clichés.
We can only hope that NBC’s “Lipstick Jungle ,” which premieres in February and features three Manhattan career women, doesn’t fall back on tired stereotypes and instead offers some insight without insulting a large portion of female viewers.