Everything Old is New Again

Philip Wylie (1902-1971)

Pw_2Philip Wylie, "Common Women," Generation of Vipers (New York:  Pocket Books, 1942, 1955), pp. 184-196.

You are now about to read (or re-read) one of the most renowned (or notorious) passages in modern English Letters.

     This chapter has put the word "momism" indelibly in our language;
it has broken a path through sacred preserves into which all manner of
amateur critics (along with the stateliest psychiatrists and the United
States Armed Services) have since proceeded, pouring out articles,
monographs, bulletins, research reports and shelves of books showing
how right I was to speak as I did of a certain, prevalent sub-species
of middle-class American woman; and the chapter has typed me apparently
forever as a woman hater-indeed, as the all-out, all-time, high-scoring
world champion misogynist.
     It is this last I regret. The fact that legions of individuals,
and finally the Army, followed me in condemnation of that special type
of American mother I called "mom" merely affirms my work: the Oedipus
complex had become a social fiat and a dominant neurosis in our land.
It was past time somebody said so. As a way of life, it is shameful in
grownups of both sexes; as a national cult, it is a catastrophe.
     But, since I love women more than most men, I believe I love them
more deeply and knowingly, and since I respect motherhood whenever and
wherever it is worthy of respect, I find it somewhat distressing to be
forever tagged as Woman’s Nemesis. The fact is that only moms–or
incipient moms–could imagine, after a close reading of this very
chapter, that 1 had any other sensation for real
women than love. Quite a few thousand ladies perceived that fact and so
wrote to me. But millions, who thought they read otherwise–or who
never read the text but took rumor of my diatribe as Gospel (in mom’s
fashion)–have given me a false name.
     To such females, womanhood is more sacrosanct by a thousand times
than the Virgin Mary to popes–and motherhood, that degree raised to
astronomic power. They have eaten the legend about themselves and
believe it; they live it; they require fealty of us all.
     From them, I received dozens of scurrilous, savage, illiterate,
vulgar and obscene epistles, letters which but made my point that much
clearer–to me. But I have had hundreds of times as many communications
from moms who confessed, from the sons and daughters of moms who
suddenly saw whence their sickly dependencies came, and from multitudes
of the learned, the celebrated, the world’s leaders, who said in
effect: Thanks.
     So, for individuals, the message has often been of value. But
insofar as its effect on this great nation is concerned (about which
possibility people sometimes enquire), my risky effort to sever the
psychic umbilicus by which millions of moms hold millions of grown
American men and women in diseased serfdom, achieved nothing.
     Mom still commands. Mom’s more than ever in charge. Hardly five
Americans in a hundred know today that mom and her bogus authority have
ever been questioned–by me, or by anybody else. The nation can no
longer say it contains many great, free, dreaming men. We are deep in
thei predicted nightmare now and mom sits on its decaying throne–who
bore us, who will soon, most likely, wrap civilization in mom’s final,
tender garment: a shroud.
Today, as the news photos abundantly make plain mom composes the
majority of Senator McCarthy’s shock troops–paying blind tribute to a
blind authoritarianism like her own. Mom reaches out from her shrieking
hordes, cries, "I touched him!" and faints away. The tragic Senator
stalks smiling to the podium and leads the litany of panic, the rituals
of logic perverted, the induced madness of those the god’s have marked
for destruction. "McCarthyism," the rule of unreason, is one with
momism: a noble end aborted by sick-minded means, a righteous
intent–in terrorism fouled and tyranny foundered.

     Today, too, there is mom and her mass affair with Liberace. . . .

     Tomorrow, she will shriek around and dote upon some other Hero, as sick, or as fatuous.
     Today, while decent men struggle for seats in government with the
hope of saving our Republic, mom makes a condition of their election
the legalizing of Bingo. What will she want tomorrow when the world
needs saving even more urgently?

     We must understand mom before we lose touch with understanding itself.
     I showed her as she is–ridiculous, vain, vicious, a little mad.
She is her own fault first of all and she is dangerous. But she is also
everybody’s fault. When we and our culture and our religions agreed to
hold woman the inferior sex, cursed, unclean and sinful–we made her
mom. And when we agreed upon the American Ideal Woman, the Dream Girl
of National Adolescence, the Queen of Bedpan Week, the Pin-up, the
Glamour Puss–we insulted women and disenfranchised millions from love.
We thus made mom. The hen-harpy is but the Cinderella chick come home
to roost: the taloned, cackling residue of burnt-out puberty in a land
that has no use for mature men or women.
     Mom is a human calamity. She is also, like every calamity, a cause
for sorrow, a reproach, a warning siren and a terrible appeal for
     While she exists, she will exploit the little "sacredness" we have
given motherhood as a cheap-holy compensation for our degradation of
woman: she will remain irresponsible and unreasoning–for what we have
believed of her is reckless and untrue. She will act the
tyrant–because she is a slave. God pity her–and us all!


Is the Fate of America Ticking Away?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: