Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Perfectionism in Love and War: Martha Stewart Just Works Harder Than You Do


Once upon a time, Americans were known for having a "strong work ethic" that was a legacy from the pilgrims who invaded founded our nation.  I know this because I learned it in American history class, and if you read it in a textbook then either it's actually true, or else it's so widely believed to be true (like George Washington's cherry tree chopping) that it's a fiction with more power than fact.  But in modern American culture, those who work hard and strive to be the best that they can be are ridiculed and ripped to shreds for the sin of "perfectionism" while lazy, ineffective people are held up to be "normal" and well-adjusted members of society.  Oh, yes they are -- everyone hates Martha Stewart for not only being better at a lot of things than everyone else, but for turning homemaking into a lucrative career.  Career women hate Martha for baking cookies from scratch and ironing bed sheets.  Women who don't work outside the home hate Martha for making so much money baking cookies and ironing sheets, and for looking glamorous while she does it.  She wouldn't be making so much money if there weren't tons of people furtively reading her books and magazines, watching her on television, and listening to her radio shows, but it's not cool to admit that you like Martha Stewart.  It's much more socially acceptable to have a Cathy mug (that is, Cathy Guisewite's Cathy cartoon character) on your desk than a Martha Stewart mug that says "It's A Good Thing."

How pathetic is that?  So, no; I'm not to be counted among those who will be mourning the end of the Cathy strip once Guisewite lays it to rest next month.  I'm one of those who is wondering whatever happened to the myth of the American work ethic?  When did high standards, hard work, and success become shameful in our society?  Was it a backlash against 1980s films like Mr. Mom and Baby Boom that claimed women could "have it all," glossing over the tough choices women have to make in real life and making them feel guilty if they failed to handle everything as seamlessly as the working moms of the screen?

Maybe that's the real reason for the national pastime of Martha-bashing.  Maybe we don't hate her because she does things better than we do, but because she makes it look so EASY when we know that it's really, really HARD.  We hate her for having a full staff running each of her households and doing all of her housekeeping for her while she's on television showing us how to properly clean the silverware that we don't own in the first place, for having assistants and creative teams coming up with fabulous ideas for which she seems to take the credit.  We hate her for the perceived dishonesty, and for the unfair advantage.  But, once upon a time, Martha Stewart was a young single woman from a blue-collar background who worked hard and started her own catering company with a friend.  She was good at something, she worked really hard at it, and she turned her domestic interests and aptitude into a multi-million dollar lifestyle brand -- while a lot of other women were lying on the couch eating chocolate while obsessing about their weight, and trying to solve their problems with shopping instead of with good old-fashioned hard work.

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