Conservative America's worst nightmare

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@arcos.org)
Mon, 11 May 1998 09:45:41 -0400


Sunday May 10, 1998

MAIA'S MOTHER: Ariel Gore has raised her daughter while putting herself
through school.

Ariel Gore's zine and book are all about raising real kids using a
little bit of money and a lot of attitude

By Rachel Giese
Special to The Star

It's not for nothing that Ariel Gore's been dubbed ``conservative
America's worst nightmare.''

She's a young, single mother and a former welfare recipient - the
ultimate right-wing scapegoat.

But even worse, she's got brains, a righteous wit and plenty of
chutzpah.

Ask the 27-year-old publisher of Hip Mama zine about the blame that gets
heaped on teenage moms for just about every social ill under the sun and
she'll remind you that ``Jesus was the son of one of the most revered
unwed teenage homeless mothers in history.''

Mention the current hysteria over family breakdown and the rise in
single parent families and she'll say, ``I think the ability to get a
divorce, to leave a bad relationship, is great. It's a much bigger
bummer for children to be raised in a miserable home.''

Bring up a famous television debate she had with conservative U.S. House
Speaker Newt Gingrich and she'll sigh, ``It was fun, but it's just so
frustrating when you can't overthrow the government in one swoop, ya
know?''

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Gore offers advice like, `It's not nice to name a child Cappuccino'

------------------------------------------------------------------------

And now, claiming a lineage ``that's more Erma Bombeck and Roseanne than
Harriet Nelson and June Cleaver,'' Gore is bringing her radical
mothering message to a broader audience with her first book, The Hip
Mama Survival Guide (Hyperion, $17.95), available here in specialty
bookstores.

Like the zine, the book offers a mixture of practical advice (remove
your nipple rings when you nurse), politics (a chapter on raising
non-sexist kids) and humour (``it is not nice to name a child
Cappuccino'').

Her greatest strengths are her down-to-earth leftist politics and her
common sense reassurances.

She conceived Hip Mama, ``the parenting zine with attitude,'' at a
friend's kitchen table in 1993.

She was flipping through a glossy parenting magazine filled with
pictures of wholesome nuclear families, and joked that she should put
out her own parenting magazine, because in real life, ``the kids would
be covered in spaghetti sauce and the moms would be all grunged out.''

But what started as a joke was an idea she couldn't shake, and she put
together a sample issue for a senior project during her final year of
college.

She printed 500 copies of the first Hip Mama, figuring that would be the
end of it - but then subscription payments started coming in.

``A story fell through,'' Gore says over the phone from her home in
Oakland, Calif., ``so I just stuck a subscription form on the back and
didn't think about it.

``Then when people started sending in money for issue Number 2, I went,
`Wow, I guess I better keep going.' ''

Now at its 16th issue, the quarterly zine has about 5,000 assorted
readers - teen moms and grannies, punks and granola-girls, partnered and
single, gay and straight, artsy and academic, poor and moneyed, all from
various ethnic backgrounds.

Hip Mama offers old-fashioned consciousness-raising wrapped in a riot
grrrl package.

Gore has a Web site, too (http://www.hipmama.com), which operates as a
kind of support network for readers.

Having raised her 8-year-old daughter Maia single-handedly while she put
herself through college and journalism school, Gore's been on the
receiving end of plenty of criticism - including a surprise visit from a
social worker after a neighbour complained that Gore wasn't a good
mother because her house was messy.

``Whatever mothers do, they get attacked. If they work outside the
house, they're not nurturing enough,'' she says. ``If they stay at home,
they're lazy. There's this impossible standard being set for us, and
then we get faulted for not living up to it.''

In particular, Gore uses Hip Mama to give a human face to other poor and
maligned moms. In the Fall, 1997, issue, in a piece entitled ``I Am Your
Welfare Reform'' (which is reprinted in the May issue of Harper's) Annie
Downie writes, ``I am a single mother of two children, each with a
different father. I am a hussy, a welfare rider - a burden to everyone
and everything. I am anything you want me to be - a faceless number who
has no story.''

And in The Hip Mama Survival Guide, Gore devotes an entire chapter to
``poverty without despair'' - offering serious information on how to
live on the cheap, negotiate with collection agents and access
resources, along with some humorous insights.

In her list of ``Some Cool Things About Poverty,'' Gore includes, ``no
worries about `spoiling' your kids,'' ``makes for good memoirs,'' ``no
one will ask to borrow money'' and ``nothing left to lose.''

Gore advocates flexible notions of family as a way to fend off
desperation and isolation. She and a friend live in the same building
and have a co-operative parenting arrangement - trading baby-sitting,
meals and chores.

``I look around and see all kinds of families that work,'' she says.

``No one is better than any other. Families are very fluid, they break
up and reconfigure. And once you get past this dream of the perfect
unit, you realize there are lots of ways to raise kids that work.''

But the activity that's most important to her is urging parents looking
after themselves.

For all her humour and hippie-girl attitude, Gore is frank about how
difficult it is to raise a child.

``I get phone calls and letters from people who are desperate and who
think that they're the only one who's ever lost it, or cried in the
shower for an hour, or who's operating on three hours of sleep.''

The survival guide offers tremendously soothing chapters on ``toddler
avengers.''

``A few things to remember about public tantrums,'' writes Gore, is that
``in turn-of-the-millennium fluorescent-lit America, they are basically
inevitable.''

And nervous breakdowns are a ``good excuse not to comb your hair,'' she
writes, looking on the bright side.

In her next book, she'll be exploring ``how to be a parent without
losing your own identity and life.''

Asked about her own mothering, Gore says she's not so hot at the
practical stuff - ``I'm not the mom you'd call first to sell raffle
tickets'' - but she's very proud that she's ``100-per- cent emotionally
available to Maia and working very hard to let her be her own person.''

But even the world's hippest mama finds it hard to be cool about
everything.

``Right now, Maia's an atheist, and I can't tell you how much that
bothers me,'' says Gore, a spiritually inclined, self-described ``white
light new age girl'' and who offers occasional prayers to ``Saint Erma
Bombeck.''

``But I have to respect that that's what she believes, even though I
keep reminding her how cool it was when she was younger and talked about
the moon goddess and stuff.

``God knows what will happen if she becomes a Republican,'' Gore says,
laughing.

``I guess I would just have to make sure that if she wants to be a
Republican, she's a happy Republican.''


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