Survival of the Hippest

Up close and personal with Ariel Gore, founder and editor of Hip Mama

A feminist worldview influences Ariel's work and her writing. "Obviously there have been a few major works on motherhood and feminism like Adrienne Rich's stuff, but there hasn't been a lot of stuff about motherhood being a valuable experience as well as something that's been used to oppress," she says. "Instead there have been two extremes: the 'Institution of Motherhood as Oppression' and then a lot of mainstream cheese, obviously used to sell minivans, but what I was missing were accounts of the day-to-day details of what you go through in a real way. But not using those as proof of why we shouldn't be mothers, but more as a way to counteract the surprising isolation of motherhood."

Hip Mama doesn't provide a livable income, but book advances have paid the bills since Ariel finished graduate school. (Her second book, forthcoming from Hyperion next May, is called An Hour Alone: Reflections on Motherhood in a Distracted World.) But Ariel is quick to point out her zine's indirect contribution to her livelihood: "I get a lot of my other writing work off of being 'Hip Mama,' it's a tryout place for many ideas that turn out to be a part of books or other projects. And the web site [hipmama.com] is a place where I kick around ideas with people directly."

And while Ariel Gore's personal circumstances have evolved considerably since the founding of Hip Mama, political fury continues to provide her main inspiration. With that established, I couldn't resist asking about her views on the Clinton scandal. "I just wrote a column about that," Ariel laughs. "It's called, 'Why I don't give a rat's ass what happens to the president.' But I don't know if you can say that." I assure her I can say it. "Good," she continues. "I mean, I'm on the side of the Democrats, so I kind of tried to care about what happened to Clinton, I thought maybe I should write about it, or harangue my congress person, but in the end, I realized I just don't care what happens to him. He signed the welfare reform bill, he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and you should know as a politician that if the family values people come for me in the morning, they're going to come for you at night."

Ariel's blend of personal and political rage flows from her belief that " . . . most of the things that make it difficult to be a mom in this society are not organic things . . . they're cultural things. We need affordable child care, guaranteed child support, so there's no question of whether you can feed your kids. And not just for low-income moms--I think societal changes could take a lot of stress out of middle-income motherhood, too." For the last two years, says Ariel, she has brought in middle-income earnings, but still she maintains that societal safety nets should be in place to eliminate low-grade fear of complete catastrophe in the face of an unexpected financial setback. But in the meantime, she wishes every mother could have a strong support system of other moms to fill in the gaps. "Even if it's just four or five other families that you know, that you could rest assured would be there for you, and you would be there for them," she says.

Hip Mama can't provide the meaningful, structural supports that could transform family life, but it does "do some of the emotional stuff in the discussion area of the Web site. I consider the chat forums the main part of the site. You can just go online and post a question, and there will be twenty replies almost immediately. I go there all the time."

And the views expressed in Hip Mama and on the Web site are refreshingly eclectic--from parents with experiences, philosophies, and income levels across the board. "I guess when I first started the zine, I thought it would attract people in situations more similar to my own," says Ariel. "But that's not really what happened. When you start to tell the truth about your life, then people start to tell the truth about their lives, whatever their lives may be."

Jeannine Ouellette Howitz is editor of Minnesota Parent.

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