Saturday, January 14, 2006

Total180 Magazine Review

After all the carrying on I read about total180! I just had to find out for myself what it was about. And I have to say that my impression of it hasn’t changed much from the one I got reading Rebecca Traister’s interview with the editor. It’s a typical women’s magazine. You won't find any hard-hitting news or questioning of gender roles, but it's no worse than O, Shape, Good Housekeeping or any other magazine designed to entertain/inspire women. In a nutshell, there are things that offend me, things I appreciate, and ways in which I think the magazine has potential, but only time will tell if it goes in that direction or not.

Total180! speaks to a very particular demographic group. That some feminists find that group’s lives to be repugnant doesn’t change the facts, and I applaud a magazine that wants to speak with them about their lives and support them on their journey. It’s a coming together of women who are at a similar point in their lives. It’s not a magazine for everyone, in much the same way that fishing or golf magazines are not for everyone. But just because I think fishing magazines are a dumb waste of time, doesn’t mean no one should be allowed to find them interesting, helpful or even just a guilty pleasure. The same is true for a magazine that wants to celebrate the good, the bad and the ugly of housewifery.

Total180! doesn’t wax poetic about what men should be doing to enable women to work. It assumes a mutually satisfying arrangement has been made that the man will support the family and the woman will handle the home front, and that this is a partnership. Meaning, women are not groveling for an extra $40 to get their hair done, but rather all the earned money is seen as belonging to both equally. If that arrangement is offensive to you, you’re not going to like this magazine. If that describes your life, even if you expect it to be a temporary arrangement, you’ll probably find some things you can relate to.

The unpaid work at home is work that has to be done, but that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating and thankless even for women who choose to be the ones who do that work for their own families. Total180! validates that frustration. It doesn’t offer any solutions for solving it. Instead, it’s the girlfriend who simply says, “I know what you mean!” and refills your wine glass. Maybe I’m a bad feminist, but I fail to see what’s so terrible about that.

That’s not to say I didn’t have any issues with it. You’ll find quite a bit of "staying home with the kids is the more moral choice that good moms make" kind of sentiment, which is offensive to me even though it was my choice, so obviously I think it’s a good one for a variety of reasons. There’s an article about a woman who started a business from home, instead of going back to work, when her husband lost his job. Now I do love an article about a woman who determines what she wants (to stay home with her kids) and figures out a way to accomplish that against all odds. But the tone of the article was more like how she “did the right thing” by not going back to work, and I found it off-putting.

In addition to the “good and moral moms stay at home” sentiment, I was also annoyed by the term CHO (Chief Household Officer). But that might just be my bad attitude showing. It reminds me of when I used to work in the regular world and thought, I don’t need a fancy new title, thanks, if you want to show your appreciation, give me a freakin’ raise! But a lot of people do like to have impressive titles (as evidenced by the ever changing job titles out there), and I won’t begrudge the women who are pumped up by being called CHOs. For me, I’m content to just be a plain ol’ stay-at-home Mom until I go back to work. I’m more concerned with at-home moms becoming eligible for social security credits, acknowledging the unpaid work they do taking care of their children. You can have your titles, show me the money.

My biggest complaint though is the Sudoku puzzle at the end was wicked hard. I got like five numbers and then was too aggravated to continue. And people have been known to say I “have a head for numbers.” I hope the editors will take heed and include a cheat sheet with the next issue – I just can’t take the stress of an unsolved number puzzle on my desk. ;)

I particularly enjoyed a couple of the articles, like “Martha Doesn’t Live Here.” As I read through it I just kept thinking, Please God let me never be brave enough to make a turkey dinner for anyone other than my husband and sons, who won’t bat an eye when I announce at the last minute that it turns out we’ll actually be having cheese sandwiches and canned tomato soup for dinner. I also liked “The Sex Scorecard.” I don’t really think any woman is literally “keeping score,” and that the article was written tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time I can’t imagine there’s a mom out there who can’t relate to sex (hopefully temporarily) becoming something that makes her think, I’ve worked my ass off all day without even time for a shower, I finally get to rest and you want me to do what? Should have thought of that when you left your dirty underwear on the bathroom floor this morning! It happens, it can become a bad habit, and I think it’s great to talk about it.

The shopping aspect is really well done too. They found a lot of cute stuff and it was all reasonably priced. No $400 handbags. There were $35 shoes and other things most women who would want to read this magazine could afford to indulge in. I’m planning to hunt down the fabulous goblets they found at Pier 1 myself. And Darla Shine’s column gives some inspiring (and hilarious) shopping advice for those of us who are twenty-one at heart and would do well to remember that our boobs are pushing forty.

What I really want to applaud about total180! is the great emphasis on both being the girlfriend we all need and promoting real friendship and support among women. The isolation of a stay-at-home mom is an important issue and not everyone wants (or needs) to fix it by going to work. I’m glad to see this being addressed in a meaningful way. There’s no “lip service” to sisterhood here, it’s all about support and encouraging moms to really reach out to other moms without judgment of how well they were able to get themselves together before hauling the kids to Gymboree.

Total180! has the potential to address the financial risk at which women who stay at home put themselves. It seems to want to be a strong voice for creating careers from home, and I hope that continues. I appreciate that there’s no pretense that if you just get the floor mopped perfectly enough, you’ll feel great and be fulfilled. I think the editors realize that we all have a desire to do something other than clean the house and play with dolls. I love seeing a magazine for stay-at-home moms recognizing that, aside from getting to kiss all the boo boos, the greatest benefit we get in exchange for doing the “grunt work” at home is time to pursue the things we love, whether that’s sculpting, selling cosmetics, organizing a mom’s group or starting a magazine.

In the end, total180! seeks to be a support for middle class women who've chosen to stay home, and it does a good job of being honest about what that entails. It gives some nice images of women who aren't doing everything perfectly, but are doing the best they can, and that's a service to all of us. If you're a young, single, working mom you're probably not going to relate to it, but if you're over thirty and a stay-at-home mom who can afford to buy organic milk, there's a good chance you'll find something to laugh about.


Anjali said...

Good review, Staci. The whole "moral" decision to stay home really bothered me, too, despite the fact that I'm a SAHM. (Can you hear me screaming, "why can't we all get along?") I'm just REALLY tired of the whole I "chose" to stay home line. But you are right, the magazine does have some good points. I was hoping for something like a Working Mother magazine for SAH moms, so I was a bit disappointed when it didn't really measure up to my expectations.

MommyWithAttitude said...

Thanks Anjali - I've never read Working Mother (haven't been a working mother yet), so I didn't really have any kind of expectation when I picked up t180.

I don't get the impression that the editors are the Phyllis Shlafley/Dr. Laura/worship your husband/be a doormat types, so I tried to look past the excessive "rah rah you're so great for staying at home" and really look for the good and potential good in there.

Maybe you should submit a good article you'd like to see in there!

Jenn said...

Great review - looks like a magazine I'd probably enjoy - if I got a moments peace to actually sit down and read it. ;)
I've never seen it though, is it new? I may have to make a trip to my local Chapters (bookstore) to hunt it down. Hubby can babysit the boys for an evening without falling apart I think....
I really enjoy your blog - good job, and thanks for visiting mine. Can I add you as a link?

MommyWithAttitude said...

Hi Jenn! Thanks for coming over and I'd love it if you link to me.

Total180 is a "subscription-only" publication right now. You can visit to subscribe and (I think) order one copy to check out.

At-Home-Momish said...

Great review! I was so relieved to find some source, any source, that had a definition for CHO. And as a bonus, you really hit the nail on the head. I only somewhat like the magazine, possibly because I can't actually afford organic milk, just wish I could.