Does Madlyn Primoff Deserve Her Place in Pop Culture?

Before everyone panicked over the swine flu, it seemed that the world was freaking out over Valley resident Madlyn Primoff...



Before everyone panicked over the swine flu, it seemed that the world was freaking out over Valley resident Madlyn Primoff. As you’ve no doubt read all over the Internet, Primoff is the Westchester parent who kicked her 12-year-old and her 10-year-old out of her car, eventually leaving the 10-year-old alone on the streets of White Plains before driving home to Scarsdale.

Now, everyone agrees that Primoff was wrong to abandon her kid. But, really, how wrong was she? When the story broke, half the world jumped on the Primoff-bashing bandwagon, and her name was right up there with Joan Crawford’s in the Scary Moms in Pop Culture Hall of Fame. But then others spoke up and said that Primoff’s vilification was sexist, classist, and blown out of proportion. Here’s a sampling of some of her defenders:

Cheryl Kessner, a social worker who raised five children, said Ms. Primoff made a mistake, but the girls were left, for however long, in a safe commercial district, not a dangerous neighborhood. She said the reaction was as much about the overly anxious, safety-obsessed standards of suburbia as Ms. Primoff’s flawed judgment. Not long ago, this might have led to a totally mortifying article in The Scarsdale Inquirer. Now, thanks to the correct coding (Scarsdale, Park Avenue, Columbia Law School), it hits the online jackpot. If she had been a clerk who left her kids at a Costco in Fargo, N.D., what happened in Fargo would have stayed in Fargo. Instead, everyone was weighing in.”
The New York Times who says Primoff is “sort of a Susan Boyle in reverse.”
 

While Primoff’s actions were obviously reckless, this story has sparked one of America's favorite — and most judgmental — conversations about ‘Bad Mommies.’ I don't support abandoning children on the side of the road, but I do know from personal experience and from those who ’fess up on my Web site, truuMOMconfessions.com, that the whole notion of ‘Bad Mommies’ is a fragile social construction. We receive posts every day that repeatedly prove to me that the intense and unrealistic pressure on mothers to constantly juggle work and family obligations has led to not-so-shocking outbursts from otherwise sane women. While most of our site’s users have committed what we like to call ‘Mommy Misdemeanors,’ I’m sure that if Primoff were to have vented about this considerably more serious incident on truuMOM, she’d have received more than a few ‘me too’ clicks of support from the community.”
HuffingtonPost.com

Perhaps most egregiously, AOL chose to include Primoff’s picture in a photo slideshow of abusive parents, including Shana Brown, who drugged her thirteen-year-old daughter so Brown's boyfriend could impregnate her. Does the Internet just flatten everything out, so that a parenting misstep gets the same outrage as child rape? Or is Primoff coming in for worse criticism because of her high-powered career?”
Jezebel.com

Moms as far afield as Australia are tut-tutting over the Park Avenue lawyer who left her 10-year-old daughter behind on a White Plains sidewalk as punishment for misbehaving with her 12-year-old sister. Details are still scant on what exactly sent Madlyn Primoff into such a rage, but you can bet she had no idea she’d become, overnight, an instantly-recognizable symbol for bad parenting. The Post has been all over her — nicknaming her the ‘Mother Chucker’ and photographing her outside her office — and warped right-wing columnist Andrea Peyser, mother of a ten-year-old girl herself, naturally admits ‘to harboring some secret admiration for Madlyn, The Mother Who Means It.’ ”
Gothamist.com

It strikes me that the problem is less the fact of a 10-year-old and 12-year-old alone in a neighboring town, and more that it was a sudden, angry punishment. The writer Lenore Skenazy gained notoriety last year when she wrote about allowing her 9-year-old son to take the subway and bus alone in New York, and she’s now written a book, ‘Free-Range Kids,’ advocating the practice for kids mature enough to handle it. But that’s a considered decision that the child is in on, not a lashing out by a furious parent.”
The Wall Street Journal

So, what do you think? Were Primoff’s actions an unforgivable crime, or can you sympathize?

 

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Marisa LaScala

Marisa LaScala
Elmsford, NY


Associate Editor Marisa LaScala joined Westchester magazine in 2003, and ever since she's blown every paycheck at the Greenburgh Multiplex. She also staunchly defends Richard Kelly, doesn't mind spoiling the endings of trashy movies you're curious about but don't want to pay to see, wishes the Hold Steady would come back and rock out Westchester, misses Arrested Development more than anyone can imagine, and still watches cartoons and Saturday Night Live. You can find more of her cultural criticism at www.popmatters.com, where she is a staff writer.

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