Interviews May 2006

A Woman's Place?

Caitlin Flanagan, America's feistiest stay-at-home mom, shares her thoughts on gerbils, gay marriage, and Robert Graves

I think one reason modern women continue to read your writing is that you tend to be very naughty. You may have traditional notions about family life, but you’re not a prude. Do you ever worry that your sons are going to read some of your spicier essays?

If you notice in the back of the book in the acknowledgements, it says, “Patrick and Conor: I don’t know why the publisher didn’t call it ‘To Heck with All That,’ like we decided.” I don’t use language like that around my children. Fortunately, I don’t think these essays about domestic life will be of any interest to my sons until they are so grown that they will find my occasional naughty language kind of cute.

But I would never fear their reading my book, because what they will find there is how much I love them and how much I love their father.

I did read somewhere, though, that you’re planning to expand your recent Atlantic piece on oral sex into an entire book called On Their Knees. Is that the case?

That is the title of my next book, but it’s going to be about teenage girls and how we have sold them out. Only one chapter will be about oral sex.

I wanted to ask you about your appearance a few weeks ago on Comedy Central’s fake news commentary show The Colbert Report. Steven Colbert is famous for his shtick of pretending to be a dyed-in-the-wool Republican while actually ridiculing conservativism. Somehow, though, you managed to play along with his game and even one-up him. Did you decide beforehand how you were going to approach that particular interview?

The Colbert Report is a serious piece of television journalism, and all of the information and opinions expressed on the Report are to be taken at face value. Steven is well aware that there is a lunatic fringe who believe the Report is a “goof” or a “gas,” the same kind of America-haters who were firing up doobies when he and I were studying presidential history. When Steven and I discussed my book on-air, we were talking journalist to journalist, American guy to American gal.

Your mother seems to be the heroine of this book; her personality comes through even in the essays that aren’t explicitly about her. You began your magazine writing career around the time she died. Do you think your writing might have been different if your mother had still been alive throughout this time?

When I came home the day after my mother’s death, there was an envelope waiting from The Atlantic. Inside were copies of the very first issue where one of my articles appeared. I never told my mother I’d written it. I was waiting to bring it to her. The only real difference is that if my mother were alive, The Atlantic would have the largest circulation of any magazine in history.

Presented by

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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