Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Make mommy love, not war

Yes I am a mommy.

But I am not now, nor have I ever been, at war.

In fact, I’m not convinced that the much-ballyhooed Mommy Wars – which pit working moms against those who stay at home - even exist outside the pages of books, media and the minds of people I fear are secretly thrilled, titillated even, at the notion of women at each other’s throats.

So it was with great sadness that I read this post over at Girl’s Gone Child in which Rebecca Woolf - a writer I adore - says that becoming a mother has magnified her distrust of women ten-fold. The post doesn’t talk directly about the so-called Mommy Wars, but rather about their root cause; what she perceives to be the viscious tendency of women – particularly women in groups – to turn on and tear down other women.

Again, I am not now, nor have I ever been, at war with other women.

And even though I do not for one second doubt Rebecca’s sincerity, it just makes me sad and weary to hear perpetuated the stereotype that women are, at their core, jealous, manipulative, catty creatures who are all too eager to judge and betray each other.

That simply has not been my experience, especially not since I have become a mother.

Have I encountered bitchy women? Of course I have. Sometimes in the mirror. I have also encountered men who are sexist jerks, children who are precocious brats and old people who are cantankerous curmudgeons.

We have all at one time or another encountered every stereotype in existence, but does it not behoove us to resist the urge to let age-old stereotypes shape our views of specific groups of people?

I belong to a mom’s group that pretty much saved my sanity in the early days after Graham’s birth. And I am ashamed to say that I nearly blew off these women, these incredible women, because I was afraid of a stereotype that, quite frankly, has never even been personally demonstrated to me outside the halls of high school.

The women in this group include working, stay-at-home and work-from-home mothers and there has never been a hint of dissension among us based on our personal choices.

And it’s not just within my mom’s group that I have encountered strong, supportive and remarkable women.

I work in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field for a female boss who is whip-smart and widely respected. She has been a friend and a mentor and she has never failed to credit me for my small role in her success.

I have a mother-in-law who survived Nazi occupation, a mother who worked full-time and still went to the ends of the earth for her children and a dynamic, diverse gaggle of female cousins.

I have a large group of funny, brilliant, quirky female friends, some working, some not, some mothers, some not, who have always been there for me in good and bad times.

Every day on this blog and dozens of others I read positive, supportive comments from women who trip over themselves to relate similar experiences or at least politely empathize when they don’t agree with what has been written.

In the two years since Graham’s birth I have been the recipient of hundreds of shared smiles and knowing looks from women struggling with their own children. Discovering this sense of camaraderie has been a pleasant and unexpected side effect to motherhood.

I know I am fortunate to have so much female support in my life. Possibly I’ve been far more fortunate than most people. Perhaps your experiences have been different… darker.

But I will continue to feel that the best way to build a female support system is for women to take chances on each other and not let misogynistic stereotypes keep them apart.

Because becoming a mother has magnified my admiration of women ten-fold. It has demonstrated just how hard it is to be a woman: to balance work and family and self, all the while worrying that if you voice your needs or opinions too loudly, you’ll be labeled a bitch and become an unwitting conscript in the Mommy Wars.

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Kayris said...

I've written about the Mommy Wars before, most recently here: http://greatwallsofbaltimore.blogspot.com/2007/08/mommy-wars-do-they-really-exist.html.

While I think they do exist, to some extent, I've never really met a mom like that. Most of my friends and acquaintances who are moms are extremely supportive and friendly.

I think it boils down to mostly being an issue online. It's easier to judge someone you don't know and it's easier to say cruel things when you don't have to worry about seeing that person at the grocery store. I'm amazed at some of the close minded and judgemental comments that people leave at large sites like Babble. Thankfully, I've never run across people like that in real life.

Family Adventure said...

I'm not familiar with the term "mommy wars"...so excuse me if this is misplaced...but I just wanted to applaud you for sticking up for women -- we seem to always be so quick to judge ourselves -- and each other. We need more voices focusing on our strengths. Like yours!

Thank you! Heidi

Beck said...

I've run into the occasional woman who decided that my being an at-home mom was an issue, but they're pretty rare - for the most part, everyone is just too TIRED to have an opinion one way or another.
(and you can get VERY tasty speculass from President's Choice!)


Great post. And I appreciate your commentary on mine. I too am surrounded by amazing women: individual woman. But my experience with women in groups has been very different than yours. I think a lot has to do with age and geography. I have always been treated like a child and in mom's groups it's become so out of hand I don't even want to deal with it anymore. I also live in Los Angeles, a very competitive town full of very competitive women. That makes it very lonely. I feel unable to talk about any kind of success with anyone at the risk of getting the "oh, well good for you" remark. Surrounding myself with women who make me feel guilty for any success and/or childish because of my age are not people I want to be around so I've sort of given up. I have my two or three mother friends and that's all I need.

What's so funny is that I was shocked by your comment and so many like it-- I was the anomaly? "No way," I thought. I can't even imagine having such positive experiences with women. Makes me feel like there HAS been something wrong with me, something women have consistently not liked about me since forever. Or that maybe my confidence on the outside has been masking my insecurity all these years.

GoMommy said...

I have been a "working" mom and a stay-at-home mom(working, without the monetary compensation)-and I have heard about the "Mommy Wars". I have only worked and played with supportive women. That's not to say catty women don't exist...I just choose to disassociate- although they can provide some good writing material!

Shauna said...

I haven't heard of Mommy Wars and the concept dismays me. I'm with you. Becoming a Mom has sparked admiration, camaraderie and friendship in my life. I even find myself chatting with other Moms in waiting rooms and stuff which I NEVER would have done before.

But, that said, I've stayed away from Mommy groups. Maybe to my own detriment but it's just not a concept I'm at home with. I guess I'm a bit of a loner.

Tania said...

Mommy groups have been hit and miss for me. I found some of them very cliquey, and others not so much. I've never actually felt at war though.

Secret Agent Mama said...

What a beautiful, spot on, well written post! :D

Lainey-Paney said...

I don't have time for Mommy Wars.

But....I have to say, that I once tried to join a mom's group, and I was actually dismissed b/c I was not a SAHM.

Well, I stay @ home 4 days a week, and work 3 days a week.
In the end---their loss. My child & I are pretty fabulous, and they can.... well, they can do whatever they please.

But seriously---I'm too busy for the Mommy Wars, but I do believe it exists. If you haven't ever actually been on the receiving end of being shunned for working, then count yourself lucky.

Karen MEG said...

It also irks me every time I read or hear about another slew of "mommy war" books/ editorials etc.... why can't women just get along? I'm sure the majority do, as others have pointed out, who has the time to judge other women, critique their choices, when they don't live in their situation and have limited time to even think about their own! I think it's a conspiracy to sell more psycho-babble books.
That being said, having started a bit of work from home, and seeing the reaction from my parents as in "hurray, you'll improve your station in your marriage!", it's no wonder women feel so much pressure about their choices. Often self-induced.
Loved this post, DM Diva!

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

I am so glad you wrote this post! I have not encountered the 'mommy wars' personally. I do know a few women who are militant about every aspect of their lives, staying at home, breastfeeding into preschool years and beyond, attachment parenting to the extreme and have observed some of them exhibit inflexibility towards others who do not agree with their lifestyle. But not to the point of telling others that they should have the same values.
And as a young, SAHM I had often felt that other women (who actually finished university, had successful careers and waited to have kids) looked down upon me for having a child at 19 (and then 3 more), not finishing my education, not having a career (even if I did ocassionaly work outside my hom). But honestly, it was just my own insecurities that I felt. Whenever I have made an effort to befriend any other Mom I have recieved nothing less than love and understanding and sistership. I sure hope that I offer that to them as well.

Shauna said...

Also, there are those of us that would dearly love to be SAHM's but cannot afford it. If there really is a set of SAHMs that look down on working Moms they should be thankful that they can afford what is in actuality a luxury. Sure there are those Moms that choose to work. I get that and am completely oka with it. But personally I will be going back to work because I have no other choice. If someone was to dare judge me for it, I would have to give them a piece of my mind.

Okay. I'm done now. :)

S said...

I think it crops up precisely BECAUSE women are fundamentally so empathetic and intuitive and caring. So that when a woman is none of those things, it is that much more glaring by contrast.

Andrea said...

Bravo! In real life, I haven't much encountered the mommy wars. Maybe because I'm a full time mommy? but online, I've dealt with, not personally, but have seen it. Although I'll have to say, I met a great group of friends online, whom I love dearly. Some of us work, some do not, and it's never been issue. When frustrations of being at home with a child come up, we all emphatize. Or when us working mommas get a twinge of self pity for not being a SAHM, we are there for each other and support eachother. Never cattiness.
Thanks for visiting my blog! Your is fantastic!

Andrea said...

I meant to say work full time.. :D

Don Mills Diva said...

Wow - thanks everyone for such wonderful, insightful comments. You have all given me lots to think about.

Rebecca - thank you for being so gracious. I think perhaps age and geography do play a part in your experience. I know that I might have felt more inclined to agree with some of what you said when I was in my 20s. As I have gotten into my 30s most of the women I know are pretty confident and tolerant of others' choices. And Ihave spent some time in LA - TOUGH TOWN.

As I wrote you, the one thing I'm sure of is that you are not inherently unlikeable - your legions of female fans attest to that.

Bea said...

This is bang on. I too have loved that unexpected side benefit of motherhood - suddenly having something to talk about with almost any woman I meet.