So, I was in a coffee shop last week.
Just as I picked up my little cup of heaven, the woman next to me looked pointedly at my obvious baby bump, glared at the coffee, and said, “That’s not for you, is it?”
Since I’m not a first-time mother, and thus way past second-guessing my maternal judgment, I just smiled sweetly at her and replied, “Yes, but only because the liquor store isn’t open yet.” She huffed at me and walked away.
Ordinarily, I’d have just forgotten the incident, but a little while later in the same shop, I overheard another woman talking to a friend. “Well, I’d better get home, as I have to clean Steven’s room,” she said. “I wish he’d take more care, but you know, boys will be boys. The girls are so much tidier.”
It’s very trendy to complain about the impossibly high standards “society” has for mothers these days. It’s also cool to rail against how our daughters are sexualized so early in life, and we love to complain about how overwhelmed and busy we are as women.
But it’s time to be honest and admit that in many cases (if Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin will forgive me), sisters are doing it to themselves. We’re as guilty as Don Draper in making women feel bad or perpetuating stereotypes.
Even if you want to dismiss my experiences above as anecdotal, have a look at any woman’s magazine on the shelf these days. You are certain to see an article about stress, exhaustion, or chronic fatigue. Look at that very same magazine, and you’ll probably find an article about: why you must consider co-sleeping (or risk your child’s well-being forever!), a plan for an 8 x 12 rug made of organic wool (you should raise the sheep yourself!), and (x number) of ways your sex life might be inferior (everyone else is having more fun than you!).
Yet it’s not men buying those magazines and thus supporting the messages and images they promote. It’s women. According to their media kits, for example, Cosmo readership is 84 percent female, and Glamour’s is 95 percent female. And many of these magazines are written and edited by women.
In terms of the standards set for being a mother, there’s a reason why the media has dubbed the various debates about breastfeeding, daycare, co-sleeping, and other issues “the mommy wars” (although I hate that phrase almost as much as I hate mompreneur). It’s mostly women arguing with other women about what method is best. Worse, we’re making judgments about each other’s character depending on what side of the debate we’re on.
As for our daughters being sexualized, the Google keyword tool suggests that in the US, there are more than 8,000 searches per month for the term “where to get baby’s ears pierced.” While the Google tool doesn’t break out who is doing the searching for that term, given that study after study suggests that women are the primary shoppers in the household, it’s unlikely to be men worrying about ear studs…or buying the midriff-baring halter tops, or the makeup, or even the pretend tiaras.
Think you’re immune? Figure you’ve never done anything to reinforce the messages I’ve discussed above? I hope that’s the case, but chances are you’ve done it without even thinking about it. For instance, the last time you talked with a little girl, did you talk with her about something she’d done, or how about she (or something she had) looked? When at work, have you ever put down your own performance or another woman’s actions to hormones? If so, then, we haven’t yet come very far.
We’ve internalized far more of this stuff than we realize. We like to remind ourselves that we make up roughly 50 percent of the population, but that means that, unless we’re far more conscious of our own words and actions, we’re also 50 percent of the problem.