Thinking Aloud: Women-on-Women Action

Subtitle: Don’t Say Mommy Wars

I listened to a podcast today talking about the dust up between Mrs. Mitt Romney and Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen regarding the (taken out of context) comment Rosen made about Romney not having worked a day in her life.

And they kept using the media spin phrase “mommy wars”.

I hate that phrase. It’s so condescending and reductionist. As if women who are parents who make decisions for their families are merely “mommies”.

I have worked at home as a mom, I have been a stay-at-home mom, and now I work outside the home. (And inside the home.)

Women — for the purposes of this half of today’s post, women who are mothers — make decisions, sometimes very difficult decisions, about what is best for them, their families, their children, their marriages (or like relationships). Men usually participate in this decision making.

Women also judge other women — wrongly, I might add, but it happens. It’s a reflex, I think sometimes we do it without even thinking about it. Speaking for myself, when I find myself judging another woman, whether on her looks or about a decision that she is making (a decision that probably has nothing to do with me), I bite that internal tongue and try to get back to my own business.

In my opinion, after having read further what Rosen said and reading some stories, listening to some news about it, I really don’t think Rosen was going after stay-at-home moms. Some commentators and most of the media in general went after her for that, for re-igniting the “mommy wars”.

No. I think Rosen was (rightly) pointing out that Mitt Romney says he listens to his wife about issues that women are concerned about, and Mrs. Romney, who has raised five children, all boys, probably isn’t the best source to turn to for what women are actually worried about when it comes to the economy. Especially given the Romneys’ tax bracket.

Did Rosen phrase her misgivings disdainfully and clumsily? She sure did.

But I think she’s got a point.

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However, Mom-101 really says it so much better than I could.

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In other news about women and the damage they do to each other, Ashley Judd lashed out about public speculation because she dared to show up outside of her home looking less than perfect. One commentary likened her reaction to taking a stand on Mean Girls, but I don’t think that’s it.

To quote from a commentator on that Slate post: “People obviously have been taught that the female body is open to public scrutiny and public discourse.” When did this start? When did it become acceptable? And I don’t mean for the Ashley Judds and other celebrities of the world. While I respect Judd for speaking out about “body snarking” (another dumb media phrase), she’s put herself in the public eye and to a certain extent she makes a living off of the way she looks.

We need to find a new language to talk about girls and women. We need to stop talking about how “pretty” girls are and ask them what book they are reading or what their favorite subject in school is (and not be surprised if their answer is science or math). Yes, Judd has chosen to pursue a career where her appearance is under scutiny, and, yeah, that sucks when she is criticized for looking “puffy”. But it’s ridiculous that the body judgement is extended to smart, famous, and/or powerful women (for example, Hillary Clinton) and other women in the public eye who are NOT basing a career on their looks, and utterly destructive when it trickles down to women and girls who are living their lives completely outside of the public eye. It’s dumb that a size 8 is “fat”.

I really, passionately, 100% believe what I am writing here. Reducing women who are parents to “mommy”, and girls and women to their looks is destructive. We need to change the dialogue, make it less about us and them, and more about how everyone is a person, an individual, and deserves respect. You don’t have to go around agreeing with everyone. But civility will go a long way, and emphasizing just about anything over how a person looks and/or whether she decides to work outside of the home will move women forward in this country.

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8 thoughts on “Thinking Aloud: Women-on-Women Action

  1. I would say the vast majority of working parents are working for reasons that are pretty darn good (and probably 99 percent of working parents are working for reasons that are good for them). Given her wealth, Mrs. Romney may not understand what a lot of women (parents or not) are going through. But to be fair, I think that most of us don’t get what everyone else is experiencing either. As someone who works only sporadically, I have to tell people no a lot because I can no longer afford regular happy hour, concert tickets, putting my kid in dance class, etc.. And just as some of those people don’t “get it,” I have been known to criticize people who have a nice income and take several vacations a year and send their kids to multiple, costly activities. Most of us can be judgmental, even though what others do is really none of our business.

    As for looks mattering, I think it goes beyond how pretty or thin a woman is. I cannot tell you how many times a female coworker, acquaintance, or friend has asked me why I don’t do something with my hair (which I style only some days), get clothes to fit me better (I generally prefer things that are loose), or buy a new coat because I have been wearing that same one for eight years (my PSU coat works just fine). If I am clean and smell okay (and, more importantly, try to be a decent person), shouldn’t that be enough? To be fair, maybe women say these things to me since I tend to be open and outspoken. But I can tell you a man has never said anything like that to me. Why can’t we all just get along?!

    • Facie, these are all excellent points. Thank you. I especially agree with the “decent person” part. Isn’t it interesting that we tell our children (probably especially daughters) that it matters what’s on the inside? And then in the media, it’s all about looks — maybe at home, too, or in school. I am curious how to turn that around. If we can.

  2. For the first point, I do find myself being more judgmental since becoming a mother. (I’m usually restrained enough to keep my thoughts to myself though.) My theory about why mothers tend to lash out against each other is insecurity. We (and our partners) are under a lot of pressure to give our children the best lives we can. By criticizing someone who is doing things differently is our way of telling ourselves that what we are doing is the right thing. Of course, the truth is that different choices will be best for different families, and we should all try to support each other. It can be hard though. I mean, some moms let their kids have juice, and it’s not even organic! (joke)

    For the second point, I’ve said it before, but try to see Miss Representation. I think it’s on iTunes now.

    • I think it’s human to have judgements/opinions. It’s how we express them, or WHY. And I agree that for mothers judging other mothers, it’s all about insecurity. I have nothing much to add to that. I wish we could stop!

      I will look into that film. Thank you for reminding me (again!). :)

  3. YES. To all of this. Generic? Yes. Sorry. But I mean, what more can be said?

    I just love how they think that any of the first ladies can ever relate to the ‘every woman’ man are they wrong.

    • Several first ladies did work outside the home, especially lately (Lauren Bush, Michelle Obama — who was earning 6 figures before she married Barry — Hillary Clinton). But you have to have money to run for office in this country. The lot of them are out of touch, men and women in politics.

  4. I hate hearing the phrase mommy wars too, as if women already don’t have the stereotype of being catty and fighting among ourselves. Sigh.

    I’ve been more conscious of how I view moms. Sadly when I heard about Alicia Silverstone feeding her kid like a bird, I commented on a blog about how I didn’t click on the video because I was afraid it would gross me out. Even after I wrote it, I realized I shouldn’t have. What is it to me that she feeds her kid that way? How does that affect my life? And I’m sure there are things I do that she and others like her would find strange as well.

    Mothers need to support mothers, even if what they’re doing isn’t exactly how we do things. I should support someone who formula fed her infant as being a good mom even though I breastfed mine, and hopefully she will do the same for me. The more we do this, the more we can stop this madness of moms being against moms.

    • Well said, Sleeping Mom. I think as long as the children are healthy, happy, and growing, then we can’t condemn other women for choosing differently than we do. We don’t know others’ stories — there are so many reasons women, and parents in general, choose the paths they do. The upshot is MYOB, really.

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