Hate is a bad word in my house. A few days ago in a fit of temper I said, "I hate my crutches" and my son looked at me, all seriousness, and said, "Mommy, that is not a nice word". But I am going to go ahead and use it here. In a society where personal achievement is considered paramount, our culture hates successful women.
There are more example of this phenomenon than I can list. One of the most compelling is the Heidi/Howard study, in which a two professors wrote up a case study about real-life entrepreneur Heidi Roizen, describing her success as a venture capitalist by relying on her outgoing personality and huge personal and professional network. The case study was described to a group of subjects. They were then asked to rate Heidi on likability, competence, etc. The exact same description was given to a second group of subjects, with one change. The name was changed to Howard- she was male. Using the same rating system, the subjects perceived Heidi as selfish, not likable, and unfeminine, while gave Howard high marks across the board. Clearly, if a woman achieves a certain level of success in her career, she is breaking the cultural rule of self-promotion, and therefore we don't like her anymore.
The latest iteration of this is Maria Kang's controversial photo, in which she shows off her fit physique with her three sons, and asks "What's Your Excuse"? Her intentions in posting this picture to her blog and Facebook page were to encourage others to break through their hesitations and work towards personal health. Instead, this woman has endured a backlash of hatred from a group that should be supporting her achievements. Other women. They call her a bad mother, a bully, that she is "fat-shaming". That she is lucky genetically or must have a coach and be paid thousands of dollars to look that way. When in actuality, she works full time as the breadwinner to support her family and injured Vet husband. But she broke The Code, which says that a woman, especially a mother, should not flaunt their successes. Her level of physical fitness as a mother of three young children is an accomplishment. There is no way that it comes easy. Nothing worthwhile does. Blogger Matt Walsh does a fabulous job of addressing the public hate reaction to the photograph. I will not reiterate everything he says, other than to say that you cannot take someone else achievements away from them by hating. When you judge someone, that judgment is not about them - it is a mirror of your own insecurities.
Women and mothers have a tough road to walk. The feminist assertions that we can "have it all" have been largely debunked. We are offered an endless series of choices, compromises, and decisions about our life paths, and each one comes with its own cultural negative judgment. Get married young? Wasting your youth. Don't get married until your mid thirties? Spinster. Pursue your career? Un-natural ambition. Stay at home to raise your children? Waste of a college education. Keep working? Bad mother letting someone else raise your kids. Make time for physical fitness or a hobby you enjoy? You must be neglecting your children. Tina Fey, in her autobiography "Bossypants" says that the most insulting question you can ask a woman is "How do you do it all?", because the implication is always that you must be neglecting something. I 100% agree, and I get asked this question a lot. Most of the time I manage to quip, "Oh you know, I just don't sleep" (which isn't true, but is a satisfactory answer). When I'm feeling more touchy, I say "I'm a bad employee" or "I neglect my children". Because that's what the asker really meant in the first place. Mature? No, but we don't always have to be.
Motherhood is challenging. No doubt. My house isn't always clean, my kids aren't always wearing matching socks, and I don't always feel rested. Ok, just about never. However, as true as it is that woman can't "have it all", it is equally true that they can have fulfilling, successful lives that they should be proud of. In her widely controversial book Lean In, Facebook CFO Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to lean into their careers and speak up on issues of women's rights, in order to enact overall positive change for women, both working and nonworking. One of the most poignant portions of her book is when she points out that there are almost no positive portrayals of working women in popular media. Working moms are almost always portrayed as frazzled, unhappy, and generally slipping away from their dreams. True? Maybe. The bigger issue though is that with no role models to the contrary, the implicit cultural acceptance is that this is how it should be.
Postcards like this one, while funny, are a subtle jab against those that do make their own crafts and reindeer treats. Or any other fulfilling activity that falls outside the stereotype of the frazzled exhausted mom. We all feel like this on some days. I'm not condemning those that post these at all, but how about some postcards thrown up on our Facebook pages about the GOOD stuff, too? Much harder to find....
Last night I was watching Grey's Anatomy (go ahead and judge if you must - there's that word again!). In last night's episode, new mom Meredith Grey returns to work full time, only to miss an important surgery because her daughter fell in daycare and needed stitches. Something I can relate to given recent events around here. Her best friend Cristina Yang then tells her in a very well written speech that, while they started out walking down the same path, Meredith has made the choice to become a mother along the way, has stepped back from her career, and is therefore no longer as a good a surgeon as Cristina. Cristina's character has actively chosen her career over parenthood many times, and is subsequently still the top of her game.
|Were my choices the right ones?|
I have mixed feelings about this plotline for Meredith. Katrina Alcorn, who wrote the counterpoint of Lean In, "Maxed Out - American Moms on the Brink" and www.workingmomsbreak.com, would probably say that this is a truthful, realistic portrayal of the character's life. Alcorn encourages mothers to "push back" in their careers and lives, and to reject the cultural pressures of perfection that are placed on motherhood. However, where realistically more young women are watching Grey's than the evening news, it would have been nice to show Meredith continuing to succeed instead of taking a fall. Instead, the writers chose to reinforce the idea that mothers have to give up their dreams in order to be good parents.
In summary, I'd ask mothers to do two things. First, ditch the hating. Every mother parents differently, lives differently, and has a different set of challenges than you do. So stop the judging, the gossip, and the constant measuring of how you perceive someone else's life against your own. It's time mothers celebrated each others accomplishments and their own, instead of tearing each other down for them. And for the love, please stop asking people, "How do you do it all?"
Second, be the best role model you can for your children. Boys and girls. Pursue that which makes you happy, whatever it is. Let them see you as a happy, fulfilled, complete and multi-faceted person, rather than "just a mom" (a horrible phrase that should be removed from our vocabulary). Make the time for yourself to do the things you love. Take care of your body. Take care of your spirit. If you work, know that you are setting an example to your children on how to be self sufficient. If you stay home, know you are teaching self sacrifice and nurturing to your children. Be proud of what you do, whatever it is. Be the woman that you hope your daughter will grow up to be, or that your son might want to marry. Your life did not end when you pushed out those bundles of joy - it became deeper, more complex, but no less meaningful. You did not become less worthy of success in whatever form that takes for you. So celebrate yourself and go out and encourage others to do the same. Changing society's perception of successful mothers starts from the ground up - from mothers themselves.