Oh, just stop it
Being a sex-positive sort, I am drawn to people who write intelligently about sex. (Sometimes it’s me! This post remains a favourite.) Dan Savage? Love him. Read him every week, follow him on Facebook. Laura Kipnis? Intelligent and provocative. Mary Roach had me in stitches with “Bonk!” (Lest I appear too pure/intellectual on the subject to be credible, I read a fair amount of lower-brow writing on the subject, too. There is a discreet shelf in Mary’s library that under-teens don’t have access to.) More recently, I’ve been enjoying Marina Adshade, whose slant on the subject — sex and money/economics — interests me.
So when links to a recent article in the Globe and Mail appeared in my Twitter feed, I hopped over to check it out.
Hm. Another salvo in the mommy wars. Oh. I am not enthused with the mommy wars, but maybe she has something useful to say? The title was not promising, however. A bit early-adolescent edgy, no?
I went through the points. Some were absolutely valid. “Someone actually said that to you? With a straight face? Unapologetically? Outrageous!!” It never ceases to amaze me that people feel it is their right to make unsolicited negative assessments of someone else’s life choices to their face. Bizarre. Who asked you? Rude, rude, rude.
A couple of the other points, though, it seemed clear to me she was misinterpreting, or likely misinterpreting, the intent of the person making the comment. They read to me like completely innocuous comments she’d received badly. And on one of the comments, I disagreed entirely. “No, Ms. Adshade, that really is a negative consequence of your life choices; you just have to own it.”
Moreover, and regardless of the validity of her personal list of slights, I was aware that each and every SAHM could come up with an equally valid, equally convicting, equally meaningful list of slights received at the hands of mothers on the other side of the income divide. No group of women has the corner on insults received — or dished out.
And by the time I got to the end of the article, I was primarily struck by the sheer defensiveness of the thing. This isn’t a well-reasoned, intelligent article. This is just a short shit list, adding nothing of substance to the debate. It’s same-old, same-old griping, stuff I’ve heard and read a thousand times before. Poop. I was disappointed.
Maybe the complaints are entirely valid. Maybe the sting of those comments is intended. There are bitchy, judgmental people out there, who are only too thrilled to trip through life sprinkling rancor wherever they go.
Maybe they’re not valid. Maybe the comments are innocuous.
The “I don’t know how you do it!”, for example, that comment which so annoys Dr. Adshade? I get that comment, too. A lot. Sometimes it’s pretty clear that the speaker can’t imagine how because the “it” she perceives revolts her. Whining, bickering, snot and shit all the live-long day. Why would any woman with a brain in her head, with the education to have other options, want to do that?
However, most of the time, unlike Dr. Adshade, I’m quite confident the comment’s sincere. They admire what I do for a living, and genuinely don’t think they could do it. I often suspect the “it” that people imagine I’m doing doesn’t bear much resemblance to the “it” I’m actually doing, but I also believe that yes, I do a great job, and that few people could do it as well.
I’m confident that a certain percentage of the people who’ve said this to Dr. Adshade genuinely meant it as a compliment. There are only so many hours in a day, and if 8 or 9 or more hours of your day are filled with a career, how do you do it all? Maybe they’re impressed by her energy, her efficiency. Dr. Adshade’s point that, with the income you make in those hours, you can hire out a lot of domestic tasks is well taken … but was it necessary to turn that fact into a shot at the stay-at-home moms? With that shot, she becomes the woman she’s objecting to, except on the other side of the war.
If you’ve complained about this comment, the question is, why does it bother you? Could be be the sting is not because the comment is barbed, but that the sting is, rather, entirely a reflection of your own insecurities?
No choice is without its downside. Whichever choice you make — work from home, stay-at-home, work away from home, work full-time, work part-time, whatever arrangement you devise — has benefits and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses. I accept the downsides of my chosen career. I don’t deny them. I don’t pretend they’re not there. I don’t get angry when other people notice them. I accept them, because I think the benefits of my choices more than make up for any downsides. I own my choices, the pros and the cons.
Other people will see it differently. Other people will see the same set of variables and make different choices, because the variables carry different emotional and practical weights for them.
That’s fine. Their different choices don’t devalue mine. Not in my mind, anyway. If they want to believe that their different choice is superior to mine, or (worse) makes them a superior person/mother … well, okay. They can believe that. Doesn’t change how I view my choices. Or how I feel about my worth.
Generally, I believe, insults are unintended. “I was so surprised when I found out you do daycare!” said a new neighbour on our second meeting. “You look so …” She waved her hands up and down, indicating … what? My demeanor? My outfit? My radiantly intelligent face? I dunno. “You sound so well-educated and articulate!”
Yes, well. I am. I am also very happy with my chosen occupation. So the fact that she assumed only slovenly half-wits do it is … hugely offensive to me! How dare you demean me so! I am Outraged!!!
No, I’m not.
And I get that a lot. It’s not an occasional thing. It’s undeniable that there are some half-wits doing this job. I’ve met them. I have no idea who leaves their children with these women. Other half-wits, I suppose. It doesn’t matter. I’m not one of them.
What did I do about that comment? I laughed. I laughed that she honestly thought she’d given me a compliment. She genuinely meant well. I laughed that she could be so obtusely tactless, drop such a bomb into a conversation and have no idea she’d done so. And then, apart from a funny story to tell family and other caregivers, I forgot about it. It’s not a barb under my skin, constantly abrading.
But what if the sting is intentional? My working assumption, when someone is being deliberately insulting, is that that person’s insistence on making you feel bad about your choice suggests a level of uncertainty/ambivalence about their own choice. They can’t believe that their choice is a sound one without believing yours is inferior. Foolish, true, but human nature. At least, an insecure human’s nature.
The point is, I like what I do, I’m excellent at it, it makes good use of my skills, talents, and training, and I think it has value. That’s it.
Who cares? Who cares what my new neighbour thinks of my occupation? Who cares what that random woman at the bus stop things of your life choices? Or the other mother at violin lessons, or the swimming pool, or the soccer field?
Why do you care?
I am weary of thin-skinned women, on both sides of the income divide, who insist that everyone else admire and respect them at all times. Who see slights where there are none, who toss insults back when insults are perceived, and the whole thing just goes on and on and on. Endlessly.
Are you really such a precious snowflake that everyone else on the planet has to agree with your choices? They could — and yes, should — have the common courtesy to keep their critical opinions to themselves. But even if they won’t … so what? That only makes them rude, and even more deserving of being ignored.
If you’re happy with your choices, then someone else’s opinion/judgement on it, real or imagined, is irrelevant and will not sting.
If we all just let it go, stopped fretting about other people’s opinions, and got on with enjoying our lives, appreciating our own choices in all their good-and-badness, the mommy wars would die a quiet, and very welcome, death.