Tag Archives: maternity

Women: it’s time to stop judging one another

January is a time of new beginnings, self-improvement and the recalibration of goals, but it is also a time of contemplation of the year that’s passed and the events, actions and achievements that defined it. With the habitual rush to set New Year’s resolutions for our bodies and minds, we assess the areas most in need of improvement. One of the things I’ve been considering during this annual debrief is my propensity to apologise incessantly – even when I’m not to blame – and my inability to say no. At what point did I become so hell-bent on people pleasing? I’d love to say that my only resolution was a minor adjustment to my vocabulary, but these flaws are but a few of the ever-burgeoning list that I mentally keep all year round. You may well be thinking I have a bad case of low self esteem, or perhaps a spot of anxiety. The diagnosis is far simpler, however: I am a woman.

I feel a suffocating pressure to perform at 110% in every aspect of my life, and a debilitating guilt if I do not succeed. I am not alone in this. As women, this constant need to succeed and to please is indelibly engraved onto our collective consciousness. On any given day, my thoughts flit from admonishing myself for falling short in maintaining my weight and wellbeing, to telling myself to work harder, to balance my life, to be on trend, to be BETTER. But, is that really realistic? And, when will we ever be satisfied with our own achievements?

Girls star, Zosia Mamet hit the nail right on the head in her column for GLAMOUR in May 2014:

As women we have internalized the idea that every morning we wake up, we have to go for the f–king gold. You can’t just jog; you have to run a triathlon. Having a cup of coffee, reading the paper, and heading to work isn’t enough–that’s settling, that’s giving in, that’s letting them win. You have to wake up, have a cup of coffee, conquer France, bake a perfect cake, take a boxing class, and figure out how you are going to get that corner office or become district supervisor, while also looking damn sexy–but not too sexy, because cleavage is degrading–all before lunchtime.

We live by a universal standard of success; we are fed rigid ideas that dictate the “norm” – whatever that means. We live not by standards we set for ourselves, but instead trammel a path carved by others. The existence of powerful female role models – a positive and empowering by-product of feminism – fuels the notion of a one-track road to female success. We see only one way to be a woman, blind to the kaleidoscope of shades of womanhood and myriad nuances of success. We judge ourselves unfavourably against these role models, and we compare ourselves to other women.

Feminism was meant to empower us as women, to build us up for fighting on male-dominated battlefields. It did that, but it did some other things as well. It gave us female role models like Hillary and Oprah and Beyoncé and in the process implied that mogul-hood should be every woman’s goal. We kept the old male ideas of success: power and money. We need new ones!

It doesn’t end there, unfortunately. Women are not just unkind to themselves in this quest for perfection; they can also be extremely unkind to other women. This unkindness comes in many guises; in passive aggression; in bitching; in judgement; and in straight-up nastiness. The only consequence of these actions – aside from the ephemeral illusion of superiority – is the addition of even more pressure on women, and on ourselves. Amy Poehler, in her book Yes Please, aptly named this type of behaviour “woman-on-woman violence”. It begins in adolescence with bodies and beauty, and continues well into pregnancy, then motherhood, and beyond. If it’s not women telling pregnant women that they’re doing it all wrong, then it’s the subject of working mothers versus stay-at-home mothers. Breast-feeding, birth plans, parenting methods, nannies; the list of “supposed tos” for mothers is never-ending. Poehler speaks of her experience of being guilt-tripped as a working mother:

The “I don’t know how you do it” statement used to get my blood boiling. When I heard those words I didn’t hear “I don’t know HOW you do it.” I just heard “I don’t know how you COULD do it.” I would be feeling overworked and guilty and overwhelmed and suddenly I would be struck on the head by what felt like someone else’s bulls–t. It was an emotional drive-by. A random act of woman-on-woman violence.

As an advocate of the rights of women, I am saddened by the knowledge that the nastiest comments I’ve ever received have been from other women. Whether it’s our sartorial choices, our appearance, our sex life, our weight, our choice of partner (or lack thereof), or even whether we identify as a feminist; every aspect of a woman’s life is fair game is this intra-gender battle. Here’s the thing, though: other women aren’t the enemy. Whether you are a teenage girl, a mother, or just a woman trying to live her best life, these unsolicited judgements and comments do untold damage to a woman’s sense of self.

Women’s comments often focus on the physical traits that are most likely to attract men. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her seminal Ted talk, talks about the misdirected competition that exists between women: “We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.” By indulging in this behaviour, we buy into an outdated model of objectification where a woman’s ultimate goal is to attract a mate. We need to realise that the moment we make a pejorative comment about a woman’s life decisions, or her appearance, we invite that same level of judgement on ourselves.

Imagine a world where women unite instead of divide, where barbed comments are replaced with words of support, where we listen without judging and talk without prescribing. Surely if we were all in this together, we would all feel less alone. Reflect on the goals you want to achieve and refuse to let anyone else define your ambitions. Celebrate the victories of our fellow females, and admire the strength of the women in our lives.

It’s time to end woman-on-woman violence. In short, be kind to yourself, and to others.

What They Expect When You’re Expecting

So when I first found out I was pregnant, or rather when I first decided to stay pregnant, I went through what I would call the normal stages. The ‘Jesus Christ!’ stage, the ‘WHAT DO WE DO?!?!’ stage, and the ‘Okay, really, what do we do?’ stage. Foolishly, I was under the impression that the ‘we’ here in question, was my boyfriend and I. As it turned out, there was a third parent that I was leaving out and being pregnant means you’re required to listen to the opinion of every other woman who has ever had a baby, seen a baby, or heard of babies.

To clarify, in this little rant, I am mostly talking about other women, a group that I’m not used to criticising much. There seems to be an embarrassing element to ‘baby stuff’ for men, and they are far less likely to comment on it, lest they trap themselves in some sort of lady bits conversation or accidentally unleash the wrath of a hormonal preggo, enraged by his audacity to presume to know more about the beauty of baby-forming. Far too many women, however, don’t have the same social graces, and have no qualms about telling you exactly what kind of mother you need to be, how you’re doing pregnancy wrong, how your ideas on parenting are wrong and how you’re generally a fat failure who should be lynched for drinking a cup of coffee. It doesn’t matter how rude they sound: I’m young and this is my first baby, so they’re right and I’m an idiot

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I could never be described as the maternal type. I’m also clumsy, untidy and generally not very good at anything. I’ve come to regard these characteristics as fun little quirks that only mildly bother those around me. I can’t change these traits in the slightest, and to do so would be to change myself entirely. The thing is, you’re not allowed to be clumsy or scatter-brained when you’re going to be a mother, and you’re certainly supposed to enjoy the company of children. My plea that I could just love my child and continue silently hating everyone else’s doesn’t seem to fly.

To a lot of women I’m going to be a bad mother because I can’t keep up with all of these suppose to-s. These supposed to-s put a tremendous amount of pressure on women, for example on issues such as breast-feeding (which is often out of the mother’s control) and attachment parenting. Am I the only one who thinks that there’s something deeply wrong with women telling other women how they’re supposed to be? Would we let men away with it?

I suppose when you break it down, it’s about identity. There is a certain loss of identity that comes along with pregnancy. It’s a stressful time. My body doesn’t look like my body, my hormones mean I have no control over my own emotions and strangers suddenly think its okay to touch my stomach in the street. This experience, one that has always been regarded as the ultimate female experience, has almost taken away my womanhood altogether and left me as a temporary incubator. ‘I am vessel, hear me roar!’ hardly has the same ring to it and honestly, I could really live without other women telling me that I’m not living up to their expectations and trying to change me even further. If I can’t be Carol Brady, can I at least gestate in peace without feeling like there’s some sort of mould that I should be trying to squeeze myself into like an ill-fitting maternity bra? Can’t I do what women have been doing since the dawn of time and figure out this whole matriarch thing without taking on everyone else’s conflicting views and losing all command on the situation? Or is it a ‘no birth control, no control at all‘ sort of situation?

I guess what I’m saying, ladies, is that as long as we’re the ones that have to fire humans out of our genitals, can we accept that there are different types of mothers? I mean, there has to be because there are different types of women. Not every woman who hasn’t won an award for their organic baby food recipes is endangering their baby. I would like to propose a little wiggle room, so that all women have the right to experience motherhood whether they are the ‘type’ or not. Just give us a little room to breathe: we’ll call it a social episiotomy.

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The Kirstie Allsopp debate

Today saw an almighty bombshell dropped on the Twittersphere, in the form of a controversial interview with Kirstie Allsopp. The property expert has a reputation for being outspoken on matters relating to maternity, feminism and relationships. Yet, her remarks in an interview with Bryony Gordon have been subject to much discussion today.

Indeed, certain individuals may be guilty of engaging in this debate without reading the article in full. But, having read the interview, I feel her advice to young women may be teetering on the verge of dangerous — not to mention being non-progressive. In the interview, she counselled young women to skip university, have children in their mid-twenties and postpone their careers until later.

I don’t have a girl, but if I did I’d be saying ‘Darling, do you know what? Don’t go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.

This reordering of rites of passage may seem like a valid, viable option, but it seems fair to say that this lifestyle will not be adopted by the majority of men. By adopting Kirstie’s model, women will immediately set themselves apart from men, thus allowing men to progress professionally more quickly, without the threat (or existence) of women in that field.

Naturally, as Caitlin Moran points out, it is important to weigh up other options which allow women to be professionally fulfilled as well as having a family. With increasing pressures placed upon us by society, and ourselves, it does at times seem impossible to envisage having a family whilst also having a career. Yet, if women postpone their education until later, certain industries will become saturated with educated, better-qualified male candidates. Meanwhile, women are expected to sit at home with their babies and wait for their careers? It seems regressive, and reminiscent of a 1950s model of family life.

It is healthy to discuss other alternatives to the prescribed way of life — and it is right to acknowledge that this lifestyle does not suit all women, nor does it suit all men. It’s important to remember that feminism is about choice — but we must not impose our life decisions on others.

The importance of education should always be impressed upon young women, and young men, for that matter. For centuries, women were denied the right to a proper education, so to negate its importance is unwise. Nonetheless, this is not the right avenue for everyone, and that’s a decision to be made by the individual in question.

I don’t want the next generation of women to go through the heartache that my generation has. At the moment we are changing the natural order of things, with grandparents being much older and everyone squeezed in the middle. Don’t think ‘my youth should be longer’. Don’t go to university because it’s an ‘experience’. No, it’s where you’re supposed to learn something! Do it when you’re 50!”

Kirstie Allsopp didn’t go to university, which perhaps doesn’t lend much credence to her arguments about higher education. University is hugely beneficial, and not just an ‘experience’ — going to university has granted me access to certain jobs which absolutely require a higher echelon of education. It is not merely an excuse to leave home and engage in bacchic merriment, but also a formative experience which teaches us how to become an independent adult.

Perhaps I do feel I should be young for as long as possible, but I don’t see the harm in that. I want to be established in my career path before I have a family, and that’s my choice. Other women may choose a different path, and they are entitled to do so — it’s their choice.