It’s a Woman’s World, and It’s Not Pretty

by Shannon Hembree on June 28, 2012

As you may know, Sarah and I were interviewed by CNN about an article that ran in The Atlantic magazine titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Truth be told – this story has been bothering me ever since I did the interview. One of the reasons is that it is terrifying to be interviewed on camera. Truly terrifying. The other reason is that I can’t believe we are still talking about this issue.

And no, I am not going in the direction here you think I am going.

The article, which was written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, doesn’t bother me. I’m not even sure why it started such a firestorm. The information in the article wasn’t news; the fact that someone was saying it out loud was. We all get it. We’ve been spoon-fed the idea since birth that women can do it all and have it all, but when we had kids of our own it became all too clear that choices and sacrifices come with having it all.

When you are at work, you are missing out at home. When you are at home, your career is languishing, not to mention your household income and possibly your self-esteem.

No, it wasn’t what Slaughter said that irked me. It was the response from a lot of women that did. And here is where I say…Are we REALLY still talking about this issue? I read comments saying that of course these women are conflicted – a woman’s place is in the home. I read comments saying that all women have a duty to themselves, to other women, and to their daughters to forge a strong career path.

Slaughter’s article says that one of the things that needs to change is corporate culture. I would argue that part of the problem is also how women treat other women in this work-life balance realm.

Say what? That’s right – I did just type that.

Because seriously? What in the hell is wrong with us? I am a stay-at-home mom. Yes, this is what is best for our family. Yes, my children benefit from it on a whole host of levels. Yes, I love being part of their daily lives. BUT, in a million years, I would never utter the phrase, “A woman’s place is in the home.”

First off, too many women busted their asses to tear down that notion and open up a world of possibility for the rest of us. Second, who am I to tell you what to do with your family? I don’t live in your home. I don’t know your children. I don’t know you and what makes your heart sing. I don’t know what makes you a great mom. I just don’t. To pretend that I have the knowledge, moral authority, or anything else to tell you that you have made the wrong choice for your family is insane.

Likewise, for you to tell me that my daughter will suffer in the long-term from not having a mother who is a role-model in the career world is equally as ignorant. Who are you to know what is best for my children?

I really don’t get it. I mean really…don’t…get…it.

And as much as we would like to deny it, women have the innate ability to cut other women to the core with a single word or phrase. And we do. Every day. One of the most troubling ways we do this is to call into question a woman’s abilities as a mother. I mean really – is there anything more cruel?

So let’s get it out there, shall we?

Daycare is the devil! It’s a horrible place for kids, right? What kind of mother would do that to her kids? Um…wrong. I’m sure there are some that fit the stereotype, but some are also amazingly warm and nurturing places with caring staff who teach the kids a lot more than they are no doubt learning in my home on most days. The kids also learn how to interact with other kids. My daughter was in daycare for a brief stint. It didn’t work for us because of health issues, but it does work for some – fabulously well. And some people don’t have a choice. They work to feed and house their children, and daycare is their only option. So how about the next time you think you want to argue that daycare is the devil you do the rest of us a favor and add “for my family” after that phrase.

No, not the nannies! Unless they are really hot and are trying to sleep with your husband and kill you like in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, there is little reason to hate nannies. Sure, in my stint as a stay-at-home mom I have seen ones who are less than engaged, but I have seen many a parent be the same way. I have also seen nannies who are hands-on, caring and loving in a way that I don’t have the energy to be some days (after all, I was up all night with the kids!). So how about the next time you think that you want to argue that having nannies is a horrible idea you add “for my family” after it.

Stay-at-home moms are setting us back! Well of course they are. They have chosen family over career. What could be more demeaning to women when it comes to advancing the ideal that women can rule the world? Um…anyone who has ever uttered that phrase has clearly never met a stay-at-home mom. Or maybe just never taken the time to watch what they do. Because they do a lot. The laundry alone would bring a lesser person to their knees – not to mention everything else, which I don’t even have the energy to list. Let me set you straight. Stay-at-home moms organize Little Leagues – yes, that means everything from the teams to the uniforms and the games (and rumor has it, you are nasty to them while they do it). They are volunteers for school plays and dance recitals. They potty train toddlers (which I would argue may be more difficult and frustrating than any other task out there). They teach their children about the world around them and hopefully how to be a productive part of it. They do it all 24/7, and they don’t get a paycheck. And the whipped cream on top is that they don’t get a lot of appreciation for it either. So the next time you want to argue that being a stay-at-home mom is a horrible idea, add “for me.” And maybe not even then.

I’m sure there are more nasty stereotypes out there I could list, but I won’t. I won’t, because it’s appalling that I even had to list these. It’s appalling, because another stereotype out there is that women are nurturing beings, and yet all we seem to want to do is tear each other down. So how about this for a groundbreaking idea – how about women decide to be supportive of each other? I bet that would take a little pressure off of feeling like we are failing on every front. I bet that a discussion about how we can manage work-life balance wouldn’t have to turn into how the only place for women is in the home…or the office. I bet that if we stepped back – just for a moment – and bit our tongues instead of telling our fellow females that they should be working or that they shouldn’t be working or that they should be breastfeeding or formula feeding or that they shouldn’t be relying on daycare or that they should be relying on nannies…or whatever…that women might actually have a shot at feeling like we can have it all. In our own way.

Because right now we women really are living in a woman’s world – and until we get away from the caustic, judgmental commentary that seems to be the order of the day, that is exactly where we’ll stay.

Shannon Hembree is the mom of a kindergartner and twin toddlers. She has been a working mom and a stay-at-home mom and knows that both titles deserve respect. Enough said. You can follow her on Twitter @Shannon1Hembree.


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Hembree June 28, 2012 at 8:21 am



Shannon June 28, 2012 at 8:23 am

Thanks…I went on a bit of a rant…


Anne Knight June 28, 2012 at 7:22 pm

A terrific, honest rant is a good thing! You and Sarah are amazing from my viewpoint………and I was fighting the same uphill battle in the 1970’s & 80’s. Keep it up!!


Shannon June 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm

I love this comment! Thank you thank you thank you!


Megan June 28, 2012 at 8:34 am

Well said!


Shannon June 28, 2012 at 8:42 am

It was funny — I couldn’t figure out what was bothering me about the whole debate. It was like it was hanging out there, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. And then I saw a comment that made my head pop off and it all became clear…


Laura H. June 28, 2012 at 9:28 am

Great article–love the passion in it!
I thought the Slaughter article was in response to this piece of junk by Elizabeth Wuertsel:

If the above article doesn’t get your blood pumping, nothing will. (And don’t let the 1% thing tossed into the title fool you–it’s only there for incendiary purposes and really doesn’t pertain to the meat of the article.)



Shannon June 28, 2012 at 9:44 am

I read that as well. There has been so much written in this area over the last few weeks, and it is disheartening how much of it is hateful. I hope by the time my daughter grows up that we have moved beyond it.


Beckie June 28, 2012 at 9:58 am

UGH – I couldn’t have said it better myself! And that article by Elizabeth Wurtzel – seriously?? I had to read her book for a class in college. If I wanted to rant, I could say that lazy, self-involved drug addicts who treat a full scholarships to Harvard like bird cage lining should NOT be writing for the Atlantic and have no right to judge others. But the point here is to be tolerant and worry about what’s best for me and my family. So . . . Shannon, I could not have said it better myself. And I think this blog entry defines your column and should be rerun on a regular basis. Well done!


Shannon June 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

Beckie, it’s funny you say that about this blog defining what we are about — my friend Sarah and I were talking about that just last night. Of course, it did take me a year and a half of blogging to figure out just what I wanted to say 😉

Thanks — as always — for reading!


BrookeB June 28, 2012 at 10:00 am

I just can’t follow the logic that ONE way is the ONLY way. Are we really to believe that if EVERY woman ever born NEVER entered the work force, the world would be a better place? Seriously? And vice versa. We need women in ALL their roles with ALL their passions. Someone can judge me all they want for not wanting to spend every waking moment with a 3-year-old and 6-year-old — I’ll still sleep at night, secure in the fact that they are nevertheless the loves of my life, even if I want to spend time away from them editing a magazine article.


Shannon June 28, 2012 at 10:19 am

Oh my god – you spend time away from your children editing articles?!? Gasp! Just kidding. I completely agree. I love that there are women in the workforce I can point out to my daughter as examples of working women. Her pediatrician is just one of them. I love that I have a career path I am proud of and can point out to her when she is old enough to understand. I love that I have the freedom — and the ability — to stay home with my kids. I made the choices that are right for my family, but they aren’t right for every family — and yea for all the women out there who are doing what they love — where they love it — and doing the best by their own families! Shouldn’t that be what it is all about?


FAH June 28, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Perfect rant.
Re mother:mother putdowns. Isn’t this the same as the girl:girl nastiness we see going on as early as 1st and 2d grades in some schools. It seems to peak in high school, but maybe it’s latent and erupts in some women as this infantile (and it is infantile) defense when they are again feeling insecure in what they neurotically believe is a new competitive field. Do they revert to defesive behavior they used as children and never grew out of? Is there a mean girl continuum?


Shannon June 28, 2012 at 5:17 pm

“Mean girl continuum” — I like it. Well, not like it exactly, but you know what I mean. I was talking to a friend about the whole mom-on-mom mean thing and we were saying that it is very junior high/high school-esque. I do hope there is a point where we all grow out of it. I would hate to think of me being in my rocking chair on my porch when I am old and gray and having to worry about the old lady down the street who is making cracks about my poor choice of girdles 😉


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