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.



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