For me it started with Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple magazines. The glossy spreads abound with plenty: stunning pictures of complex foodstuffs and homemade decorations set in perfectly organized and bedecked living spaces without a trace of dog hair or a hint of perspiration. The colorful covers call out to women standing in grocery aisles and rushing past newsstands. They promise that she can do it all—if she just tries a little harder, works a little smarter, or cares more for her family. And they don’t discriminate! Any woman, all women, working moms and stay-at-home moms too can be better at everything. But first we have to recognize that whatever we are doing now is not good enough.
If we buy the glossy magazine and take the advice of a very large and well-funded staff of professional and highly-paid designers, we too can be better women. The articles claim to provide miracle cures for disorganized closets, overbooked work weeks, wardrobe malfunctions, and healthy meals made at home.
But really they are just designed to make women feel bad about themselves. One glance at the article “7 Steps to a Clean Bathroom” and you’ll realize your germaphobia is justified; your bathroom isn’t really clean. Right next to that you’ll find an article titled “7 Flattering Dresses for Full-Figured Women” and you’ll think, hooray it’s finally cool to be full-figured except now that means everyone will notice that I’m wearing the wrong dress! We all know how this works, but we fall for it anyway. Because if I keep buying what they’re selling maybe one day we’ll finally learn how to fold those fitted sheets from Hell so they stack neatly in the closet. Yeah, right.
This is the phenomenon that I’ve recently started referring to as the monetization of motherhood. Although it applies to all women, I think mothers feel it the most. Working mothers experience the guilt of leaving their children to be cared for by people who are not their parents five days a week and the shame of not having the time to make cookies for the bake sale or hand stitch the perfect Halloween costume. Stay-at-home moms feel like, because home is their work, their homes and their children and they themselves must be perfectly coiffed at a moment’s notice seven days a week.
If our cupcakes don’t look like Martha’s, no one will want to eat them. If our houses are not decorated like something out of the Pottery Barn catalog, no one will want to visit. If our children are not wearing hats and scarves made by mommy, no one will play with them. What’s a gal to do?
Personally, I do my best to resist these feelings of inadequacy. I haven’t touched an issue of Real Simple in years. I indulge myself in the Halloween issue of Martha Steward Living, but I almost never follow a recipe or complete a craft project because, seriously Martha, WTF is up with the individually wrapped pie slices?
It’s easy to shrug this off as a joke. But I’ve known too many smart women who fall for this crap to not take it seriously. Too many women think they are not doing enough for their families (and for themselves now too because if we’re doing everything else the magazines say we’re meant to but we’re not taking time for “self-love” and “self-care,” then we’re still screwing up). Beyond the insane personal feelings of defectiveness, we arrive at an even bigger problem: this cultural trend makes women turn against other women.
It’s just a hop, skip, and jump from “I’m not doing enough” to “Of course she has time to bake for the bake sale. She just sits at home all day with her kids.” And so the “Mommy Wars” rage on.
Maybe this is all obvious, commonplace culture stuff now. But I’m angry about it. I’m angry because this “mommy wars” thing is not something that men, society, media, or culture are doing to women. This is something we are doing to ourselves and to each other. And that makes no sense for two reasons.
- The media is targeting us all equally. The message is clear. If you have a uterus, you’re not working hard enough either at home or at work.
- We all want the same thing. We want raising children to be recognized as “a real job.”
to be continued…