Mommy Wars – Why Can’t Women Support Each Other?

Mommy Wars – Why Can’t Women Support Each Other?

For many years now, there has been an ongoing battle between stay-at-home moms and working moms, often called the “mommy wars.”  An article in the April 2013 issue of MORE Magazine, “Why the Mommy Wars Rage On,” highlights three reasons for the contention: “Money, men and our own insecurities.”

Earlier this week, Marian introduced you to Ajna in her blog, Women Supporting Women – Who Is Ajna?  Today let’s explore the mommy wars from Ajna’s viewpoint, specifically the third reason cited in the MORE article – “our own insecurities.”

The MORE article is based on a nationwide survey of stay-at-home and working moms, and some fathers, sponsored by MORE and Citi.  In the article MORE includes comments from both sides about the other.  The working mom comments about stay-at-home moms include:

 “They think they are better moms.”

 “They seem to judge others for not staying home.”

The stay-at-home mom comments about working moms include:

 “They expect stay-at-homes to pick up the slack for them.”

 “Most look down on stay-at-home moms.”

What’s interesting is that the comments are not really that different than judgments women in each group make about others in their own group.  For instance, it’s not uncommon to hear the following comments from working moms about other working moms:

 “She’s not qualified for that promotion. I wonder who she slept with to get it?”

 “My female boss is a bitch.  I’d rather work for a man.”

Or, to hear these comments from stay-at-home moms about other stay-at-home moms:

 “She’s such a helicopter mom.  Her kid can’t even go to the bathroom by himself.”

 “She’s got a housekeeper so she can shop all day.”

From Ajna’s perspective, it’s about women judging other women.  It happens no matter what category you fit into – working mom, stay-at-home mom, single mom, and even women without children.  Why can’t women support each other rather than tear each other down?

The MORE article points to insecurities citing, “the results hint at a festering defensiveness, as if all of us were insecure about our decisions and justifying them a little too vigorously.”  Are women more prone than men to judge others harshly as a result of our own insecurities?  Yes, we’ve all been the “mean girl” at some point.  What we don’t realize is that our judgment of other women can be attributed in part to how girls are socialized.

In her Power Dead-Even training video and other work, Dr. Pat Heim notes that boys learn to relate through conflict, via traditional “boy” games – sports, war/army, races, etc.  Boys learn winning is important.  They also learn how to lose, deal with it and move on.  “Man, you destroyed me on the field; you wanna go get a snack?”  Boys learn power in the form of hierarchy – coach, stars, regular players and bench warmers. They don’t expect power to be even, and that’s okay.

Girls, on the other hand, are socialized in ways where power is even, not hierarchical.  There are typically no winners and losers in traditional “girl” games – school, house or dolls.  Girl games are based on relationship building, not winning.  Girls learn to be nice, to get along and give everyone a turn.  Girls are more comfortable when things are fair and power is even.

As a result when women are in situations where the power dynamic shifts, we feel an imbalance – if I’m “up,” that means you’re “down” or vice versa.  This imbalance makes women uncomfortable, so our natural instinct is to say or do something to “fix” it and make everything even.

For example, you’re wearing a great new outfit and your friend says, “Love the outfit. You look great!” You respond, “Thanks, I just threw it together this morning,” or “Thankfully, it hides the extra 5 pounds I’ve gained.”  The compliment from your friend changed the power balance, lifting you up.  Your response, whether true or not, is your unconscious attempt to bring yourself back down and even out the power balance between you and your friend.

The same dynamic is at work when moms judge each other. Ajna’s a working mom and, like many working moms, she’s judged stay-at-home moms and felt judged by them.  Through the work of Pat Heim and others, her awareness of why women judge each other has been heightened and rather than immediately judging, she now looks for ways to actively support other women whether they’re hard at work at home raising their children or dealing with the demands of the workforce.

Passionate advocate for the advancement and empowerment of women. Prior HR exec and co-founder of Ask Ajna - helping women find their voice in the workplace.

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