There’s a great op-ed about mom shaming in this Sunday’s New York Times. Kim Brooks makes some great points. This passage, in particular, gave me pause:
These women’s critics insist that it’s not mothers they hate; it’s just that kind of mother, the one who, because of affluence or poverty, education or ignorance, ambition or unemployment, allows her own needs to compromise (or appear to compromise) the needs of her child. We’re contemptuous of “lazy” poor mothers. We’re contemptuous of “distracted” working mothers. We’re contemptuous of “selfish” rich mothers. We’re contemptuous of mothers who have no choice but to work, but also of mothers who don’t need to work and still fail to fulfill an impossible ideal of selfless motherhood. You don’t have to look very hard to see the common denominator.
Because it is gendered, isn’t it? Women have their parenting practices policed far more than men. Part of that is, I’m sure, due to the fact that men still don’t do their fair share of active day-to-day parenting, and other parts are doubtless due to the fact that “motherhood” is seen as something intrinsic to what it means to be a woman, where for men, being a good father is seen as almost extra credit. I mean, the shaming is not exclusive to women. I have definitely felt some eyes on me when out in public, have been chided for things that are not the business of anyone but myself, My Colleague, and Test Subject V.
But women get it worse. And women get it earlier on—so many mothers I’ve known have had trouble breast feeding and not one of them has ever said “well, thank god that random woman from the mom’s group made me feel guilty about my choices! The baby would have starved otherwise.” A friend has actually described the urge to shout out to strangers at Target that the bottle she was feeding her newborn was breastmilk, not because anyone was even giving her any grief, but because there’s a panoptic quality to the shaming that mothers get today.
So yeah, while I might feel the eyes of judgemental parents on me, that pressure is demonstrably worse on women. To whit:
At this point you might be wondering, “What about the dads?”
Dr. Sarnecka, the cognitive scientist, has an answer to this. Her study found that subjects were far less judgmental of fathers. When participants were told a father had left his child for a few minutes to run into work, they estimated the level of risk to the child as about equal to when he left because of circumstances beyond his control.
I love the way this finding makes plain something we all know but aren’t supposed to say: A father who is distracted by his interests and obligations in the adult world is being, well, a father; a mother who does the same is failing her children.
This is so messed up. And it puts me, as a stay-at-home father who considers himself a feminist and has aspirations to raise his daughter in as “free range” a manner as possible, in a position where I have to ask myself some questions:
- If I, as a male parent, benefit from male privilege in being less likely to be shamed or even arrested for perceived “neglect” of my children, how can I use that privilege as a responsible ally to women to try to change this situation?
- How is that made more complicated when the people shaming mothers or calling the cops are, themselves, women?
- How does all this relate to the idea I’ve been struggling to define—that of “parenting in public?” Does it help to subvert or subdue this urge to police women’s parenting? Or does it just result from my own inherent privilege?
I don’t really have answers, here—I’m just hoping some readers might be able to give me some guidance, or help start a conversation.