There’s a strange, (seemingly) typical female response to certain situations that I find really irritating. Wait, FIRST: I’d like to state for the record that I attribute most “typically female” things, and all annoying “typically female” things to socialization — the way we are taught to be more polite, quieter, less intrusive, et cetera forever and ever, for alas, the list of things we’re taught to be and boys are not is endless and sad.
But anyway, it starts pre-parenthood with compliments, say… on your outfit.
Friend One: “I like your dress.”
Friend Two: “This? Oh…thanks. It barely fits me; I’ve gained like five pounds in the last week. And it was only like $3 at the Salvation Army.”
Friend One: “Oh my god, I am so much fatter than you.”
Friend Two: “What? No way, my thighs are repulsive.”
I am compelled to deflect compliments in this same way — don’t get me wrong. Compliment me and, on a good day, you will get a sheepish thank you. On a bad day, I will mention my stretch marks/frizzy hair/giant boobs and point out the small hole in the side seam of my shirt. A simple, gracious look in the eye and thanks is something I hope against hope to someday master.
If this weren’t bad enough — that we are socialized to demean ourlseves at the smallest praise — there’s another thing that pits women against women in a weird, underhanded way that I have just discovered. It’s a particular brand of mompetition that I never would’ve guessed existed, and I find it absolutely, positively infuriating. It starts with someone, in my experience usually a casual acquaintance, inquiring about the way you do something. Anything. Diapering, let’s say. Another mom mentions that she uses gDiapers. You mention that you cloth diaper. And she comes back with something like, “Oh, I thought about trying that…but I just didn’t have tiiiiime and it seems kinda gross. FOR ME. But it’s so cool that you do it.” This kind of retort, while I understand is often made in the same spirit as the “what, this old thing?” compliment deflection, is way ruder. It’s a veritable pat on the head. And I’ve experienced it so many times in the past year that I’ve lost track of all the things I do that are “cute.” Using a diva cup? good for the environment, sure, but ew! You have to rinse it out in the sink? Making your own baby food? Sure, you know all the ingredients but I’m just so busy. Being vegetarian? I totally should, but I just really love regular food. REGULAR FOOD! Those words were uttered to me. By a reasonably intelligent human woman.
This is perhaps the kind of inactivity I find most offensive. People who don’t know the benefits of, for example, breastfeeding can’t be blamed for choosing not to do it. But if you know it’s good for your baby and you can’t find a sexy nursing bra so choose formula, I have no words for you. Scratch that — I have a LOT of words for you, but I doubt you’d be interested in hearing them.
Because my fury at this was so great and so consistent, I had to check myself to make sure it wasn’t stemming from my own issues. Was I embarrassed or ashamed of any of these practices and more sensitive to perceived criticism? But the answer was always no. I am nothing short of thrilled with cloth diapers. I am a terrible cook, but mashing steamed food? Can’t mess that up. I hate disposable pads like poison; if they vanished from the Earth forevermore I’d throw a party.
It’s possible to talk about ourselves and our choices — be it what to wear or what to feed our babies — with grace. There’s no need for underhanded compliments that imply the other is slaving away with shit smears on her forehead while you sip lemonade with your fancy girlfriends. We can exchange information without being mean to each other or ourselves and the sooner we figure out how, the sooner I’ll stop dreading meeting new moms. The upshot of this phenomenon is that I am astounded and bowled over with gratitude when this ideal free exchange happens, wherein nobody is self-depricating but everyone is open to suggestion. Because we’re all just doing the best that we can, right?