When I was in my early 20s, I had a friend we’ll call Amy. Amy was fierce, and funny, and knew everything from where to get the best pierogi at 3 a.m. to where to see some band that may or may not have opened for Nirvana. She was like no one I’d ever met.
One night, Amy and I were at a bar, and a cute guy walked by without stopping. Instead, he approached a girl who was attractive in a more conventional way – blond hair, cleavage popping out everywhere. Watching them laugh together, Amy burst into a cutting diatribe – about the girl’s hair, her neckline, her alleged (lack of) intelligence. I was perplexed. All this girl had done was get dressed up in the hopes of meeting a nice guy. Was she so different from either of us?
“Why are you so upset with her?” I asked. “Shouldn’t you be angry at the guy for not noticing you?”
My questions fell on deaf ears. Amy continued tearing apart this nameless girl to anyone who would listen. And this type of behavior was not unique to Amy. When another friend was on the cusp of graduating from Wharton with a hard-earned MBA, she went on a job interview. She overheard a girl in her program laughing about her with a friend: “She’ll never get the job. Look at her interview outfit. Look at her makeup. No way.” And then, of course, there was the time a guy I was dating declared he could never work for a woman – and all the women present quickly agreed they couldn’t either.
Well, now we’re all grown up. The women I knew in my 20s are now in their 30s, and many of us are now wives and mothers. And it doesn’t surprise me that I see the same judgmental behavior – the same competition, the same criticism, the same lack of support. Except it’s transitioned from chasing guys and starting careers to the choices we make as moms: working versus staying home, breastfeeding versus pumping, co-sleeping versus cry-it-out.
It’s the same woman-on-woman battle, just in a different arena.
Now, obviously not all moms are like this, just as not all women in their 20s backstab each other to meet guys at bars. But given all the hype about “mommy wars,” and all the judgment and negativity we face as moms, it’s time for a different approach. If we want moms to be more supportive of each other, we need to start sooner.
We need to begin with our daughters.
We need to teach them to value their female friendships, whether they’re kindergartners painting pictures together or tweens giggling at sleepovers. To correct them when we hear them calling another girl “ugly” or “fat.” To encourage them to cheer at their friend’s softball game. To turn off TV shows where girls disrespect one another.
And we need to look at our own behavior. Because they notice. They hear when we call a woman “bitch” or criticize her for breastfeeding in public. They see when we help a mother struggling with a toddler at the grocery store – and when we roll our eyes. They hear when we complain a female supervisor is “on the rag.” They notice when we wage war on other women, even if they can’t see or understand our own battle scars and the effect these wounds have had on us.
We don’t have to be the “mean girls” we were in our younger years. Hopefully, by teaching our daughters at a young age to view other girls as allies and not enemies, they will grow into women who, when they become mothers, will help other moms and support them. Hopefully, with the right encouragement and guidance from us, the “mommy wars” will be something funny they read about in old blog entries and sociology classes, and will seem strange and archaic, like flip phones or MySpace.
And, as for that voluptuous woman at the bar who drove my friend crazy — well, she’s probably a mom now too. For all I know, she also hides in the bathroom downing ice cream when her toddler throws a tantrum from hell. And I wish her the very best.