Sep 06

Be nice.

Written by | 2 comments »

Is it possible to have babies, be a good mama, enjoy a career and be successful at it? Of course it is.

But is it possible to have babies, be a good mama, enjoy a career, be successful and be liked for it? Much more unlikely.

This is just one of the many great points in Sheryl Sandberg’s brilliant TED talk, but it’s one that really resonated with me.

So is it the men we have to worry about? Will other men despise us and use their insecurities as fuel for a good bitch session? No. But other women? Yeah, they’re the ones we’ll have to watch out for. Isn’t that awful?

We’ve all been there though. We’ve all judged other women, whether we meant to or not, at some time in our lives. We’ve all had the ‘bitch sessions’ with our girlfriends. (“Oh my GOD did you SEE what she was wearing?”) We’ve all felt unsure about our decisions at some point, unsure about how our hair looks at some point and a little dissatisfied with our bodies at some point. And now that I’m a mama, I find that the concerns, dissatisfaction, guilt and bitching can easily get worse if I’m not careful. Not only within myself, but to other women too. I’ve already found myself questioning other women’s decisions. Wondering how I could go back to work, torn between admiring and bitching about the women who do.

Adele wrote a brilliant post today about Sheryl’s talk and summarized some of a recent discussion we’d had about career women vs stay at home mums. Why is it that the biggest critics of our own choices (to add on top of our own inevitable guilt with whatever we choose to do) is other women? And the media doesn’t help – in Hollywood movies, the ‘career’ woman is almost always bossy, cold-hearted, man-hating and single. The lovely, warm, beautiful and funny women are chasing men, marriage and babies.

On the weekend I went to see a screening of Miss Representation – a documentary written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom about how the media is educating women and young girls that a woman’s primary value lies in her youth, beauty and sexuality—and not in her capacity as a leader.

I went to see the movie with Ivan and before the movie started I noticed that he was definitely a minority in the audience with at least 90% of the attendees being female. Surely the movie would be preaching to the converted? But the lightbulb, slap in the face moment occurred towards the end of the movie when I realised that we aren’t the converted at all. We’re somewhat blissfully (or not so blissfully perhaps) unaware that we are a huge part of the problem.

In this NY Times article, Kelly Valen talks about why she swore off sisterhood:

In the two decades since, I’ve been a full-time lawyer, a working mother and a stay-at-home mother. In each role, I’ve found my fears about women’s covert competition and aggression to be frequently validated: the gossip, the comparisons, the withering critiques of career and mothering choices. We women swim in shark-infested waters of our own design. Often we don’t have a clue where we stand with one another — socially, as mothers, as colleagues — because we’re at once allies and foes.

And in this Time article she answers some questions about a survey she conducted that fueled her book: Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships.

I could probably keep talking about this for ages. I have a daughter who is 5 months old and (like Sheryl Sandberg says) I want her to grow up with the choice to contribue fully to the workforce or at home and to not just succeed, but to be liked for her accomplishments. And I need to start with myself. Being a good parent means being the best version of yourself that you can be. I’m certain that version doesn’t include bitching and comparing.

Let’s be nice to each other then eh. If women don’t stand up for each other, who will?

  • Kara

    Good post Pam. I’m sick at home today so I’m going to go into a little rant about this. 😉
    I think when you speak ill of someone it’s usually a direct refection on how you really feel about yourself. It really breaks my heart watching women choose to focus on negative hateful feelings then choosing to look at themselves, why there feeling it and to be happy for each other.
    I, like every other woman have been guilty of this, but I’m constantly trying. Like a man that has to constantly try to not look at women like objects when summer is at its hottest and every women is wearing ity bity short shorts. 😉
    I always try to remember, “People are why they are for a reason, act they way they act for a reason and say what they say for a reason.” Just as I have to choose not to judge or think negative about someone because of jealousy. Equally important, I have to be patient and understand why someone might be “hating on me” and choose not to hate them back.
    A great example of this is my sister. She was miserable, 100 pounds over weight and had all the friends in the world… girls always wanted to be her friend, hang out, and could always find a group of girls wanting to talk. (me on the other hand had none) She told me once that she couldn’t help but hate me for being thin and that life was so easy for me. THEN she got her life together, lost 100 pounds and had a life other women envied. Quickly all her “friends” didn’t want to hang out. A few of her best friends told her they couldn’t be happy for her because they weren’t happy in there own lives… at least they were being honest! Then she came to me and apologized. She never realized, girls glare at you rather then smile, decide you’re a bitch before they meet you. Are annoyed by every sign of your happiness. It doesn’t feel very nice being hated for just the way to look.
    I like your last line “Let’s be nice to each other then eh. If women don’t stand up for each other, who will?” When I go to the gym (where this kind of thing is especially bad) I make a point to have at least one encouraging word with another woman, even if it’s just a complement. Break the negative competitive attitude don’t assume a thin or pretty girl doesn’t need a friend, she could be going through hell. Don’t think hating on another girls happiness will make your life any better, because it wont! In fact it will do quite the opposite. I’ll end it with one of my favorite Lululemon bag quotes-

    “Jealousy has the opposite effect you want it to”

  • Kelly Valen

    Great post. I’m so pleased to see you keeping this dialogue going. The chief misunderstanding in even raising these issues, I’ve found, is the fear that it’s somehow anti-woman to do so. It’s quite the opposite. I think it’s valid (indeed imperative) to honestly examine ALL forces that hold girls and women back, demotivate us, lower our confidence and willingness to take risks, and decrease productivity and contributions to the world – even if those forces sometimes come from within the gender. It’s not every gal’s reality and we certainly have plenty of other obstacles to contend with as females. Whether we like it or not, though, we should recognize that the wings of some girls and women are being clipped by their fellow females. That should bother us because the research re the fallout for many of these women down the road is really very sad/compelling. Imagine if more of us would just pause and do our part to knock off the gratuitous, self-defeating nonsense – and instead more proactively support, mentor, and accept one another at work, school, as mothers, in our social lives?

    Must check out the Sandberg talk, too. Sounds brilliant.

    Thanks for this, Pam.

    ~Kelly Valen/The Twisted Sisterhood