The Other War On Women

Birth control. Binders. Bodies. Babies.

As last fall’s presidential election came to a head, the phrase “war on women” became commonplace, part of the traditional vitriolic mud-slinging that both sides used against the other. As a woman, and one who places a high value on the freedoms of women, I of course followed the back-and-forth debates with interest, nausea, or amsuement, depending on what I was hearing.

But during that same period, I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about a different “war on women”—the war of woman against woman, the war that we wage on each other, no men required.

At the beginning of my pregnancy last summer, I was talking to a pair of newlywed friends about my quest for the best pregnancy books.

“I don’t want to read anything that is going to make me panic about what could be wrong with my baby, or feel guilty about the pregnancy and parenting choices I make,” I told them.

The husband wrinkled his brow in confusion. “What do you mean, feel guilty?” he asked. “Why would parenting books make you feel guilty?”

I had to laugh at his response. It hadn’t taken me long after seeing that positive pregnancy test to come to understand just how incredibly saturated with guilt the world of pregnancy and parenting really is. Pregnancy books, websites, and forums are filled with dramatic stories about the harm you could potentially do to your unborn baby through seemingly innocuous things including (but not limited to!) nutrition, exercise (or lack thereof), medication, and even hot baths. Champions of epidurals or unmedicated childbirth regularly spar over the various merits of their preferred method, often making it seem like your child’s entire future life could hinge on whether or not you had a medicated labor and delivery.

And things only get more heated when you get into the world of parenting, with all its various methodologies and ideologies and conflicting advice. Breast or bottle? Crib or co-sleeping? Baby swing or babywearing?

Parenting isn’t the only arena in which women seem to spend an awful lot of time attacking each other, of course—it’s just the one I’ve been immersed in the most as I’ve prepared to welcome this new little one into the world. I’ve also seen women go to bat over things as big as career choices and hiring help, and things as insignificant as dyeing their hair or wearing makeup.

And let’s not even get started on the pressure we put on each other when it comes to what a woman should look like.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m as guilty as anyone else. I have on far too many occasions found myself judging another woman’s lifestyle choices, or fashion, or hair, or parenting, or career path. I’ve cringed on seeing wardrobe choices I don’t agree with and raised my eyebrows at life paths that seem less-than-ideal according to my worldview.

But still, I can’t help thinking:

What would the world be like if we women didn’t spend quite so much time and energy waging war on each other?

My resolution for this year is to give myself more grace—to stop holding myself to impossible standards, to have a little compassion for the times when I inevitably fall short (and then do so again, and again, and again). I’m vowing in 2013 to be a little kinder and gentler on myself, accept my own weaknesses and allow myself a little more love.

And all of this, this thinking about new year’s resolutions and about the war among women, has me thinking also: What if we all could do this, just a little, for each other? What if we could allow each other just a little more grace, a little more love, a little more acceptance? What if we could let go of our own lifestyles and convictions just long enough to recognize that, regardless of whether we feed our children by breast or bottle, we are all worthy of love?

It might just be a powerful change, indeed.

Do you ever find yourself at war with other women?

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