Over the past two weeks we've witnessed an array of mudslinging, and I'm not talking about Romney vs. Obama. From Alicia Silverstone mouth-feeding her baby pre-chewed food to Slate's Amanda Marcotte veering into attack mode by likening placenta-eating moms to "animals," there's a whole lot of warfare going on over unconventional mothering and much of it is being done by women.
Reading over the skirmishes of the past few weeks, I've come to realize this scrutiny is exactly the kind of normalizing "abuse" that Ashley Judd writes about in her highly-lauded story defending her "puffy face" for The Daily Beast. Judd's topic is body image, but her words could easily apply to the harsh criticism heaved upon mothers. Writes Judd:
"This abnormal obsession with women's faces and bodies has become so normal that we (I include myself at times -- I absolutely fall for it still) have internalized patriarchy almost seamlessly. We are unable at times to identify ourselves as our own denigrating abusers, or as abusing other girls and women."
This is hardly the first time women have tussled on the parenting battlefield and I'm sure it won't be the last. Just last year, a homebirthing firestorm erupted on Feministing with commenters attacking the "midwife of modern midwifery," Ina May Gaskin, as a someone who has "hijacked the feminist language of choice in order to increase her own influence and the success of the certification she has invented." Around the same time, Erica Jong slammed attachment parenting in the Wall Street Journal, likening it to a "prison" for mothers and claiming that it "encouraged female victimization."
While Marcotte and Jong's arguments have valid points -- Marcotte says her real disturbance is about the continued "burdens and demands on mothers" and Jong's core argument appears to be about motherhood guilt -- comparing women to animals or comparing attachment parenting to female imprisonment feels an awful lot like public stoning to me.
Gina Crosley-Corcoran, author of "The Feminist Breeder," got into a Twittersphere fight with Feministing founder Jessica Valenti over formula marketing in hospitals (Valenti called Crosely-Corcoran a "breast feeding supremacist"). Crosley-Corcoran questions the point of these women-on-women attacks in a recent blog post.
"I'm educated enough on these topics to understand why women might be motivated to seek answers outside the mainstream. I don't always make the same unusual choices as some other mothers -- but I have epoche. I get it. And it's no skin off my nose if Alicia feeds her baby like a birdy."
Isn't this the issue here? Why are practices and out-of-the ordinary admissions met with such forceful shame? Or have we, as Judd says, normalized our attacks to the point that we're unaware of the damage?
Are you ready now for my admission? I sucked snot out of my 16-month-old son's stuffed nose with the encouragement from a Jamaican friend who swore that in the islands, this was the sure-fire way to clear a baby's nostril. Come forward with your comments. She's disgusting. It's unsanitary. Why didn't you just use that blue nose plunger, you psycho?
Is this how Ayelet Waldman felt when she received attacks from countless mothers -- and, who are we kidding, everyone -- when she wrote in a New York Times essay back in 2005 that she loved her husband more than her children? Not only did "The View's" Star Jones criticize Waldman's marriage up and down, but a few zealots threatened to report her to the Department of Social Services.
Waldman later told the Times that she thought mothers were judgmental because they're "so stressed out" about their own lives. It would be easy to chalk these attacks up to stress. But it's not the reality. I'm not suggesting that there's no room for difference of opinions. But other women have dissented with less mean girl judgment.
Here's a good example, though I'm sure some of you will disagree: Hanna Rosin's article, "The Case Against Breast Feeding," in The Atlantic was a blessing to me when I was, yes, breastfeeding. Mastitis, my daughter's bottle preference, over-production and an excruciating pregnancy all led towards my decision to wean my daughter at four months. But because I nursed my son until 13 months, a whopping case of hormone-induced guilt overwhelmed me with horror. "I'm going to scar her for life," I told my husband. Granted, the header of Rosin's piece questioning whether or not breastfeeding was "this generation's vacuum cleaner -- an instrument of misery that mostly just keeps women down," was more propaganda-driven than not, her article helped me conclude that breastfeeding wasn't right for my family. This is what a good discussion will allow -- for the reader to digest information and make her own choice. You could say the same about feminism.
I'd love to end this post with a Can't we all get along? speech, but I'll save you from my optimistic drivel. Instead, I'll mention Ashley Judd by saying that the brutal criticism of women and mothers by women is insane and has to stop.
With that said, I'd like to point out that the anti-placenta-eating Marcotte isn't a mother, which brings about another issue as my sister-in-law (a mother of two boys) told me yesterday. "I give less weight to women judging mothers when they're not a parent."
Is this just more mudslinging? You decide.