Oftentimes, our popular culture adopts or invents a term or phrase that sticks so perfectly, and defines so succinctly, that there becomes no other way to describe that thing from that moment forward. New words that we can no longer shake off include “selfie,” “binge-watch,” “photobomb,” “ping,” “airball,” and “yowza,” all of which have been recently added to the Merriam Webster dictionary.
Intrepid meaning has come out of our instantaneous trends in verbiage. We have managed to propel rhetoric to a pedestal that is neck-breakingly covetable. The speed through which our lexicon grows is quite philosophically fascinating. A primary example is the conception and sweep of the colloquial “-shaming” usage that writer Mark Peters has inducted into the “Overused Buzzword Club” along with the timeless terms “hater” and “troll.” (Peters, 2013) Language in the grouping includes the prominent distinctions “body-shaming,” “slut-shaming,” and “fat-shaming,” which all, ironically, originally applied to legitimate or illegitimate criticisms of women. “Since giving women a hard time about their bodies seems to be the American way, body-shaming is almost always directed at them,” says Peters. “And it has a number of more specific variations: weight-shaming, fat-shaming, skinny-shaming—basically no matter how a woman (or girl) looks, someone has a problem with it.” (Peters, 2013)
Hold onto that idea.
While it is true that many women are attempting to take the power out of these sentiments by openly using them in conducive discourse, the sting subsists.
An additional example that I see daily in social media is the expression “mom-shaming,” the verbal chastising or disdainful questioning of a given mother’s particular parenting tactics, even if those tactics are logical or commonplace. This phraseology declares another curious quality regarding the “–shaming” consortium: they were popularized to describe a woman at a disadvantage or at a disproportionate point of view. Women targets of this vernacular are talked down upon, considered too weak to seize, or are laughable caricatures in blame and scold.
Women are shamed.
So, because “mom-shaming” exists as a prevalent, incidental word, does this mean that, compared to the mainstream, moms are, ultimately, disadvantaged?
Well, the proof is all there.
Moms are widely considered the stewards of the home, even if a contributing male is present. Moms must maintain financial organization, health reports, school schedules, food intake, learning mastery, cleaning management, creative coordination, and, if she’s ever so lucky, her own full-time career. If the household responsibilities falter, or if she is deemed too lazy/unmotivated/unambitious at the office, the curse of the gods is placed on her waning shoulders.
In the least, society is…hard…on mothers.
Throw in any given moment when a mother is breastfeeding in her car in a mall parking lot. Or a mother is allowing her two active children to go down a grocery store aisle for bread while she waits at the end in eyeview. Or a mother hasn’t quite dropped that 20 pounds of post-baby weight. And I’ll present the eventual, corresponding mom-shaming: “That lady shouldn’t have her boob out in a public place.” “She is letting her kids run around everywhere.” “Honey, that ain’t no baby weight. You shouldn’t have let yourself go.”
Under the linguistic finger-pointing and the constant theoretical scorn of a minimal or a major decision a mother makes for her family is this: Mothers can’t win. And won’t win.
Specifically when we experience a fellow mommy tell us what we’re “doing wrong.”
For the site Scary Mommy, writer Kim Simon wrote, “Our parenting beliefs are not as easy to hide as religion and politics, so we use them as weapons when we need a release. The Mommy Wars are collapsing our confidence one snarky Facebook comment at a time. We are breaking each other down because we’re crumbling inside, our pre-motherhood identity slowly disintegrating under the weight of the laundry, the groceries, and the thirty thousand jackets and sand toys and leaky sippy cups that our kids have left in the car. Motherhood is hard. So why are we so cruel to each other?” (Simon, “The Top 7 Reasons Why You’re Mom-Shaming”)
What’s even sadder is that we often mom-shame ourselves and those closest to us.
Mom-shaming reflects pressure and our succumbing to burden. Not only are we definitively hypercritical because that’s what we see around us, particularly highlighted in our society’s choice of language about women, but our expulsion of scrutiny stems from this hurt place of not being as respected as we should be. “The internet, and real world, have become a place where everyone feels like they can just give their opinion without any consequence or care for others feelings,” as quoted in a Today Show Parenting Team article.
Our inability to dispel the mysticism behind the “perfect mommy” image can make us feel inadequate and challenged in our most difficult tasks. We take it, chew it up, and scream it out. Our validity is nearly always in question, so “good enough” moms feel the ever-heavy saddle of mom guilt, that lucid form of mom-shaming ourselves. When we can’t give ourselves enough credit for all of the great we are doing for our families, we are mom-shaming ourselves. When we miss a PTA meeting or our child is doing less-than-stellar in a given subject, we are mom-shaming ourselves. The rubbernecking over the shoulders of other moms is mom-shaming ourselves. There are more.
We have to identify what mom-shaming is and defuse the energy from the phrase so that we can start to turn around the extreme expectations of motherhood.
Simon rightfully explained, “We’re exhausted! We’re short-tempered. We’re terrified that we’re screwing up the little people who we love most in this world. We are needy, and lonely, and getting lost in this brave new parenting landscape because our map has been spit-up on by our baby and torn apart by our toddler. We shame each other on the Internet because we’re worried that we’re the ones doing it wrong.”
If we’re all pondering how to be good moms, and comparing that what we are doing is better or worse than another, we are good moms. It shouldn’t take someone else putting us down to recognize our individual greatness. We all parent differently…we’re supposed to. Mothers should not be the lowest totem on the pole.
We ARE the pole. We’re the reason the pole exists.
Motherhood is a Mecca, a powerhouse of epic layers, a superpower like no other on Earth. To revere it as such, we have to assume the old adage: if we have nothing nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything.
Peters, Mark. “Shame on Everyone.” Slate, Oct. 20, 2013, http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_good_word/2013/10/stop_calling_all_criticism_shaming.html. Accessed Jul. 7, 2017.
“Stop the Mom-Shaming.” Today, May 7, 2017, http://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/stop-the-mom-shaming. Accessed Jul. 7, 2017.
Wyles, Liza. “10 Ways You Don’t Realize You’re Mom-Shaming Yourself.” Romper, n.d., https://www.romper.com/p/10-ways-you-dont-realize-youre-mom-shaming-yourself-58602. Accessed Jul. 7, 2017.