Judging other mothers

Natural childbirth advocacy is another weapon on the ongoing battle of competitive mothering. This article by Faulkner Fox, Judging Mothers, How and Why Feminists Can Stop, offers an interesting and amusing perspective. I don’t agree with her Marxist analysis, but she lays out the problem quite well:

The woman who wrote to me, whom I’ll call Joan, said that her 20-month-old had been playing in the sandbox before stopping to ask her mother for a snack. Ever the prepared mother, Joan pulled out a Stonyfield Farms organic strawberry yogurt in a tube.

Immediately another mother, whom Joan did not know, piped up from a nearby bench: “How can you give that to your daughter? It’s so full of sugar. What I do,” she continued, “is use a syringe to extract 1/2 of the sweet yogurt from the tube, then I use a second syringe to inject plain yogurt back into the tube. That way my daughter has the same yogurt as the other kids, but I know that it’s not too sweet.”

Fox’s suggestions for possible responses are hilarious:

Let’s consider for a minute – just for fun – what an appropriate response could be in this situation…

Here are a few choices I came up with:

a) Thanks so much! Can I borrow your syringe?

b) Would you like the name of my psychiatrist? Zoloft has done wonders for me.

c) Do you realize that the President of the United States {at the time, George W. Bush] is an often incompetent, but still incredibly dangerous, warmonger? Why not use your yogurt time to fight any number of unethical and nonsensical policies that harm mothers, children, and everyone else? Here’s the phone number for the National Organization for Women. Or,

d) the all-purpose response to strange statements – for feminists, as well as anyone else: Huh? Say What?

Fox deftly frames the problem:

When another mother makes a statement that feels like a judgment on our mothering – and Joan certainly took this yogurt-doctoring advice as a judgment rather than an innocent food hint – how do we answer back? … Why do mothers judge each other, sometimes on the pettiest details, in the first place? Why do mothers – at least in my experience and according to my observations – judge one another at a much higher frequency than other members of the population judge one another?

Fox’s assessment:

I believe that at least some of the time, even the tiniest judgments we make are really ways of asking these two questions: 1) Is that mother selfless enough? And more personally, 2) is that mother sacrificing as much as I am? If not, I’m not sure I like her, and I’m not sure I can refrain from saying something critical to her – just to see if I can get her to feel anxious, the way I feel anxious.

In other words, women concern themselves with the details of other women’s mothering because they are insecure and can feel more secure by demeaning another mother. That’s what’s going on when natural childbirth advocates feel compelled offer other women unsolicited advice on “what worked for them”. That’s what’s going on when NCB advocates feel compelled to tell their birth stories to women who didn’t ask to hear them. They are insecure and they can feel better about themselves by explicitly or implicitly demeaning other mothers. There are two serious problems here. One is that some women are deliberately hurting other women. The other is that natural childbirth is not objectively superior in any way.

This post first appeared 4 years ago on Homebirth Debate.