With the way the media shoves the “mommy wars” down our throats, I’m amazed that there isn’t already a reality show based on that concept out there. (Reality TV producers, this is NOT an invitation to prove me wrong). You could have a handful of women battling it out for their child’s love! Or society’s approval! They would earn or lose points based on whether they ate deli meat or soft cheese during pregnancy, whether they had a homebirth or a highly medicalized one, whether they breastfed their kids, used cloth diapers, only fed organic, stayed home or went back to work.
It would be exhausting to watch, and truth be told, there wouldn’t be any winners. This is exactly how I feel most days as I watch the “mommy wars” being trotted out as a way for women to pit themselves against other women in morning news segments, blog headlines and magazine covers. I still shudder when picturing TIME‘s infamous “Are You Mom Enough?” cover.
So it should surprise exactly no one that when I read Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest GOOP newsletter with her own thoughts on the “mommy wars,” I couldn’t help but cringe.
I’m going to be honest: I have no business reading anything GOOP-related. I have no sustained interest in lifestyle brands, especially ones that think $245 for a sweatshirt with a robot on it is a great deal. But it was like a car wreck, I couldn’t help but look. And as we all know, many things Gwyneth-related are like a car wreck. Remember a few months ago when Paltrow commented that it was much harder to work in film as a mom than it is for other mothers to hold down a 9-5 job? For obvious reasons, that caused a few feathers to get ruffled. I’m sure there are tough parts to filming a movie — like long hours of filming and being on location away from home — but the multi-million dollar paychecks eases plenty of challenges. Still, her comments caused enough of a ruckus, that Paltrow felt the need to address it in her Mother’s Day GOOP newsletter. After attempting to clarify what she meant, Paltrow then started hypothesizing on why everyone’s panties were in a wad:
“This somehow was taken to mean I had said a 9-5 job is easier, and a lot of heat was thrown my way, especially by other working mothers who somehow used my out-of-context quote as an opportunity to express feelings (perhaps projected) on the subject. As the mommy wars rage on, I am constantly perplexed and amazed by how little slack we cut each other as women.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and offer Paltrow a little tip: Gwyneth? If you’re going to lament the “mommy wars” and wonder why we don’t cut each other more slack, it might be helpful if you don’t suggest that those who took issue with your quote were “projecting” onto you.
Look, I’m not going to make any assumptions about Gwyneth Paltrow’s home life. Clearly, she has her own set of challenges, what with her recent conscious uncoupling and all. But I am willing to bet she wrote this from a place of immense privilege, and that can cause a sort of obliviousness when dealing with us common folk. The whole work/life balance is a huge one for families in general, but particularly for mothers — many of whom feel pressure to succeed on all fronts with very little help and support. It doesn’t help that Paltrow ends her email with a link to that ”World’s Toughest Job” viral video. The video pretends to be a job interview for what sounds like the worst job ever but ends up being – surprise – about motherhood!
Again, this may point to Paltrow’s circumstances, but the majority of moms need more than just cutting each other some slack. That will help, of course, but you know what would help? Mandated paid maternity leave (and paternity leave!). Paid sick time. Flexible work hours. Affordable, quality childcare. Policies that don’t leave the United States ranking 60th in the world — yes, 60th — when it comes to maternal health.
Until that utopia exists, maybe we agree to disagree — and remember that even attempting to compare the work/life balance of a movie star to somebody holding down a traditional 9-5 job isn’t the best way to make a point about the stresses of motherhood.
Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamfesto. Her book, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality, is out now. Follow her on Twitter.