I've been thinking a lot about this question lately - why do we make women's lives so hard? Specifically, why do we judge any invention that adds ease or convenience to mother's lives?
I read this article when it came out earlier this year: Kids' Screen Time is a Feminist Issue, and it gave me a lot to think about.
"Our screen time fixation isn’t about kids at all. It’s about mothers. What’s really going on is an age-old problem: we don’t like innovations that make mothers’ lives easier."
Think about it: everything from baby formula to disposable diapers, innovations created to make women's lives more convenient, are now being judged.
"When we shame women for adopting labor or sanity-saving innovations, we don’t limit ourselves to guilting them over the damage they’re doing to their kids: we also guilt them for what they’re doing to the earth itself. If disposable diapers emerged as one of the great symbols of environmental waste, that’s in keeping with the idea that women should be prepared to sacrifice themselves not only to the demands of motherhood, but of the greater good. The focus on “what you can do at home to save the earth,” Stacy Alaimo notes, 'shifts the focus from patriarchal capitalism to the home and places the blame and responsibility, not on corporate polluters, scandalous lack of government controls, or waste-oriented capitalism but ultimately on homemakers, who had better use cloth diapers and keep those pots fully covered.'"
I've had this conversation a lot with moms I know -- disposable is so much easier, and yet, so bad for the environment, so we all feel bad using them. And yet, it's not like it's really our fault. If society took on environmentalism and made it affordable, a municipal diaper composting program isn't that hard to create. So why is it always the mothers' choices we disavow? Why is our worst judgment reserved for mothers?
Screens are no different. If you want to have a few moments to yourself in a restaurant or on a plane without the duty of entertaining a small child, an iPad or iPhone is a handy tool. But if a mother hands over a device, you know somewhere there's someone rolling their eyes and offering platitudes about how it will spoil the kid, how they won't ever want to read, how they'll be glued to their phone forever, even though studies have shown that it's not really true.
What it's all really about honestly, is that we want to control women and women's lives. The article goes on to posit that screens allow women to be out in public, because they are engrossing and very successful at diverting children. A woman can take her kids out to a restaurant or event, and if they get fussy, hand over a device for them to play a game or watch a show. And that bugs us as a society, because we have the collective expectation that mothers will stay home and provide their children with enriching, educational activities that, needless to say, don't involve screens.
And this programming about sacrifice and making things harder than they need to be starts even earlier.
In Get the Epidural, Jessi Klein's smart opinion piece for the New York Times, she says:
"The criterion for whether we are doing our jobs as women “correctly”— and, yes, it’s a job — is more often than not how many of our own wants and needs we are putting aside. We want to eat, but since everyone likes us better when our weight is the same number as our body temperature, we must learn to be hungry. And we can’t acknowledge we’re hungry, because no one wants to think about skinniness as something that takes work. This is why half the ingénues on the Oscars red carpet feel compelled to say they just scarfed down a cheeseburger on the way to the show.
Weight is just one slice of the pie chart (remember, don’t eat pie) where women are supposed to shun their desires for the satisfaction of everyone around us. The expectation of sacrifice — regarding sex, childbirth, career, the caretaking of children and aging parents — is the axis around which so many women’s lives revolve. Men, of course, face pressure around standards of masculinity, but there is not the same jeweler’s loupe scrutiny over every bodily centimeter, and every one of their life decisions."
We definitely expect sacrifice, but sometimes it borders on martyrdom. I never felt the pressure to give up so much of myself as when I became a mother. I see it starkly when my husband bemoans having to give up a happy hour or cancel a gaming session, when I haven't been out with a friend, or had more than a few hours to myself, in several months. And nevermind what my body is like these days. 6 months of co-sleeping, achy back, shoulders, and breasts from nursing, stretch marks, wobbly tummy, and hip pain.
All this to say: mothers are sacrificing enough. If we want to do something to help them, let's stop judging them for their kids' screen time use, whether they breast or formula feed, task rabbit the heck out of their to do list, get an epidural or a c-section, or any one of the other choices women have to make every day. We don't know her life. It is not for us to say.
Instead, let's spend some time thinking about how we can improve life for all women, for all mothers. Let's figure out the whole diaper thing, make a compostable nursing pad (I'm sorry, but the bamboo ones are crap, and I leak every time), campaign for better family leave, flexible work/life balance, equal pay, and the right to make medical decisions about our own bodies.
Let's give women, especially moms, a break.