Maybe you have not said all of these phrases, but you have said one of these, and you need to own up to it. Because all the #metoos of the world are not going to change things without you taking personal responsibility for the ways you put down other women.
“I could never stay at home with kids. It’s too boring.”
The implication here is that people who stay home with kids require less stimulation than you do. Maybe they are dumber than you are, or more simple than you are. Maybe they don’t have the incredible potential to change the world that you do. You were born for better things.
Most people who stay home with kids have a choice: they could work full-time at an interesting job, or they could focus on raising their kids and taking care of their family. The people who are home with their kids did a cost-benefit analysis for the family as a whole and decided the extra money they’d make working was not as beneficial as the extra time they could give to making their family run well.
This does not mean the person is boring or stupid. But it might mean you are boring and stupid to assume that people who stay home with kids are not as interesting as people who work all day. And if IQ is what you’re concerned about, consider that an Ivy League education makes moms more likely to stay home.
College-educated women who are home with kids are brave enough to do what most makes sense to them instead of doing what society values. So when you say you have nothing in common with women who are home with kids, what you really mean is you have no respect for the job of taking care of kids, and you’d hate to have to identify as someone who does that.
The reason this is misogynist is that you are grouping a huge swath of the female population and declaring that they are shallow, boring and have nothing to talk about.
“You’re so smart, you can do anything!”
We say this to girls. All the time. The smart girls who follow all the rules at school outperform the boys on everything school-related except football. We tell these girls they will go to a great college and doors will open up and they will “do great things” the world.
And some do great things in the world. Until age 30. Then most women choose to give more time to family than their career. Women don’t want to be the breadwinner. And women don’t want to work the ten-hour days that are required of people who have outstanding careers. Because they won’t see their kids.
So when you congratulate your daughter for getting good grades so she can go to a good college to get a good job, you devalue the job she is most likely to gravitate to: taking care of a family. You degrade that job as not a valid choice, the same way people in the 1950s degraded math and science as not a valid choice for girls.
When you tell girls what they should do with their future, you undermine the achievements of women’s rights in the 20th century. When we constantly devalue the choice most women are making — to scale back their career and focus on family — we take away the pride girls have in who they are: smart, educated, hard-working. You can be all those things and still decide taking care of family is most important.
Parents should validate that option as much as they validate the option of being president or running a science lab. Because your smart, educated daughter is much more likely to stay home with kids than do any of those jobs that require never seeing their kids.
“I’ve never fit in with other women.”
I hear this all the time from high-performing women. As if they are fitting in with the men.
But they are not. Men and women are very separate once there are kids. There are relatively few married women in full-time office jobs who are over 35 and have school-aged kids. By choice. In most cases, the women who fit this description are the primary breadwinners (and it’s usually not what they wanted to be doing.)
What women mean when they say, “I don’t fit in with other women,” is really, “I win the competition with other women. I am competing with men.” For the most part, men don’t compete with women; they compete with other men.
Women generally choose to scale back their career to take care of kids, and men usually do not scale back. So if you are a woman, it’s pretty likely that you do, indeed, fit in with the other women. You just wish you didn’t. And that’s misogynist.
How you can be part of the solution
The reality is that adults fall into very few categories. Here they are:
1) People who are the primary caretakers of kids.
2) People who have full-time jobs that matter to them.
3) People who do not fully commit to family or work. They don’t do either working or parenting as well as the other two categories because they refuse to choose one. (Or they are devoted to something that does not involve money or family, like painting.)
If you think you do not fit into any of these categories, you’re wrong. The most accomplished people commit to something and go at it with huge energy and devotion. Those are the first two types of people. Ironically it’s the third group that is most frequently involved in conversations about how they are too good to identify with other women.
Between the ages of 30 and 40, women face lots of difficult choices. Regardless of the choices they make, women who come out of this difficult time with their self-esteem intact are those who respect and admire women who stay home with kids.
This is true for you, too. Yes, you, the one who “could never stay home with kids,” the one who “never fit in with women,” the one who pushes your daughter to overlook caretaking as a valid choice. Women have fought so hard to have choices. Now the fight is for self-respect. And it starts with you.