Tonight a friend and colleague of mine posted about an experience she had being shamed by her Uber driver for not having kids. She’s happily married. In her 30s. Living a life she loves in a city she loves in a career she loves, and is good at.
My instant reaction was to feel frustrated and pissed off. I rolled my eyes thinking about all of the times I felt wrong, or weird, in the awkward silence following my “no” response to the question, “do you want kids?”
As the night wore on, I thought about how hard it is to meet the expectations of being a woman. How much judgment and scrutiny is applied to mothers of all kinds, while the decision of women to not be mothers is equally, if differently, criticized.
We are expected to be thin and flawless and beautiful forever, while time, and child rearing and things like stress, and the sun, are known, unavoidable assailants of those qualities.
We ought to be kind, and compassionate and loving and gentle but we should also lean in and stay strong and stand up for what we believe in.
We have to hustle harder and speak louder than our male counterparts but we also have to be more likeable, and collaborative and always put together.
We are tired, but we can’t complain.
When I was a summer camp counselor I tried to avoid telling young girls I liked their shoes, or their dress, while I turned to their older brothers and asked them to show me their muscles.
It was harder than it should be.
As an adult, I’ve adopted a similar commitment where I try to avoid asking women in long term relationships when they’re getting married and asking newly married women when they’re having kids.
It is a perfectly normal way to engage each other but it is also an important, invisible way that we reenforce the ever growing expectations we have of each other, and ourselves.
Just as easily, we can ask women in long term relationships about their five year goals and ask newly married women what in their lives they are most proud of. Or excited for.
We can ask little girls the same things we ask their brothers.
We can create space for women to be tired, or loud, or quiet or angry. We can accept them if they are thin or beautiful, or perfectly made up, but also if they aren’t that day, or ever.
We can celebrate more and criticize less. Each other, and ourselves.