Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Culture of One

Lately I've been thinking a lot about this club that I started back in elementary school. During the summer before I started grade two, my family moved to a new town which meant leaving old friends behind and setting about acquiring some new ones in the fall. Naturally, I had some fears about fitting in, but in no time at all I was standing in front of my three new friends suggesting that we start a club. We decided that the club would be about dancing at recess and wearing our hair in a specific way (high pony-tail and curled bangs, if you were wondering). I felt very serious about the club and spent hours one afternoon designing an ornate logo while spinning in an office chair at my mother's work. Each day during recess, my friends and I raced outside to work on our dance routines. We noticed that other girls were starting clubs as well and we felt very cosmopolitan for starting such a cool trend. I loved being in that club with those girls because I felt that we were all so like-minded what with our same hair, same age, same interests in dancing, etc and so on.

Then one day...

We all headed out for recess and I got right into the first position for our latest routine but as I started the count, I noticed that the other three girls were standing together with their hands on their hips.

"How come you're not in position?" I demanded.

"Well...we were talking about the routine-" one of the girls started,

"-Without ME?" I interrupted.

"Like I said, we were talking about the routine and we decided that it would look better if the blonde haired girls were on one side and the brown haired girls were on the other,"

"But-" I stammered, the warm sting of tears already filling my eyes.

"-so since we all have blonde hair, we'll stand over here and you'll have to stand by yourself because you're the only one with brown hair" she said matter-of-factly.

By the next recess, I was out of the club. The girls decided it was going to be a club for blondes only. I was completely devestated. It may have been a bit naive given that we were only seven years old, but I had hoped that we would cherish and support one another and remain close friends for the rest of our lives. It was a tough pill to swallow for such a little girl and it was my first taste of the girl-on-girl crime that I refer to as "the culture of one".

It seems like no matter where a girl turns, she is taught to mistrust her fellow female. In the culture of one, every girl has to be better than every other girl around her. In the culture of one, there is no sisterhood of women, there is only me vs. you. As young girls being schooled in the culture of one, we often look to grown women and imagine that the cliquishness we are experiencing is only temporary, we will be as cool and confident as those women one day when we grow out of this petty foolishness. Seven year old me certainly thought that was the case. As I got older, I began to wonder when I would find a group of like-minded women who rejected the culture of one in favour of supporting one another's differing views, celebrating our individuality and bonding through a connecting experience.

This brings us to twenty seven year old me.

Twenty seven year old me gave birth to a beautiful baby boy last year and twenty seven year old me excitedly headed out into the mothering community with a elated feeling that I had surely found a realm where the culture of one would not rule. I figured that we had all experienced pregnancy and the miracle of birth, we all loved our children enormously and we all had an interest in doing the very best for our children, therefore we would all be united in a supportive, non-critical sisterhood of mothers.

It's that whole fool me once, fool me twice thing all over again...

Yes, unfortunately, it seems that not only is the culture of one alive and well in the mothering community, but it reaches a level of ferocity for which my elementary-school-club fiasco did not adequately prepare me. I had hoped that the unifying experience of giving life would translate into some level of understanding, but instead I see a lot of me vs. you, us vs. them. There are so many labels by which mothers feel compelled to plaster on themselves. There are crunchy moms, trendy moms, stay-at-home moms, working moms, career moms and each group feels the need to explain why they are better than the other groups. Breastfeeding mothers critisize bottle-feeding mothers for not trying hard enough. Bottle-feeding mothers look at extended nursers as selfish. Co-sleepers are called irresponsible by the cribs-only crew. Baby-wearers quote the statistics of positional asphyxiation caused by toting your newborn in his carseat and stroller. Carseat and stroller toters quote the statistics of positional asphyxiation in slings and carriers. It goes on and on.


Why can't we all just get along? Yes, it is true that parenting is an incredibly personal and passionate aspect of life and so it is easy to see how we have fallen into this trap of the culture of one. If we all believe that we are doing what is best for our children, then anyone who does it differently must not be doing what's best, right? What would be amazing is if we could all accept that just as every child is different, every style of mothering is also different. We cannot assume what is best for another child. We cannot assume that another mother is not doing what is best because she isn't doing what we would do. It doesn't have to be blondes on one side and brunettes on the other. It doesn't have to be crunchy on one side and mainstream on the other. It may be true that society has infected us with a mistrust of our fellow female, but that doesn't mean we can't recognize what has occurred here and choose the alternative.

So please. The next time you find yourself tempted to raise an eyebrow at another mother who gives her son milupa instead of organic brown rice or who rubs anbesol on her baby's gums instead of draping her in baltic amber- take a step back and remember that we are all in this club together. We all brought these incredible children into the world and we all love them like nobody's business. We deserve the respect, support and well-wishing of one another, not shame, judgement or criticism fueled by the culture of one.

I look forward to the day that this remarkable sisterhood of mothers sheds the itchy skin that is the culture of one and learns to embrace our fellow woman. We're all on the same side, after all, and we're not seven anymore.

Diadima xo