Carmen Briscoe-Mitchell is suing her daughter, part-time UK judge Constance Briscoe, for writing a memoir called Ugly about her alleged childhood abuse. Briscoe says her mother called her "a dirty little whore," beat her with a stick, and made her feel so bad about her looks that she eventually got plastic surgery. And here in the US, a woman has been arrested for burning the word "wimp" into her daughter's neck with a cigarette. (She apparently made sure to dot the "i".) Spurred on by stories like these, Independent columnist Carol Sarler asks what it is that makes some moms and daughters so awful to each other.Of course, difficult mother/son relationships exist in art and in life, but the mother/daughter dynamic seems the more fraught one. Sarler says social conventions put extra pressure on mother/daughter relationships: "sons are on loan and will eventually leave for another woman; a daughter, by contrast, is for ever – we ask so very much of two women and criticise so very harshly when they appear to fall short." And women's behavior may have a greater effect on their daughters than on their sons — a new study shows that motherly manipulation and "mind games" increase depression risk in African-American girls, but not in boys. Sarler thinks it's a problem of expectations. She quotes advice columnist Virginia Ironside:
The mother is all-powerful to start with; she is your survival. You fall over: Mummy, Mummy, make it better. She does. You put her on a pedestal. But she cannot live up to this for ever; you see that she has feet of clay after all; you are disappointed.
But why should this disappointment be any worse for girls than for boys? Perhaps because girls are supposed to model themselves after their mothers; when Mom falls short, there's the danger that we will too. On the other side, mothers may see themselves in their daughters, and be harder on them as a result. Sarler says the solution is for both mother and daughter to accept imperfection:
Contrary to the romantically high expectations as nurtured by wider society, there is no such thing as a perfect mother, nor a perfect daughter, nor yet a perfect relationship between them. Some – most? – women eventually realise this, allowances are made and gratitude for what there is takes precedence over fury for what there is not.
Sure, moms and daughters should make allowances for each other. But those "romantically high expectations" need a reality check too. It's not just that women are expected to be perfect nurturers and are punished disproportionately if they fall short. Western culture still thinks of women as the primary custodians of relationships — or at least the ones responsible for feeling bad about them. Women's magazines assume we're constantly worrying about our partners, parents, and kids. Sarler contributes to this problem with her "note to male readers: "guilt" is the name of the fluid that runs through the umbilical cord." Note to everyone: men feel guilt too — it just gets less press. When we stop assuming that women care about others more than men do, and that women should be the ones questioning themselves when things go wrong, maybe moms and daughters will get along a little better. Judge's mother denies calling her a 'dirty little whore' [Telegraph] Judge tells court she paid for plastic surgery because of mother's 'ugly' taunts [Telegraph] Mother accused of scarring 'wimp' daughter [UPI.com] Mothers and daughters, locked in bitter battles that none can ever win [Independent] Mothers' mental games increase depressive symptoms in daughters [Eurekalert] Earlier: Is Being A Bad Mother The Most Heinous Crime Of All?