"I had just been kicked in the teeth by a Mumzilla," writes Jojo Moyes, and so begins a tale of schoolyard bullying in which both villains and victims are moms, not kids.
Sort of. The Daily Mail's headline ("The school gates of hell: Bullying, backbiting, tears. No that's not the children but the school-run mums, says one battle-scarred victim") makes it sound like blood will be shed, but Moyes's story will be familiar to anyone who reads Times trend pieces about women of a certain class. She writes,
How other mothers feed their children seems to be a particular flashpoint. I have heard women discuss another mother feeding her child crisps in the same scandalised terms as if she'd run naked through the local supermarket.
I have seen women who considered themselves feminist sisters reduced to boiling resentment over how many vegetables someone's small child should really be made to eat.
But the thing about women, especially middle-class women, is that we are not terribly good at just openly disagreeing; oh no, as the survey confirms, far easier to smile politely over coffee - then disparage them behind their back.
These crisp-obsessed, whispering moms are presumably the same ones who told Lenore Skenazy she was "put[ting] children in harm's way" when she proposed that youngsters be allowed a little unsupervised time in the park. Skenazy blames the news for this overparenting. She writes, "we keep hearing about the dangers to kids posed by food (choking), formula (additives), nappies (chemicals), blankets (smothering), toys (phthalate), school yards (bullies), playgrounds (injury), bedding (fumes), playmates (racism), books (leaded print), shopping carts (bacteria), car seats (asphyxiation), strollers (amputation), and dirt (dirt)." And, "All that matters to the media is scaring us. Result? We keep our kids inside."
Blaming the media is, of course, an old standby, but at least Skenazy takes a stab at identifying a larger cultural force behind middle-class parental handwringing. Moyes, for all her claims to rise above Mumzilla-ness — "I knew there was a time for chocolate digestives just as there is time for a mashed courgette - actually, now I think of it, there is never a time for a mashed courgette" — actually falls prey to the spirit of mompetition. She writes that by the time she had her third kid, "I knew that motherhood was hard enough without us all judging each other. And I could laugh at those mothers - competitive by nature - who make a point of broadcasting how perfect their lives were. In my experience, they are usually the ones whose husband will leave them for the 19-year-old au pair."
Obviously she's kidding, but she's also following a script — women faced with a challenge, be it a job, a child to raise, or a reality show to shoot, are supposed to snipe at each other. Rather than identifying the sexist and classist roots of the ideal of the "perfect mother" — an ideal that keeps women not only from enjoying their own lives but from sympathizing with those cut off from the means of perfection — she simply hints that Mumzilla is probably not sexy and her husband doesn't love her. Who's a bully now?
Of course, the Daily Mail isn't a bastion of forward-thinking anything, and for all we know they made Moyes put that au pair joke in there. At the same time, there's a lesson here about women and fighting: most of the time, when women are encouraged to "bully and backbite" each other, the winner isn't anyone in the fight, but whoever's doing the encouraging. In this case, it's media outlets who rely on scares for their survival, the makers of various products promising to mold perfect children, and an entire social structure that would have to change if women rejected en masse the various forms of stupid competition urged on them. These are the real victors in the schoolyard wars — not kids, Mumzillas, or 19-year-old au pairs.
Image via Aron Brand/Shutterstock.com.
The School Gates Of Hell: Bullying, Backbiting, Tears. No That's Not The Children But The School-Run Mums, Says One Battle-Scarred Victim [Daily Mail]
Why Does 'Go Play Outside' Sound Crazy? [Guardian]