Yesterday I was texting with two of my best friends. We're all moms of toddlers, yet our lives probably look pretty different to an outsider: One of us is a stay-at-home mom in the Northeast suburbs, one of us works full-time outside the home and lives in New York City, and I freelance full-time from home in the South. Somewhere amidst the gushing pep talks we were giving one another, it occurred to me: The so-called “Mommy Wars”? I’ve never experienced anything close. Every young mom I know enthusiastically supports all other moms.
Yes, all other moms. Moms we know, moms we don’t know. Strangers at the playground and in restaurants. Moms we read about online and hear about through friends of friends. While I’ve read plenty about moms judging and competing with other moms, I’ve seen them in reality never. Every mom I’ve ever met doesn’t just get, but lives, thinks, and breathes one of the great koans of all time: Despite the vastly different iterations in which motherhood might present, it remains the great equalizer.
Today, in honor of the first-ever Women’s Equality Day, I’d like to take a moment to suggest that a big part of the reason the young moms I know are so supportive of one another is because, compared to many other Western countries, being a mother in this country is really, really hard.
In an official proclamation Thursday night, President Obama revealed that he was designating August 26—the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote—as America’s official day to “pledge to continue fighting for women and girls.” While women have made amazing progress in our fight for gender equality in the 45 years since the amendment passed, the president wrote, we still have a long way to go to reach true parity. We must close the gender pay gap and fight for affordable and high-quality childcare, paid family leave, and access to reproductive and sexual healthcare. We must battle the epidemics of domestic violence, campus sexual assault, and violence against transgender women plaguing our country.
How can moms not appreciate other moms when we face so many systemic burdens to ensuring that women and mothers are not just appreciated but protected—and held as equal?
White women earn just 79% of what white men in equivalent jobs earn, with African American women earning 63%, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian women earning 62%, American Indian and Alaska Native women earning 59%, and Latina women earning 54% of what their white male peers make.
A September 2015 report from the Center for American Progress shows that, for 65% of children under the age of 6 years old, all of their available parents are in the labor force, making affordable childcare “an economic necessity”—despite the fact that the average annual price of an out-of-home child care center is more than $10,000 nationally. And a May 2016 report from the same group revealed the systemic discrimination low-income parents face in attempting to access any childcare, let alone childcare that is affordable.
Within the first few months of 2016, 10 states sought to defund Planned Parenthood, thus attempting to restrict access to well-woman care, contraceptive counseling, and diagnostic health services for women who already face innumerable barriers to care. As a result of these legal challenges, state legislatures are spending millions on legal fees and reimbursements—instead of simply using this money to invest in women’s health to begin with.
One in four women in this country is the victim of domestic abuse and close to 50% of all women in the U.S. have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Nineteen percent of college women will be sexually assaulted. And let’s not forget that 72% of the victims of hate homicides in 2013 were transgender women, with 67% of those victims being transgender women of color. Meanwhile, gay and lesbian parents still encounter challenges to two-parent adoptions, despite last year’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality.
So, yeah—women of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender identities are up against it pretty hard in 2016.
Which is why, when I see mothers supporting other mothers in big and small ways, I feel so inspired and so heartened. Until the rest of the world wakes up to the challenges—economic, social, and financial—faced by women, and mothers especially, I will take comfort in watching my mom-rades give each other thumbs ups at playgrounds nationwide. We have each others' backs, regardless of whether the rest of the world feels the same.
Jen Gerson Uffalussy is a regular contributor to Fusion. She also writes about reproductive and sexual health/policy for Glamour, and television for The Guardian. She lives in Atlanta.