February 22, 2012

Why Can't Women Support Each Other?

For the most part, I think women are really cool. 

Most of my friends are women. Most of the people I love are women (my sister, my niece). And most of the people I admire are women as well. 

Like Eleanor Roosevelt. 
And Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 
And Georgia O'Keefe. (Oh, her art makes my heart sing!) 

I guess I've been lucky in that I've always felt supported by the women around me. When I got into my top-choice college, my mom cheered me on. When I landed my first job, my friends were there to celebrate. I've been blessed to have such an awesome network of women-family and women-friends who lift me up when I'm down and who shout Hurrah! when I've done something cool. (Which isn't all too often. I'm not that cool!)

And so...I simply don't get it when women fail to support each other. Especially when one of us does something really, really cool.

Case in point: Janet Evans. A competitive swimmer, Evans won three gold medals at the '88 Seoul Olympics, at the wee age of 17. She went on to swim in two more Olympics, earning another gold and a silver medal before retiring from the sport.

But now, after a fourteen-year hiatus, at age 40, Janet Evans is making her return to competitive swimming. She has even qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in June where she will race in the 400- and 800-meter freestyles.

Did I mention that she has two little kids as well?

So yeah, as I was reading this NYTimes article about Evans, I was simply blown away. A 40-year-old woman making a comeback in a sport that she dominated as a teenager! And she's a mother to boot! She's such an inspiration. I mean, this woman has drive and she has guts. She's the sort of person I'd like my future kids to look up to.

But not everyone feels the same. From the Times:
Evans said she had been criticized on social networking sites for training when she should be home with her children. But she has set up her schedule so her main swimming workout takes place in the morning, from 5:30 to 7:30, so she can make it home in time for breakfast. Her crazy hours are not lost on her daughter, who recently asked, “Why do you swim in the dark, Mommy?”

That quote deflated me like a day-old balloon.

I just don't get it.

Shouldn't we, as women, celebrate what Evans is doing? Shouldn't we, as women, cheer her on?

Why can't we support one another in the choices we make?

I think that's the crux of the issue here. If a woman chooses to raise two children and train for the Olympics, I support that. If a woman chooses to stay home with her kids, I support that. If a woman chooses not to have kids, I support that too.

Why must we fight and scratch and kick at each other's choices? Why can't we, as fellow women, offer support and cheering instead?

Because that's what I'll be doing when Janet Evans competes at the Olympic trials. I'm going to turn up the volume on my TV and clap my hands and cheer her to the finish line.

She's earned it.


  1. I totally agree with you. What she's doing is amazing, and anyway, for those detractors "worried" about her kids, it sounds like she's finding ways to both follow her dreams (and her goal is a good, admirable goal!) without taking away from her kids. So seriously people, what's the problem?

    1. Yes, exactly! I have to echo your question, "What's the problem?" 'Cause I really don't understand why people would wag their fingers at Janet Evans.

      First of all, as long as her kids are healthy and loved, it's not anyone's business what she does with her time.

      And secondly, I feel like she is setting such a great example to mothers everywhere. She's showing them that you don't have to give up on your dreams and that a 40-year-old body is capable of amazing things.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I adore this post so much, Caroline. Thank you for speaking up about it!

    She sounds like an AMAZING woman, and as women, we definitely should be cheering her on.

    This is something that I've been thinking about for a while now, especially a year or so ago when I was seriously looking at the medical field where the working hours can be insane: The stigma of either a stay-at-home mom or a working mom. Both are valid choices, and neither is better than the other.

    However, it wasn't until I became more active on the Internet did I realize that sometimes, women who choose to work instead of staying at home with her children get a lot of flakes. Maybe my ignorance stemmed from a background where most people I know, in the U.S., have both working parents to make enough to survive. But regardless, it reeks of double standards. When men work, they're never being criticised of putting work ahead of their children. When women work, however, they are told -- most often from other women -- that they're a failure as mothers for not spending all their time with their children. It's just ridiculous. :|

    (I'm sorry for the novel of a comment.)

    1. This is such a great comment, Emy!

      Did you listen to the NPR story a few months ago about whether or not female doctors have an obligation to work after they obtain their MDs? I thought it was a fascinating conversation and it touches on a few of the subjects you discussed.


      I found it interesting because there are some female doctors who are championing part-time hours so they can better balance family and career. But the opponents (both female and male) argue that doctors owe it to their patients and to their education to dedicate their lives to medicine.

      If you listen to it, let me know what you think! I'd love to discuss it with you since you're in the medical field!

    2. And I'm not done yet! Haha.

      But I wanted to give a big AMEN to this part of your comment:

      "When men work, they're never being criticised of putting work ahead of their children. When women work, however, they are told -- most often from other women -- that they're a failure as mothers for not spending all their time with their children."


      I really hate this double standard. Why is all of the blame shifted onto the mother? This limits a woman's potential and it also short changes the importance of fatherhood.

      Argh, this whole thing makes my blood simmer! Where are all the naysayers crying foul about NFL players and Olympic male athletes spending time away from their families?

    3. I needed to add another AMEN to this double standard talk!

      And I'll have to save that npr article and show it to my friend. She's finishing up Med School right now, and she works more than anyone I know.

    4. Oh, I'd be curious to hear what your friend in med school thinks! I wonder if this is something that female med students talk about...

  3. Thanks for the post, Caroline. Yep, yep, and yep!

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Elsie! :)

  4. I think the reason this double standard happens is that some women who choose to stay at home (not all or even most hopefully, but there are some) feel that if other women choose to work, or worse yet to work AND to raise children, it makes their own choice "wrong". If another women can raise kids AND swim at an olympic level or do anything else cool, it begs the question why all women can't find the time and energy for more than "just" taking care of the family.

    It's not true, of course - taking care of the family is like any other job, it is hard to do well and you can put in as much as you can/want of yourself. It certainly CAN take up your whole life, and many women take great (deserved) pride in that.

    And the same thing happens to anyone making an unusual choice - like, say, quitting a job and traveling the world. Everyone will say "that's a terrible idea" and "you're ruining your life" because the alternative (that you are the one who will have an amazing life and wonderful adventures and not hurt your job prospects) scares them because they think it means THEIR choice is wrong.

    As if choices like this can really be wrong. Anyway, that's my theory on why people (women, in this case) don't support each other when they do amazing things.

    1. This is incredibly insightful, Vicki!

      I especially like your point about people disproving of others making "unusual" choices. I've seen this happen in my own life and I think you really hit the nail on the head--these reactions speak more about a person's insecurities than anything else. It can be hard when someone chooses a path so different from our own, and I suppose some people react by shaking their heads.

      Recently, I was reading a travel blog by a guy who has backpacked across the world for 5+ years. He said that one of the signs of a novice backpacker was bragging about the countries one has seen. Your comment reminded me a lot about this phenomena as well. 'Cause if you feel secure in yourself and in what you do, you don't have to broadcast it to the world.

      Anyway, thank you!

  5. Excellent point, Caroline. No one holds other women accountable for "what women should be/do/prioritize/look like/say/feel/think" more than other women. Seriously. All we can do is start with ourselves, putting positive, supportive thoughts out there. Glad you've already started!

    1. Yes! Exactly! I don't really understand why women are so hard on each other. If anything, we know what each other are going through oftentimes! But I feel lucky that I've met you and other awesome girls in the DC area who are really nice and funny and supportive. Yay!

  6. completely agree with you! As women we've come a long way to have freedom when it comes to the options presented to us. We should support each other in whatever choice we make for ourselves. I think it's admirable for a mother of two, in her forties no less, to try and make it into the Olympics. I've had three and am pregnant with my fourth, your body goes through a lot during pregnancy and childbirth. It's amazing that she's doing what she's doing, and she shouldn't have to defend herself or the decisions she's made, especially when it comes to her family.

    1. Oh, I love this! Agreed!

      I don't have children yet, but I've heard that it can be difficult for female athletes to return to their pre-pregnancy bodies after their babies are born. And so, I'm simply amazed at what Janet is doing! It makes me scratch my head why other women are telling her that she shouldn't be doing this incredible and inspiring thing.

      Still, I think (I hope!) that the naysayers are a small vocal minority. Because everyone I've talked to about Janet Evans' comeback thinks it's pretty awesome!

  7. Oh oh oh I AGREE, Caroline. I haven't experienced something on the level you've written about, but I know that teenage girls can be so. catty. It constantly amazes me how jerky girls can be to each other. All the time I want to say: "WHY? Why can't we support each other?"

    1. That's a great point, Yahong! Why is it that teenage girls AND grown women can be so catty? You'd think that we would grow out of this behavior but we don't. Sort of sad, isn't it?

      I remember at my high school that the girls could be SO hard on each other. About their clothes. About their weight. About how far they've gone with boys or how far they hadn't gotten. I mean...why couldn't we just let one another mind our own businesses?

      I really don't have an answer for that, sadly.

      Still, just by talking to girls like you, I have hope!

  8. Holy crap! Janet Evans is the bomb!! :) She's the reason I became a swimmer in my younger years, so to see her come back at this level is nothing short of awe-inspiring. I will be cheering my butt off for her, as should all women!

    1. Ohh, I didn't know that Janet Evans inspired you to swim! I'm really excited for her and I'm hoping that she makes it onto the Olympic team! It would be just so cool to see a 40-year-old mother in two swimming with athletes half her age. Go Janet!

  9. Anonymous6:32 AM

    Listen to all of you wonderful positive women! I would like to think that we are the majority; those people in life who criticize and fear success or ambition are often filled with insecurity and regret (in my experience.) There was a period in my childhood when my mother was working full-time, studying part-time and keeping a perfect home with dinner on the table every night... I find that witnessing her hard work and being encouraged to help around the house significantly developed my own multi-tasking skills and instilled a work ethic within me. Parents are not only there to feed and clothe us, they are there to educate and inspire us. As long as the time we spend with our children includes "quality" time, why should it matter how much time?

    1. Thanks so much for the comment!

      I really liked your thoughts on the importance of quality time and how this is what's important to children. Right now, I'm reading a memoir by Michelle Au, a doctor who has two young boys. She admits how tough it is to juggle her career and her growing boys, but I admire her for spending a lot of time with her sons when she's at home. She dotes on them, takes them to breakfast, etc. She's trying her best and I feel like this is what counts, isn't it?

  10. Anonymous5:24 PM

    Aren't you just lumping women into a group of unfriendly, catty bitches that you yourself admit doesn't even represent the women you know in your life just because of an article you read in some patriarchy approved media outlet? Why not choose to highlight the fact that the women you experience are wonderful and supportive instead of pointing out that there's a few women out there who are given voices precisely BECAUSE they adhere to conventional misogynistic attitudes?

  11. You bring up a good point!

    Why not just talk about the awesome women in my life? Well, I hope to do just that! I know some amazingly smart and funny women who deserve to be talked about. And I certainly didn't mean to lump women as a bunch of catty bitches in this post--that wasn't my intent and I apologize if that's how it came across.

    But, the sad thing is, I don't think the Janet Evans naysayers are a tiny outspoken minority. I think these "conventional misogynistic attitudes" are a lot more widespread than they appear to be, even amongst women. I know some incredible women in my life--in my family, amongst my friends--but that doesn't mean I haven't encountered sexist attitudes from women I've met. I've experienced such negative sentiments at my church, at my work, and amongst female acquaintances who truly believe that a woman's realm should be within the home.

    And so, that's why I wrote this blog post. Yes, our society has come incredibly far in terms of sexism and inequality but such issues still plague us, albeit at a smaller, less noticeable level. Of course, I'd much rather fight these present-day issues than what Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton struggled against! But...that doesn't mean that such sentiments have gone away completely.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!