A few weeks ago I met a woman who is an executive at a Fortune 500 company. She looked the part, with her power suit, well-applied eyeshadow, and short mid-west haircut. Let’s call her Cheryl. We were at a conference together having an informal women’s lunch. Cheryl told me she had a teenage daughter and had been asked to give a talk to a group of women at her company about work-family balance.
“I didn’t know what to tell them,” she said, adjusting her salad plate on her lap. “You just do it.”
I think I said something about how hard it is to get used to being a new parent.
“Frankly,” Cheryl said, looking straight ahead at the sea of women milling about with their salads. “I think women whine too much.”
As soon as I heard this sweeping judgment leave her lips, somewhere deep within the dark and mildewed basement corner of my brain, I formulated a judgment about Cheryl:
As if you even know what you’re talking about. You have one kid and she hasn’t been in diapers for ten years! How many hours do you sleep a night?
OK. Take a breath.
Let’s examine Cheryl’s statement in the cool light of day. Women whine too much.
Is this true? Do the women you know whine too much? What about the men you know…Do they whine too much? The women I know certainly talk more than the men I know. Do they whine more? Possibly. Do I? About some things. I think my husband whines more than me when he’s sick. Does that count?
Let’s step back and look at the bigger picture.
Most of the women I know do more housework than their husbands, including the women who work full time. They do more childcare. They arrange most of the play dates, the summer camps, the dentist appointments, the after school arrangements, the school events, all that stuff. Even when the dads are awesome, involved, fun, responsible dads who do drop offs and pick ups and help with homework, the moms almost always handle the kid logistics.
The moms carry more of what I think of as the psychic burden of parenting. Many of the dads I know are great, don’t get me wrong, but they will be the first to admit they aren’t being measured by the same standards as the moms. The bar is lower for them. And even in the progressive Bay Area, when I go to a meeting at my son’s preschool, the moms outnumber the dads five to one. Whether right or wrong, we are not sharing the responsibilities of parenting evenly.
This is just anecdotal. Let’s take another step back and look at some facts.
- Women hold more college degrees than men and make up fully half of U.S. workers and yet, look at almost any corporation or government office and the majority of leadership positions are held by men, not women.
- Women still make 78 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts. The gap gets wider between college-educated workers.
- The wage gap between mothers and non-mothers is even worse that the gap between women and men.
- Motherhood is the single biggest risk factor for poverty in old age.
- When women drop out of the workforce to take care of children, it can be incredibly difficult to reenter the workforce. And if they do manage to reenter the workforce full time, they lose 18% of their earning power. 
Perhaps, ladies, we have something to whine about.
So, back to lunch.
“I see it a little differently,” I said to my lunch companion. “I think women judge each other too much.”
It’s hard to describe the change that came over Cheryl’s face. Everything softened. If she was a needle on a compass, she would have flipped from north to south.
“Yes. Yes. I think you’re right,” she said. “We all do it. Even I do it.”
I do it, too. And it’s a distraction from the issues I care about.
So I’d like to ask two questions. How are you judging other women? And, can we cut each other a little slack? Because if we can, we might learn to be kinder to ourselves. And if we can do that, maybe then we can make some progress on the issues we all care about.
 Mary Ann Mason & Eve Mason Ekman, “Mothers on the Fast Track” p. 63, 2007