A friend told me recently of a capital A awkward interaction with another mom at a park. My friend stood there as this woman unloaded judgmental comments about another (not present) mom who is, gasp, still nursing her 14 month old baby.
I picture my friend twisting her toe in the bark dust, because the same is true of her. And me. And hundreds of thousand other mothers of 14 month old babies (ok, mine is only 13 months. Time! Slow down!) and yet this mother at the park thought she was safe to condescend because my adorable, unassuming, sweet friend couldn’t possibly do this thing which seems so strange to this other mother. Only the crazies do that, and she’s clearly not a crazy, right?
It always makes me wonder, what are they picturing for “the type”? Volkswagen-van-driving hippies? Werewolves?
I’ve been in this exact conversation but with vaccination choices as the topic. Judgement and lack of understanding poured from women’s mouths as we set up for a mom’s group function – O, how red my cheeks got! Yet another friend has had this happen to her about her diet practices.
In each instance we stood there wondering: Do they know that it’s me they’re talking about?
But they don’t. In these situations, the speaker(s) have assessed present company and decided that they can safely assume no one here is in that other camp. No one here would nurse their toddler, choose alternate vaccination schedules, eat Paleo, hold politically liberal views, or be a Hunger Games enthusiast. (Ok so I made up that last one.)
I don’t care what the topic is, these situations can be such a good opportunity. Truth be told, I let my cheeks get flushed and was tempted to keep my mouth shut, but I couldn’t. It’s not that I leaped into indoctrination or even began to share my reasoning behind our choices, in fact, I’m pretty sure my head was spinning and I barely made a coherent sentence. But what I did do, at first timidly but then with more conviction, was let them know that their assumption about the present company? Was wrong.
Simply by speaking up and saying “I do that.” I sent her pre-conceived notions packing.
If the speaker has wrongly assumed that the people present are a safe place to dump judgement, what else could s/he be wrong about? I think it is a powerful message to share that the stereotype they have created is not, in fact, accurate. More powerful than laying into them with studies or facts or arguments, is simply the bold statement that their entire paradigm about the situation is flawed.
Then one can only hope that the first crack in their scaffolding leads to its crumbling – an inception of sorts. Not that the person would come to hold the same views they just judged, but that they would be able to accurately see the people and perhaps even the reasoning behind them.
Mamas, ladies, friends, readers (who are friends I just haven’t met yet): can I encourage you? If you find yourself in a situation like this, stand up and be counted. You don’t have to stand up and give a speech, you don’t have to have all the answers, you don’t even have to engage if the speaker questions you (but usually they are so completely disarmed that they retract at the mere acknowledgment), but you have been given a powerful tool. Use it.
Be an iconoclast merely by making your presence known.