This has become even more obvious in the subsequent three years, something that I'm recognizing now that I'm pregnant again. Facebook now has targeted ads that use things like geographic information and your shared posts to attempt to match users directly to the products that speak to their particular identity.
This means that I (with my friend feed full of wonderful baby wearing, cloth diapering, crunchy mamas) get a lot of ads for the markers of a particular kind of mommy lifestyle that include cloth diapers, baby carriers, and boho chic diaper bags.
You can see how those products become identity markers through the hyperbolic presentation in this Similac ad:
The slings, the strollers, the bags, the bottles: all of them are used to denote a particular kind of philosophy, a particular kind of parenting identity. And yes, the point of this video is that in a moment of crisis all of those corporate-driven markers fall away and we are, at the core, just parents trying to do our best to love and raise our children well.
But there are a lot of moments where we're not in crisis. And there are a lot of pressures coming at us from all sides (including those ubiquitous Facebook ads) that teach us that parenting is something you armor yourself for, and the only way to do it properly is through the proper gadgets.
I just read Mary Elizabeth Williams' Salon piece calling to end the mom wars. Since she works part-time from home, she calls herself a "spy in two houses," able to sit in with groups of stay-at-home moms as they ripped apart their working counterparts for not really loving their children and with groups of working moms who tore apart their stay-at-home counterparts for not having real lives.
With the political hijacking of the mommy wars, these problems are fresh on my mind. I know that Williams is absolutely right. Women are often terrible to one another, and motherhood seems to be a battleground filled with the horrendous potential to judge and dismember. I also agree that this kind of bickering "stems so often from our own deepest fears and insecurities." The easiest way to prove to ourselves that we're doing it right is often to make sure everyone knows those other women are doing it wrong.
So, there we were. Enemies. Or so the media would have us believe. Unable to find even a sliver of common ground.
But that wasn't the case at all. We had plenty to talk about, plenty to share, and plenty to learn from one another. Parenting, as it turns out, isn't particularly easy no matter how you do it, but it's also full of joy and rewards. Those are the things we should focus on: helping each other out through the difficulties and celebrating each other's happiness. You can't tell me that's not enough to break down essentialist barriers.
During this conversation, we also began to talk about who really benefits from tearing mothers apart. I posited that this kind of divisive rhetoric is a tool that keeps women from attaining equality in all spheres. We could target things like pay gaps, leave policies, health care (like why we have nearly double the infant mortality rate of countries like Sweden and Iceland), and inadequate or stereotypical media representations. If we're busy tearing each other apart over every parenting decision, we're not very likely to come together and recognize these more pervasive influences.
But something that I hadn't put a lot of thought in came up in that conversation as well. One of the women mentioned how much businesses profit from the niche markets created by in-group fighting in mothers. After all, if you're going to belong to a particular club, you have to have a way to show it. Everything from the stroller you push (or the carrier you use so you don't have to push the stroller) to the baby food you buy (or the baby food maker you buy so that you don't have to buy baby food) to the bath products you use to the toys our children play with have been marketed as making a statement about who you are and what you believe.
I'm not saying that none of these statements have a real-world basis. I'm not saying that there's no difference between Johnson and Johnson's baby shampoo and Angel Baby's or between carrying your baby in a sling and using a stroller. I'm also not saying that you shouldn't care about those differences. I'm just saying that what appears to be an informed decision based on ethics and ideals is also a way for companies to make money.
Just as in high school wearing Vans meant something different than wearing Nikes, buying Fisher Price means something different than buying Oompa. And all of those companies have a bottom line to worry about. The mommy wars create lovely little niche markets where advertising can be targeted.
And, as this infograph from Frugal Dads points out, that makes for a very bolstered industry. Note that statistic at the bottom: "37% of new mothers surveyed express guilt over not being able to afford a certain baby product." Is that because we're letting these products mean more to us than they should?