What's Worse Than 'Attacking Other Women'

I can get lost on the Internet. I log on for a short break and three hours later realize I'm up way past my bedtime because I've found another trove of amazing women writers. Women across the Web are writing glorious, touching, funny, controversial, insightful, frustrating, clever, sad, nuanced, direct, honest, scary and challenging pieces about their lives, their work, their beliefs, their lives and their dreams. The lucky ones have tens of thousands of followers, others have just a few. It doesn't matter. There is a community of women out there sharing their perspectives and eager to read yours.

As in any community, people don't always agree. There are differences of opinion about whether we should care for kids full-time or work outside the home, whether we should lean in, own guns, send our kids to private school, have abortions, lie, eat organic, believe in God, adopt, divorce, sleep around, co-sleep, have one child or a dozen, or move to the suburbs. I love the diversity. It allows for divergent paths, unique families, and a myriad of goals. It makes life complicated, but it exposes us to an array of views and, every so often, may change our minds.

Then it happens. In the midst of a dialogue, no matter how civil, someone almost always steps up and pleads for us to stop disagreeing because, wait for it, women shouldn't "attack" other women. In nearly every debate about motherhood, someone characterizes the conversation as another round in the mommy wars. We pounce on people for being "judgmental" for no other reason than they don't share our views and have the temerity to say so.

I'm confused. When did dissent become the same thing as hatred? When did an open dialogue become an attack?

I want women's and mothers' conversations, ideas, theories, and analyses to be taken just as seriously as men's. I'd love it if our gender ceased to be the most important item in our biographies. Just because a large part of the women's blogosphere covers things like parenting, marriage, children, psychology and work-life balance doesn't make those topics frivolous. (Nor does it mean that women aren't covering issues outside of those topics.)

You know what makes our ideas and opinions less important? Pretending that we are so fragile that we can't handle a healthy and robust debate.

We are made of sturdier stuff.

That doesn't mean I think it's appropriate to trash talk people for fun or criticize their point of view for fun. I'd like to bar vicious anonymous comments, misogynistic slurs and cruel taunts. I am tired of remarks that focus on what a woman looks like rather than what she says. I see no value in shaming women for their choices or judging them because they chose a different path than yours. None of that seems designed to do anything more than diminish and belittle.

But I do support challenging our ideas in a wide forum. I have no issues with Sheryl Sandberg wanting to start a movement encouraging women to "lean in" or to write a book and give interviews calling for women to change the way they approach their jobs. But if I think that misses some larger contextual points, then I am damn well going to say that (as anyone in a four block radius of me knows). I'm going to ask us to put those ideas to the test -- not to accept them blindly because they come from a successful woman, nor reject them on the same grounds.

You know why? Because that's how you figure out what the good ideas are, that's how we explore all the facets of a problem and avoid dead ends. And nothing in that process should scare us. I don't speak up because I'm contrary or, heaven forbid, "shrill." I don't take joy in opposing another women's ideas. But I don't see the point of silencing my thoughts for fear of being labeled any of those things. I loathe being distracted from the important conversations we should be having because we're scared of being called judgmental or divisive, and I want us to stop telling each other that we are.

Because here's what I believe to be true. We can be wrong. We can be right and people will still disagree with us. Sometimes we have opinions that are just that - opinions. I want us to be able to handle the dissonance that these complexities create and move on. There's nothing to be lost by acknowledging that our point of view might not be the best one. We lose nothing if someone says "I think there's a better way to accomplish X," unless we refuse to hear them. If there's a war on women, it isn't being waged by the women who speak up. It's being waged by those who want us to stay quiet.