Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Smug Ugly

I would love to be able to take a drug that would prevent me from ever being smug. A Smug Drug. I loathe it when I catch myself feeling that way.

It happened just the other day. It was (finally) a lovely day, and I went for a run along the water near our house. I couldn't help but notice that there were an awful lot more folks out jogging than there had been all winter. I felt a little, yes, smug seeing all these fair-weather runners. Where were you in the sleet and snow and rain? I thought to myself. Then I came up behind a woman who looked exceedingly cute from behind. Cute little ponytail, cute matching shoes and shorts. Also, she was wearing a shirt from a fancy marathon. Hmph, I thought, you're going awfully slowly for someone in such a cute outfit!

Then I reached my turnaround point and went back. And passed the cute woman again, only from the front this time. Which is how I could see that she was HUGELY pregnant.

I felt so ashamed, I had an urge to stop and confess to her what I had been thinking. And it made me look around at all the other runners and think, who am I to pass judgment on them?

Smugness is never a good thing. Smugness implies a feeling that something good has happened to you because you did all the right things, and everyone else didn't. When people get smug, temperatures start to rise. I'm not bothered by fertile people, for instance, unless they're smug about it—you know, "Well, I've always taken care of my health, and I started early, so I figured I'd have no trouble getting pregnant!"

Tertia's post about red flags and hot buttons got me thinking about the issue too, because several posters mentioned the word "smug" in relation to folks who push their buttons—especially in regards to the mothers working vs. staying home issue. So, for the record, I'd like to say that I do not feel smug about working. Rather, I feel very grateful that I have a job that allows flexibility, a husband who pulls his full weight and maybe more, and an income that permits me to afford good childcare. And I'm not annoyed by, defensive about, or dismissive of women or men who stay home.

What I am annoyed by is the fact that our society still makes it hard for people to have children AND fulfilling careers. (Including the career of raising & educating children, which pays close to nothing.) I'm more "free" to quit my job than a lot of women, but I'd still have $140,000 of loans to pay off, my contributions to Social Security and my retirement fund would cease, and my health insurance would have to come from my husband's job. And if he died or left, I'd be in a tough spot. I would work even if all this were not true, but I can tell you, when I was pregnant I was really hoping that I wouldn't discover that I wanted to stay home after the baby came. Likewise, a woman who stays home because she can't swing doing all of the housework and all of the childcare AND a job with inflexible hours isn't really making a free choice; she may really want to do it, but like me, she's also reacting to some powerful outside forces, in this case to the inequality of societal norms. So I get annoyed when people insist that the fact that some woman can work or stay home means that the feminist ideal has been achieved, and don't question it. (Not to mention that the vast, vast majority of people in this country do not have the luxury of any kind of choice at all; for them, it's find cheap childcare and go to work, or get evicted.) I do wish that more women were willing to take on the battle of sexism in their families, workplaces and government. I remember marching for the ERA when I was a kid; what happened?


OMDG said...

I remember sitting at lunch with some very pregnant co-workers of mine, when the subject of IVF came up. They all decided that it was immoral because sometimes (I don't know how often this happens) they decide to abort one of the fetuses if too many of them implant. When I asked them what these women should do instead, they just shrugged and muttered something about adoption. Then one blurted out, "Who cares, it's natural selection." I almost came across the table and strangled that smug pregnant woman.

Anonymous said...

I hope you don't mind- I think you are right on target with your last two posts. I wrote a post this morning that I think is related- I inserted a link for your blog. Working women should be celebrated for thier contributions and those who do have a choice to stay home should appreciate the fact that most women don't get to choose. They do what they have to do for their families.

Anonymous said...

Yes to everything you said.

What I want is to work but to live in Sweden in 1974. That's what I want. What is offered to us is all so paltry.

Our lack of options is infuriating but the lack of options of women with less education and more oppression is a crime. What's even sadder is how so many embrace this as simply wonderful--the great U.S.! I want to punch them. Non-smugly, of course. Oh, and have a very non-smug revolution.

I love what you said about being smug. That is absolutely one feeling I try to crush the instant it raises its head. I wonder if doctors have a tendency to smugness due to their elevated social status. It is rampant among college professors (that and snobbery).

Miguelita said...

I think smugness is my least favorite thing about myself. I really try to fight it, especially because I am smug about stupid things.
I really enjoyed this post and will try to get caught up on more of your writing. Came over from Binkytown.

Jo said...

I went from taking my fertility for granted, (it never occurred to me that it could be an issue) to after meeting and have some dear infertile friends share their pain and sorrow with me to incredible guilt that it was never a problem for us. It really isn't fair, is it?

Mignon said...

Like Michele, I catch myself being smug about the most ridiculout things (the fact that our dog is very athletic? I know - wtf?). It's strange though, being in Montana. There's a lot going on here that's easy to miss. Intelligence isn't worn around on sleeves, and you can get into trouble making assumptions. I've found myself being less and less smug the more I live here.

Which is all off the topic of your sahm vs working mom discussion. Having been both, but being a member of the privileged class I don't feel qualified to make arguments. I don't push societal boundaries, I just do stuff. Someday I'll be less complacent, but now it's all I can do to get us all dressed in the morning.

Sarah said...

A Smugness Story:
My cousin once went on a day trip with some friends. They couldn't find a parking space, and as they circled around trying to find the closest one, she said, "Just park anywhere! We can walk, it's not a problem!" And when they got out, one of the men seemed to be limping dramatically, so she remarked, "Oh, please! You don't have to limp. It's just a few blocks." "Actually," he said coldly. "I have a prosthetic leg. I was hit by a train as a child." She was never invited out with those friends again!

And my father once was eating alone at a diner down south on a business trip, when two large, flannel-and-overalls wearing, lumberjack-looking men with giant beards sat down at the next booth. "They're going to kill me in the parking lot and dump the body in the woods," he was thinking. "Or they're cousins. And they married their other cousins. And they're still going to kill me and dump the body in the woods." Surely, they were not as smart or as well off as he. Until he overheard them discussing physics- they were engineers like him- and he couldn't keep up with their level of conversation.

I inherited the family smugness and I hate myself for it.

LawMommy said...

Nicely said, Dr.Mama.

Orange said...

Please don't make me cede my smugness. It's such an old friend...

Anonymous said...

This was a lovely post, and I don't think I commented on your last post, about your mother, which was one of the most evocative and thoughtful blog posts I have read in a long time. I too think it is naive to present the to work or not to work question purely as a matter of "choice." As far as the ERA--I had an ERA pin I used to wear when I was little. My aunt thought it stood for "earned run average," like in baseball. I mean, really.

DoctorMama said...

old md -- sometimes I actually feel a little guilty about my ivf baby -- like I cheated natural selection. Isn't that kind of sick?

ozma -- I've been pondering this ... I think doctors may on the whole actually be less prone to smugness, because we've seen how many bad things can happen to a person no matter who you are or what you do. But I'm not sure.

mignon -- athletic dog! Hah!

sar -- great story.

orange -- ok, you can stay smug.

Anonymous said...

I find the whole debate strange, it is strange to me that people care so much what others do with thier lives/families. But what often gets left out is the HUGE class of mothers that have no choice-indeed, would prefer to stay home, and simply can't. We are often single, might live in expensive areas. etc etc but the debate makes it seem as though everyone has a choice nad economically, many people do not, Many woment work just form financial survival, not for that 2nd SUV. But this voice seems always left out of the debate. Not sure why. Love the smug stories...wish there were more!

macboudica said...

This issue is definately one of my soapboxes--there is very little flexibility for most working women, very little real choice. I stay home, but it was a choice between that or paying more money for daycare than my take-home pay after I had twins. So the job had to go. While I do love staying home and raising the little guys, our budget really took a hit, and it would be great to find some flexible decent part-time work, but it just isn't there.