Social Niceties Aren’t Always All That Nice…by a BGIM fan

Today’s post is written a by a special guest who asked to write anonymously, but believe me this is a writer I just adore and I am honored that this space can be the safe space she needs to tell her truth…


I just got back from a baby shower and my skin is crawling. I need a cup of coffee and a moment, or hell even an afternoon, to myself.

And I guess I need a bit of a bitch session.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I support baby showers. In theory. It’s wonderful to get together and support a family during a time of need and (usually) a time of rejoicing. It’s often one of the few community events where kids mill amongst the general population. Busy women find a reason, excuse, and time to get together. There’s always great food of course. So in a perfect world, baby showers would be fantastic.

But in a perfect world, they might be a little different too. For instance, as per usual they are often women-only (which explains why kids are there). If a man attends he is praised up and down and probably taken in the back and sexually serviced – all in sycophantic appreciation he cares about the world of women and the business of babies. Because women are expected to care, and to participate (which probably sucks for some women, too). I’m all for all-women’s gatherings and I arrange them often, but it is annoying that baby showers and the entire care of babies themselves are always labeled as ladies’ concerns and even disparaged as femme-in-a-bad-way, mocked by men – and by women who are down with the patriarchy.

But that’s just how it is. I want to support women, but the whole thing is a double-edged sword because gender gets performed in a big way and sometimes it does my head in.
First – and I realize my experiences are going to reflect my upbringing and culture – there’s the enormous, oppressive, tacit but quite well-understood series of edicts to behave – like a lady. Don’t say certain words, don’t bring up certain subjects, pretend you like everyone and everything, and above all (this is the worst), praise praise praise. Praise how every woman looks. Praise their kids. Praise their job (if they work for pay), praise them if they stay home. Praise how the food tastes. Praise the housekeeping of the hostess. Praise every gift even if frankly, you don’t like it. I’m reminded of that article in “The Onion”, about women getting together and “validating the living shit out of one another”. Are we women so bottomless we must constantly rehearse this? Anyone in the room self-validated enough they’d rather be present for the event than making nice like a bunch of socialite parrots? Anyone else NOT want to say a bunch of white lies all for the sake of Feminized Performance Art?
Another example of the social nicety thing. This shower was rather large – the guest of honor probably opened forty gifts. All the gift-givers were there, and of course the recipient thanked them all individually. But next to her a friend faithfully wrote down every gift alongside who brought it. You get this? This soon-to-be mother with her – trust me – already very full and busy life is now going to go home and then RE-thank everyone by writing out these cards and hunting addresses and sending them out. Who needs a Thank You card after an in-person thank you? Not me. If she felt she had to do this card thing, and if she had any sense, she’d have the baby’s father do it. Yeah, right! What’s likely to happen is she’ll put it off, knowing her. And knowing her, each day that ticks by, she’ll feel more anxious and guilty about not getting those cards out.
Then there’s the diet, fat, and body talk. Put me at one of these things and I am shocked (though I shouldn’t be) at all of the, “Oooooh I can’t eat that” and then, “Oh but it’s SO DELICIOUS and it’s made with low-fat cream cheese!” and “Oh so-and-so you are looking SO THIN” and a dozen, maybe a hundred, variations of women self- (and therefore, other-) policing about what they can eat and why and how much and why their bodies personally don’t satisfy them and how fat they are, et cetera. You listen at most women’s gatherings and it’s all about their bodies. Very self-absorbed. I understand this is a sensitive issue and I’m not blaming women for their own body image issues precisely (because, hello, patriarchy), just saying watching a pack of women doing this in front of their young daughters (and sons) sets my teeth on edge.
Then there’s the social climbing. This is one of the worst for me and I don’t even know why. At this event we had a personage or two with a famous name, a few famous locally and one famous regionally. And these supposed socially-connected women were treated differently – and better, and with more fawning and praise – then the other women there. It wasn’t subtle. It was obvious. It made me wonder how many other women felt their presence, and their gifts – and their children and their lives – were sub-par in some way.
Then there’s the garden-variety annoyances that probably just come with most gatherings and are likely particularly annoying to me, not necessarily others. I had women snatching at my clothes (out of supposed admiration for them). I got to hear one hostess complain about how overwhelming it was to plan the event. And those baby shower games. Christ. I’m sure lots of people enjoy them, more power to you. Some of them are fun, but many of them are inane and some humiliating and lots of people don’t even like them! I don’t think I’ll ever again do that whole, “don’t cross your legs” game ever again.
Keep in mind I’m writing here anonymously because the whole event left me troubled, but I don’t want to cause anyone there any pain by writing with my name. (That’s another rule, too, don’t be honest with your feelings lest you hurt someone!). Later in the day, at a gathering where no one knew the previous group, I mentioned a few of my gripes – specifically, the double invitation thing. One of my friends laughed at me, saying, “That’s some white girl shit!”. Well. Yeah. Okay.
My heart both wants to say Yes and No to baby showers. I keep saying Yes, because I care about the women and families involved. In this case, the guest of honor was a co-worker.
But baby showers leave me ambivalent. If they are allocated to “women’s business” then I want to support them, out of loyalty and because of their practicality. I just gotta grin and bear the rest of the “women’s business” that’s less fun. My strategy? I close my mouth, bring my gift, and remind myself these few hours are not about me.