I still play with Barbie dolls.
It seems I do, that is, if there’s any truth to a viral e-mail I once received, titled “Connecticut Barbies.”
This e-mail stereotypes women who hail from several Connecticut towns, including Wilton. It describes the Wilton Barbie as quite a one-dimensional doll: “The modern day homemaker Barbie is available with Ford Windstar Minivan and matching gym outfit. She gets lost easily and has no full-time occupation. Traffic jamming cell phone sold separately.”
Sure, I laughed along with the joke, as everybody’s got to have a sense of humor about themselves, right? That’s what stereotypes are for — lump a group of people together with broad brushstrokes to describe their unifying characterizations, and you can find the humor in there somewhere.
I admit, I put on the Wilton Barbie ‘uniform’ at least once a week. Yoga pants, layered long-sleeve waffle T-shirts with some cutsie-pie hoodie, and sneakers — it’s a comfortable get-up, especially when you’re sitting in a car a lot.
Speaking of cars, I can’t be sure someone has never done an official count, but I’m willing to bet the number of SUVs and minivans do outnumber the smaller cars owned by Wilton households, probably by a wide margin. And yes, admittedly, we’re a phone-reliant bunch, even as we drive (hopefully hands-free).
But women in Wilton can’t be so easily — and derisively — labeled. The majority of moms I encounter, whether they work outside the home or not, fulfill much more substantive roles that reflect the nuance and character of very full lives. The Barbies among us are few and far between.
In the course of one day doing leg work for an upcoming Patch story, I wandered into two new Wilton businesses owned by Wilton moms — Sweet Pierre’s and Signature Style. When these stores opened in the last few months, they joined the ranks of several other business and organizations owned or run by Wilton moms.
The same day, at the “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” , I sat next to Kathleen Brennan, who was called on in the audience to help answer a question for one of the competitors. When she did so, she introduced herself as the first selectman’s wife. She was attending the show with her grandchildren, enjoying her role as grandmother in addition to wife and mom. But it deserves mention that she’s also a successful Realtor (one who capably helped us buy our home), a board member at the , an avid runner, bicyclist and skier, and a history major who graduated from Duke, which helped her be the one to correctly answer the show’s Civil War question.
The next evening I celebrated a friend’s 40th birthday. She’d invited a roomful of smart, capable, funny Wilton friends — who, not surprisingly, are moms. Many work outside the home and balance that with managing their families; others create rich, busy lives for themselves and their families, and commit countless hours to bettering Wilton through volunteer efforts. Again, I didn’t meet a Barbie there.
I’m sure there are exceptions. I’ve heard some stories of Wilton wives who make do on the allowance their husbands dole out weekly. That’s not my experience, and while it may work for some it wouldn’t in my household.
I saw a recent Facebook item posted by a friend who was leaving her job after 10 years. Someone asked in a comment, “Are you just being a mom, or something else?” Just being a mom … whether someone is working outside the home, or working as a mom in the home, there is never any “just.”
Which is what makes the idea of any stereotype, benign or not, ultimately hurtful. While the Wilton Barbie e-mail comes across as relatively harmless, its underlying sting ultimately belittles the idea of motherhood and helps perpetuate the “just a mom” concept just a little too much.
Countdown until the 2011-2012 budget is decided:
8 Days left until the next regularly-scheduled Board of Finance meeting (March 15, 2011)
23 Days left until the Board of Finance holds its Public Hearing on the Education budget (March 30, 2011)
57 Days left until the Town Meeting (May 3, 2011)
Please help make sure our schools have the funding they need to keep educating our kids to the highest possible standards. Attend a Board of Finance meeting, a Board of Education meeting, let your elected officials know how you feel.