A good of friend of mine had a little rant on Facebook last weekend about two things she heard on Radio 4’s Today programme that really made her cross. The first was one female reporter talking with disgust about the picture of Tamara Ecclestone feeding her 3 year old. The second was when another presenter made a counter-argument for government funding for parks and green spaces because “aren’t they just for mums pushing babies around in prams?”.
My friend was upset by the way these two moments on what is usually an enlightened radio programme minimised the experience, expertise and contribution of mothers, and even vilified them. Her impassioned post got me thinking about this quite a bit, and I asked her permission to write about it here.
My friend is right that in society motherhood can be seen as mundane – so everyday that it doesn’t bear thinking about. Or it can be put up on a pedestal – a model of selflessness and competence that many feel they can never live up to.
Motherhood is also something to be regulated. She should breastfeed, but not in public and not for too long. Stay-at-home mums are bored and boring. Working mums are abandoning their children.
On a recent Mumsnet thread, a person rubbished mum blogs, saying “Why would you read a blog written by a bog standard Mum? Isn’t there anything better to read?” Many on the thread agreed with her.
Well, there are all sorts of things to read in the world, some more compelling than others, but what is it about motherhood in particular that wouldn’t be worth reading about? Why is it unimportant for mums to have parks to walk in with their prams?
It’s a lie that society tells us: that women bringing up children is something that is merely to be expected.
This expectation – that we are just doing our jobs – is the reason only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female. It’s the reason that maternity discrimination is still pushing women out of work. It’s why mothers who want to work are still told they can’t have it all.
It’s the reason that stay-at-home mums are still asked what they do all day, and modern dads are tired of being called “babysitters”. It’s why dads who take their kids to playgroups or to parenting rooms are often ostracized and even accused of perversion. It’s why there are still no bloody changing tables in the majority of men’s public toilets.
Despite years of feminism, western society still sees women as the primary caregivers for children, and yet sees caregiving as menial work. And as the work we do is menial, everyone thinks they’re qualified to have an opinion about it.
“What does she know about the best way to feed her child? She’s just a mother.”
“Why is she complaining about losing her job? She chose to become a mother.”
“Why does she write about the highs and lows of motherhood? ONLY other mothers would want to read that.”
“She doesn’t know what’s good for her. I have a right to regulate her body and her parenting choices.”
“She’s too fat/too thin/a yummy mummy/a slummy mummy.”
This is not to say we haven’t made progress. We do have more choices than we once did. We can speak and act more freely than we ever could. But there is still work to be done. We need to let the multitude of female voices – mothers or not – speak for themselves and be heard. We need to carry on defending one another’s choices, even when we don’t agree.
We need to keep telling the world about our “mundane” lives, because they’re not mundane. Our lives are REAL and they are IMPORTANT. And the world needs to know.