What does the phrase ‘the cult of motherhood’ mean to you?
It came to me this morning during an interesting discussion on Twitter about being a mother. I have storified it, so you can see the whole exchange, rather than just the quote later in the blog.
The discussion started when we were talking about the excellent article by Rowan Davies in the Guardian about ‘Yummymummy Hate’.
Now, anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know that ‘yummymummy’ is a term that makes me narrow my eyes and grit my teeth. I hate it for its twee-ness, for the assumption that mummies must be yummy, for the way it reduces a woman to just a mother, but only if she is attractive.
I feel the same about ‘mumpreneur’, ‘mummyblogger’ and other symptoms of what I call the mummy-fication of women.
The moment that someone calls Sir Alan Sugar a ‘dadpreneur’ is the moment when you can call me a ‘mumpreneur’.
A lot of bloggers like the title ‘mummybloggers, and indeed identify themselves as one. It is a term I have never felt comfortable with, as I don’t blog only about my life as a mother and posts about motherhood and children are becoming ever more rare on Salt and Caramel.
Mainly I dislike the fact that male bloggers, entrepreneurs – or indeed fathers – are not referred to in such a way. Just as they are not asked how they are going to square childcare and career, or if they have a provision in place in case their childcare falls through. We talk of dads ‘babysitting’ their children, as if they do not share parental responsibility, which is pretty insulting to them really.
Which brings me to my point about the Cult of Motherhood and what it means to different people. I googled the phrase and the first hit was a US blogger who referred to herself as a feminist, yet called her friends ‘breeders’ and gave them names such as UTERUS and OVARIES.
There are a fair few articles on the expectation of mothers to be perfect and that the ‘Cult of Motherhood’ is damaging because it raises expectations that no normal woman can fulfil.
In an interview, the author Jessica Valenti talks about being a mother:
“I don’t think that putting all my energy into parenting — at the expense of my career, marriage and social life — will be the difference between Layla becoming homeless or the president. But too many women are made to believe that every tiny decision they make, from pacifiers to flash cards, will have a lasting impact on their child. It’s a recipe for madness. It also reveals an overblown sense of self-importance.”
An ‘overblown sense of self-importance’.
That resonated with me, as it was something that I had been trying to express in my Twitter discourse.
When we begin a sentence with ‘as a mother, I believe…’ — does it not express that I have a more insightful comment to make than someone who is not a mother?
Should the simple accident of biology that made me a mother mean I can demand respect for my status as a mother? Why should I ask for respect for something that millions of human beings have done – procreate. Should fathers be more respected than men without children?
The blogger Clare Kirkpatrick (whose blog you should check out – it is excellent) argues that the women gain wisdom through motherhood that they would not have otherwise gained, and that we should respect this wisdom, and
‘men’s experience as men has been valued above that of women for too long, yet the wisdom women carry, from having cycles, to being mothers, to menopause is not valued’
which is a good point.
In the end, we agreed to disagree, and I have been mulling over the exchange ever since.
I cannot think of any wisdom (other than don’t stick a finger down the back of the nappy to see if your baby needs his nappy changed) that I have gained from being a mother. I would say that I am wiser than I was before I was a mother, but would attribute that to the intervening 10 years and not motherhood.
We don’t say, ‘Oh, he is a father, isn’t he wise’, do we? And I have met both mature and terribly immature parents, so this wisdom is obviously not automatically granted with your Bounty pack.
Becoming a mother has changed me, there is no doubt about that. Before I had children, I had no idea that I could feel this deep and totally unconditional love for another person. They make me less selfish, more cautious, they bring joy and chaos into my life. I could not imagine life without them, but they don’t alter who I am, or how I think. And their existence doesn’t make my opinion more valuable than a childless person.
Do we contribute to the Cult of Motherhood by expecting our opinions to be valued more because we have borne a child?
What do you think?
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