Feb. 7th, 2013

snorkel_maiden: (Passionflower)
I hate this phrase. I really hate it. One reason is because it's usually trotted out by Tory yummy mummies in support of some viewpoint that I find despicable, but also because it's essentially meaningless.

It's supposed to convey a sort of moral superiority- a level of insight that those not blessed with children don't have. Mothers see issues like gay marriage, the housing crisis, more clearly because the process of growing something in your uterus makes you think more ethically. Or so the yummy mummies would have you believe. But there don't seem to ever be any justification for it; just an acceptance that motherhood gives women a right to have a voice in any situation, which I find odd. Surely motherhood should only validate an opinion directly related to motherhood?

I'm also having some feminist type thoughts about how mothers are revered somewhat in our society, as if becoming a mother is the highest ambition that a woman can aspire to, and that's why mother's thoughts are so important- as opposed to those of mere women, who can't be relied upon to be coherent. You also don't hear "As a father...." anywhere near as often; the validity of men's opinions isn't dependent on their reproductive status, maybe?

So I thought, as a sort of personal backlash against the phrase, that I'd write about the insights that motherhood has brought me; and in contrast those it hasn't.

I certainly understand more about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding now than I did before; but as any male gynaecologist will tell you that's not dependent on experience. I think experiencing it possibly helps in some way, with the emotional side of things more than the practical and physical, but I'd still hardly call it an insight, and assuming that someone who hasn't done it can't understand, and empathise deeply, is insulting to humans everywhere.

I know Leo, on a deeply personal level. Again not really an insight. I know my husband and some of my friends deeply and intimately too. Knowing a child as opposed to knowing someone as part of any other type of relationship is not relevant to moral knowledge. On the other hand, knowing and loving anyone can be; if you love someone it's easier to empathise with them and whatever their struggles are. But it's not dependent on the type of relationship. Parents and mothers in particular do not have a monopoly on intimacy.

There's nothing spiritual in motherhood. Someone asked me when Leo was born whether it had changed my mind about the existence of god; but it didn't, and I'm not sure why it would. There is no cosmic significance to having a child. There is immense and sometimes overwhelming personal significance to it, and it can and has enriched my life; but having Leo has told me nothing about the universe. It's taught me a lot about myself, and my capacity for love and patience and joy and frustration and sleep deprivation: again nothing universal. It takes nothing more than a full nappy to remind me that children are extremely, and occasionally spectacularly, biological. Maybe that's an insight of sorts but it's a cheap and rather smelly one! Again though, nothing that makes me more a guardian of human morals than any of my friends with fewer nappies in their lives.

And surely, the fact that anyone who has the appropriate biological apparatus can have children surely tells me that mothers don't have a higher ethical standard than anyone else. There's no test to pass and no morality quiz to take before you can be impregnated. Which, tempting as it might be to say otherwise, is a good thing. Mothers are people, and people are people, and people vary hugely, as do their morals. This is a good thing and for it to continue we need all sorts of different people to have babies. The few absolutes that there are again don't apply particularly to mothers.

It is true that parenthood makes you think about things that a lot of people don't think about before; which school your child will attend, if they attend school, is an example. But a knowledge of catchment areas and OFSTED grades can't be described as moral and again it's open to anyone even if they don't have children. There are many other examples of this sort; like what car seat and buggy to buy; but again no different to a non-parent researching an expensive purchase.

One area that parents do apparently understand better than others is grief. Losing a child is, we are told, the worst sort of loss, and while I hope never to have to experience this myself there are valid biological reasons why this would be the case. But again, I am extremely unwilling to claim that the suffering of a parent is always worse than the suffering of any other bereaved person; suffering is not measured on a competitive scale. Also, the potential for grief surely doesn't give mothers any special insights while it's still only potential, and people who aren't mothers are capable of deep and real empathy and sadness on behalf of others.

To summarise; I'm extremely uncomfortable with the idea that I am allowed more ethical insights now than before I had Leo. I can't see any justification for it. While it's true that I have fulfilled my biological purpose by having a child, I have many other destinies that haven't changed, and limiting women to only viewing the world through the prism of motherhood is deeply problematic. I have other aspects to myself which remain unchanged by my reproductive status, and having children is not a universal requirement for women in order for them to become fully ethical and empathetic human beings.

So, as a mother, and a woman, and a human being, and a thinking person, I recommend that if you hear that phrase at the start of a statement that you immediately become suspicious that the person actually has very little by way of facts and arguments to back up what they are saying.

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May 2013

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