snorkel_maiden: (Passionflower)
[personal profile] snorkel_maiden
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.

Date: 2013-02-07 01:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] absinthecity.livejournal.com
Well said! I think you're spot on about the moral superiority stuff and all of this put together CAN sometimes make childless women of a certain age genuinely feel like their views, feelings and opinions count for absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. The rise of Mumsnet has had a lot to do with this in recent years though as a symptom rather than a cause. I read an interesting article recently on how this collective delusion is also reflected and propagated by advertising, and it's so deeply ingrained that it's hard not to believe in it even when you don't want to.

I recently read Caitlin Moran's book How to be a Woman. She writes brilliantly on a number of subjects - I'm one of those people who tends to defend her when she says something apparently shocking and it gets taken out of context. But her chapters on childbearing upset me: a lot of what she said DID seem to imply that you gain a bunch of insights that are impossible to pick up anywhere else when you have a child - I'm sure she would deny that if questioned, but it came across that way and her follow-up chapter that was written to set out reasons why having a child is not always the best plan for everyone felt like an afterthought and a bit of a joke in places (you don't have kids - you can go sky-diving every day! etc).

But the absolute worst example of this was an article in the telegraph by a minor writer whose name I have deliberately chosen to forget who claimed that novelist Maeve Binchy would have had a 'deeper understanding of the human condition' if she had been a mother. This piece was published within hours of her obiturary - which I found deeply shocking.

Date: 2013-02-07 08:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snorkel-maiden.livejournal.com
I know what you mean about the ingraining. I loathe how many rom-coms- and other types of film, for that matter- end with the couple madly in love and her pregnant, THE END. She is complete as a woman. Magic!

Bah. And that comment about Maeve Binchy is just loathsome.

Date: 2013-02-08 10:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] absinthecity.livejournal.com
Yes, unfortunately I for one don't think I will ever be able to un-believe this idea. I do feel like if I do wind up on the childless path where I think I'm headed, that will essentially be the end of my entire narrative. Really.

Date: 2013-02-08 03:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snorkel-maiden.livejournal.com
I'm sorry that this crappy aspect of our society has made you feel that way. If its any consolation at all, not all of us feel that about childless women, no matter the reason for their childlessness.

Date: 2013-02-07 01:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sandokai.livejournal.com
It's true what you say. But on the other hand it's difficult to understand why people who are parents (mothers and fathers) still support things like sending their kids off to wars. But maybe it's because I felt that way before having a child too...

Date: 2013-02-07 08:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snorkel-maiden.livejournal.com
I think I can understand it but you're right, that sort of thing is interesting. I'm trying to work out if any of my opinions about anything fundamental have changed since I had Leo.

Date: 2013-02-07 04:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ladymoonray.livejournal.com
*applause*

Date: 2013-02-07 08:49 pm (UTC)

Date: 2013-02-07 04:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] inbetween-girl.livejournal.com
As Bill Bailey once said, "Is that a euphemism for 'talking out of my arse'?"

Great post. I agree entirely.

Date: 2013-02-07 08:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snorkel-maiden.livejournal.com
I think Bill Bailey was right! I like to preface all sorts of things with "As a mother" at the moment, just for laughs.

Date: 2013-02-07 06:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beebarf.livejournal.com
Well said.

I do think it's also quite a thoughtless and hurtful thing to say - there are a lot of people reading/listening who would be thinking "I never got the chance..."

Anyone who starts with "As a Christian" (or other religious identity, unless they are speaking specifically about their faith/culture) also fails for similar reasons. I'm an atheist. I can still tell the difference between right and wrong...

Date: 2013-02-07 08:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snorkel-maiden.livejournal.com
Eugh you are so right about the "As a Christian" thing- it's very similar and equally vacuous.

Date: 2013-02-07 08:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] fuggler.livejournal.com
"As a non-mother", I appreciate this post. A LOT

Date: 2013-02-08 03:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snorkel-maiden.livejournal.com
Good :) Do you get this crap in the US media too?

Date: 2013-02-08 01:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] emmy-mallow.livejournal.com
Hm.

My experience is a little different from yours in that motherhood confirmed the absolute non existence of God, in any form, for me.

I find people tend to limit my experience / knowledge / capabilities because I am a mother, rather than lending me ethical insights due to motherhood.

I hear 'As a mother' generally in conversations where children are being discussed and there it is relevant as shorthand for 'I have been through birth / child raising and it has informed my insight on x'.

But then, it has to be said, I don't come into contact with yummy mummies at the school gates. They all avoid me as I am clearly Other as far as they are concerned.

Date: 2013-02-08 03:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snorkel-maiden.livejournal.com
I think motherhood can do almost anything at all, including confirming the non-existence of god, for you. What I'm not sure about is whether that personal revelation has significance for anyone else; I don't think it does.

I don't get this sort of attitude from people that I know- it's mainly the media. Often representatives of Mumsnet, although as pointed out above that's a symptom not a cause.

Date: 2013-02-09 12:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] arkady.livejournal.com
There's nothing spiritual in motherhood

I think you should have qualified that sentence with "to me". Fair enough if you've found nothing spiritual to any of your motherhood experiences - but you can only speak for yourself, not all mothers - and there are those of us who do find it a deeply spiritual experience. Please do not make such blanket statements; they can be as offensive to others as "As a mother..." appears to be for you.

Date: 2013-02-09 06:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snorkel-maiden.livejournal.com
You're more than welcome to agree or disagree with any aspect of the whole thing- after all, most of the point is that any revelations that come with motherhood are personal rather than universally relevant.

But this is an opinion piece, and that's my opinion.

Date: 2013-02-12 11:43 pm (UTC)
ailbhe: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ailbhe
I've heard "as a father" and "as a parent" from men a good deal, but I have never really looked at Mumsnet. I do know one man who took less than a week to say "Speaking as a father" without irony...

But yes, motherhood is amazing and magical and spiritual and shitty and pointless and important. Like, um, lots of things. I've learned a lot from it but I don't think it's changed much for me; some of my views have become less wishy washy, but they were views I held anyway. It's quite likely that hiking up a pointless mountain or doing White People Work In Brown People Places would have done all the same stuff.

I don't care.

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