Who’s The Dummy, Mummy?

February 10, 2009

Rachel Cooke thinks that I’m a dummy. Okay, maybe not me specifically, but women like me. Women who talk or write incessantly about their children and their experience as mothers. Women who, when asked how they’re doing, launch into a extended narrative about sleeplessness and breastfeeding and hormones and Xanax. Women who are – how did she put it? – “boring, selfish, smug and obsessed with motherhood.”

Like I said: women like me.

“Once upon a time,” says Cooke, “educated women fought to separate their identities from the ideal of mother, knowing that until the two came to be seen as wholly distinct they would never be taken seriously; and, in any case, who wants to be defined by only one aspect of their life? In the past decade, however, a growing number of women have reverted, 50s-style, to identifying themselves primarily, vociferously, and sometimes exclusively, as mothers. They fetishise childbirth, and obsess about all that follows it, in a way that is almost, if not quite, beyond satire, and which makes me feel a bit sick.”

Which, whatever. So she’s not interested in mothers; I can live with that. I wasn’t all that interested in motherhood before I became a mother, either. But there’s a very great difference between lacking an interest in a subject and asserting that any discussion or celebration of that subject is somehow subversive of broader social goods. That someone, anyone, lacks an interest in the motherhood does not mean that the celebration of motherhood or extensive discourse on the subject of motherhood represent broader social problems for which mothers should be held responsible. I mean, seriously. I’m not interested in hip-hop, but would it make sense for me to say, on that basis, that pop-cultural attention to hip-hop is fetishistic and sick-making? I’ve certainly had the experience – pre-motherhood – of being trapped in conversations with women who went on at length about the details of childrearing and wondering how I was a) going to escape, and b) scrub my brain of the mental image of mustard poo, but I’ve also had that very same experience with people who only want to talk about politics (an occupational hazard as a former academic specializing in political philosophy) or cats or global warming. The fact that those subjects, in excess, cause my eyes to roll back in my head does not mean that anyone who is passionate about those things is an out-of-control fetishist. It only means that I am not interested.

Like any reflective bigot, Ms. Cooke asserts that she is not attacking all mothers – some her best friends are mothers! but they’re, like, the smart kind who you don’t mind hanging out with! – just the smug, stupid mothers who talk too much about being mothers. Because, you know, it’s not that mothers as a community are sickening in their fetishistic attachment to the terms and trappings of motherhood. It’s that so many of them are, and Ms. Cooke is starting to find it overwhelming. Can’t we all just shut up already about childbirth and our children and everything having to do with our children? Don’t we realize that the more we talk about this stuff, the more stupid and smug and selfish and Stepford we sound? Can’t we see that we are setting women back? And, also, nauseating everybody in the process?

This is what is, to me, most hateful about Cooke’s diatribe: the assertion that there is not only something unseemly and uninteresting about the discourse of motherhood, but also something fundamentally unfeminist about it. This is Linda Hirschmann Lite: devotion to motherhood is somehow not deserving of respect, because it limits - limits - women to a life experience that has been dictated, in some part, by the terms of their biology. This is biology-as-destiny, this is femininity-as-enclosure: this is what prevents us from being free, like, men, to do whatever we want. This is an old feminist argument (one, if you’re interested, that has roots in Marx), that women need to be liberated from their biological destinies – from the almost-inevitable biological condition of motherhood – so that they might work and contribute to society like men, because only then do they meaningfully contribute to society, only then are they members in full, only then are they interesting.

This is bullshit. Women do not become free by rejecting motherhood, by ignoring motherhood, by keeping the stories of motherhood hidden behind the veil, the wall, the enclosures of the private sphere. Women become free, in some significant part, by celebrating motherhood – by celebrating parenthood (men love their children too, you know, and some might even choose to make parenting their primary occupation, if it were more generally accepted and recognized as important work) – by demanding that it be as valued a part of civil society as politics and business and the arts and, you know, whatever else people like Rachel Cooke and Linda Hirschmann deem to be important and interesting. Celebrating motherhood doesn’t mean that every woman must choose motherhood as part of her life experience – we celebrate all variety of callings, without insisting that any of them are necessary for every individual’s self-fulfillment – it only means that we all of us recognize that mothering – parenting – and all that it involves is important work. Which means, in turn, we recognize discourse on those subjects as important discourse.

This is not to say, of course, that every anecdote about poo explosions in public places or every detailed explanation of the effects of sleep deprivation on the post-partum mother is in itself a critically important contribution to public discourse. It is to say, rather, that the sum of these stories is important: that in telling these stories, and in recognizing these stories as legitimate and important, we are sharing – we are making public, we are lifting the veil on – the experience of motherhood and demanding that it be taken seriously as something that contributes to – that is, arguably, the backbone of – civil society. Not every one of these stories will be interesting to everyone; many will be interesting only to a very few. But they are our stories, the stories of our parenthood. And we are, in telling these stories, telling each other – telling other mothers, telling fathers, telling future mothers and fathers – that there is no need to be (and every harm in being) isolated in one’s experience of parenthood. We are telling each other that there is community in parenthood, and that such community should be sought out and embraced.

Cooke summarizes her argument with this statement: “all this droning on about baby and toddler world is not, in the long run, doing any of us any good. For me, and many other women, it’s boring and selfish, and it implicitly casts judgment on the way we choose to live our lives.” I’m sorry that she feels that way. I, for one, am quite capable of listening to my husband’s colleagues drone on about the TV industry without feeling like I’m being judged for not being in that industry. I am also, for that matter, quite capable of listening to childless friends talk about their careers and their active social lives and their travel adventures without feeling as though they pity me for always having a baby strapped to my chest. If she feels judged, that’s her issue, not a larger social problem that needs to be nipped in the bud. Indeed, as I’ve said above, this compulsion to silence mothers, to insist to them that their stories are not worthy of sharing in public spaces, to demand that they just shut up already about their silly children and their silly fascination with organic baby food and sleep training and post-partum depression – this is the larger social problem. It’s a terrible social problem. It does more to keep women silenced and isolated than pretty much anything else I can think of.

So if anyone should just shut up already and stop complaining and judging and holding women back with her need to control what women talk about… well, you know who you are.

/rant.

(Thanks to Karen for the tip on the story. Funny how she knew just exactly what would make my head explode.)

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    { 188 comments }

    Shannon February 11, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    Bravo! (or would that be brava?) Right on the head, beautifully written. Yes!

    Anonymous February 12, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Yeah, I agree. She didn’t need to criticize mommy bloggers and forums. That is offensive. And what an offensive title to her article.

    But I want to add that despite this offense let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater (yikes, I hate that expression). There is food for thought in what she wrote. Because she doesn’t speak about all mothers who identify strongly with being a mother – I know I do. She speaks of “a certain kind of mother”.

    - She talks about mothers who monologue about mothering even when socially inappropriate and rude.

    - She talks about mothers who identify “sometimes exclusively, as mothers” which IMHO is as unhealthy as identifying exclusively as a wife.

    - She talks about a mother so wrapped up in her motherhood identity who could only come up with a response about the author’s trip to Yemen by (offensively) relating it to motherhood in some way.

    - She bemoans mothers who do not know how to ask “a proper question (and really listen to the answer), or make mention of the outside world”….

    - She bemoans women who begin sentences, in her presence, with “”When you have a baby…”

    - She criticizes the mothers who treat child(less)(free) women as if there lives are less important.

    These issues that she brings up – these are feminist issues, absolutely. And I’m sorry she stooped to sexism herself in her title and some some comparisons. But there are indeed mothers out there (and I have experienced them in the plenty before I gave birth and I continue to witness their behavior to those without children) who behave badly.

    And this is the main point of her article. I think it deserves some attention.

    The Mother February 12, 2009 at 12:47 am

    What about the Dummy Daddy Decade?

    You know, the guys who can’t talk about anything but football.

    What are they doing to male social evolution, giving up the important values of sexism and world domination for fantasy football?

    And what about female reaction to them? Are we going to use this opportunity to return them to their prehistoric place at the bottom of the social ladder?

    No, wait. We can’t. We’re too busy going after each other’s jugulars.

    MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner February 12, 2009 at 1:27 am

    So beautifully, eloquently said. Thank you for taking the time… I tend to think that dumb asses who think like her don’t deserve the energy it would take to explain to her why she’s so incredibly tragic. But I’m happy that YOU had the energy to break it down so it’ll forever be broke.

    You. Go.

    Anonymous February 12, 2009 at 1:43 am

    The silencing / shaming / talking down to / misrepresentation / stereotyping of mothers is the crux of it. And your are right Catherine, it IS a social problem. Silenced and isolated mothers are far less capable of being balanced, fulfilled human beings and are therefore less capable of raising same.
    I was and still am a feminist. I am a full-time mother. These things are not mutually exclusive. I have no doubt been boring about both topics. But I would argue – passionately as you have done so well here – that critical to each is dialogue. So thank you once again for raising your fine voice.
    ~ EarnestGirl

    excavator February 12, 2009 at 2:34 am

    I went and read her article.

    Sounds like she knows some boorish people, who by definition are those who monopolize conversation, aren’t sensitive to their listener’s engagement in a topic, are condescending when another doesn’t share their interest.

    The socially inept can be found in any group; she implies that mothers are the only offenders.

    Looks like she needs to broaden her circle a little and stretch her horizons a bit.

    Loralee Choate February 12, 2009 at 3:37 am

    “…and, in any case, who wants to be defined by only one aspect of their life?”

    This is an ill-thought out statement (as are many in that article)as it can easily be turned back on herself.

    It seems like she is defining herself by the one aspect of NOT having children, really. And she is also rather smug and boorish about it. My speculation about her consumption of Xanax is just that so I will not elaborate in that area.

    20 to 1 she discusses her career and what it entails about as often as mothers discuss their children and areas that encompass them.

    (Insert blah, blah, blah about pots and kettles and calling the other black, etc.)

    Loralee Choate February 12, 2009 at 3:59 am

    P.S. The discussion with Amanda is maddening.

    “How can it be bullshit to state an opinion?”

    Umm…yeah. I believe that means that you have the right to state YOURS, right? As in how can this post be bullshit because it is YOUR opinion and you are stating it.

    Right?

    It’s not a personal attack, it is a response. It is not wrong to do, and it is totally open discourse. It is ON THE INTERNET with anonymous commentary allowed. How the hell more open can you get?

    P.P.S. The fact that you said “dude” in one of your responses makes me want to make out with you.

    Just sayin’…

    Delphine February 12, 2009 at 5:13 am

    Wow ! I read her -heinous- article and this woman has got serious issues.
    Your blog, which reflects in a very clever way about motherhood issues does more good to women than this kind of elitist, guilt-inducing, spiteful and caricatural depiction of dummy motherhood.

    Mrs. Natasha Sawatzky February 12, 2009 at 5:18 am

    I totally loved this post!

    I don’t even have children and what she said made me angry. lol. And it makes me wonder if she says this stuff to her mom, and how her mom feels about it. If i was her mother i’d be so freaking embarrassed! Jeeze…. i can’t wait to have children! and i’ll definately be talking about them ALL THE TIME! and as far as motherhood goes, keep talking about it! Every situation is different, and women need to know that, to help each other out. Sheesh….. some peoples children eh!?

    bok February 12, 2009 at 5:43 am

    I’m with Anonymous at 11.04

    Unfortunately the article wasn’t very well written and was pretty offensive. More importantly, it missed the point entirely. The writer’s ire was misdirected, but- BUT- I do identify with her ire to a point.

    For me, the problem is not with individual mothers. I don’t begrudge a mum talking about her babies or motherhood whatsoever. In fact I ask a lot of questions because I hope to be in their position too. And I read blogs written my mothers, about motherhood, daily.

    But I do feel uncomfortable at the way that society has, in the last decade or so (or at least that’s when I’ve become aware of it) fetished motherhood. It has commodified motherhood, made it into a huge capitalist industry(I think that was RC’s point about the myriad types of pushchairs available) and being a mum has become a glossy ideal which we feel, as women, we must aspire to. This image of motherhood bears no relation to the reality of having children: it represents an unattainable goal of perfection.

    As part of this ideology, being a mother is held up as the pinnacle of female achievement which trumps any achievement which preceded it in a woman’s life. And while this may be true on a personal level, for this to be a given on a social level is dangerous.

    On the whole it isn’t mothers themselves promoting this idea, it’s society. But some mothers (magazines, TV programmes, PEOPLE) do buy into it blindly. And yes it DOES rankle when some people smile (yes) pityingly and say “you won’t understand until you have children”, or worse, “you won’t care about these things when you have children”.

    It’s so hard to explain what I mean…. But my point, perhaps, is illustrated by the fact that I now feel compelled to qualify my words with the caveat that though I don’t have children, I do love them and want to have them.

    kata February 12, 2009 at 8:41 am

    I’d never attack anyone for being childless. Or even comment on them being childless. One never knows if it’s due to choice or constraint.

    And yet there are a number of childless – actually: childfree – people around whom I have to be apologetic about caring for my child. Which, by the way, is really hard work, aside from the moment of conception there’s not much choice about it, it has to be done, yet our society/culture acts like it IS a choice. Which leads to such twisted scenarios as: if you have to pick up your child early form daycare, or care for them when sick, it counts against your vacation.

    The problem is that our culture STILL makes the work of mothering/parenting appear invisible, or at the very least society refuses to acknowledge that it is indeed actually work. I mean, think about it: if a mother cares for her own child, that’s not work, it’s not worthy of any monetary compensation or recognition. But if she hires a caregiver then taking care of her child suddenly becomes work. The difference is that a mother never gets a sick day…

    Mrs C February 12, 2009 at 8:59 am

    Everyone is praising your post, Amen’s and all the rest, but I really do not see what the big deal is with Ms Cooke’s article. She is entitled to her opinion and you’re entitled to yours. However, isn’t your post just more fuel to make the rift even wider? You call the woman a bigot for heaven’s sake. Name calling! Is that for the dummy mummy comment that wasn’t even directed at you personally?

    I have children and yet, understand what she’s talking about. I’m not particularly interested in certain details of my friend’s children either. Does that make me a bad friend? A bad woman? A bad mother because I’m not disposed to talk that much about my children? Why?

    How horrible would it be in a world where, as a person that does not want children (her choice!), is confronted with the neverending litany of how she must be an ‘unnatural’ woman because of that choice.

    Anyway, I just don’t see what the fuss is all about. And I would sincerely like to see these types of “wars” end because they are silly.

    k_sra February 12, 2009 at 9:28 am

    *clapping loudly from the back of the room*

    Brava! : )

    Her Bad Mother February 12, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Mrs C – Bigotry is the intolerance of any belief, opinion, lifestyle etc that differs from one’s own. She’s a bigot – sorry if the word sounds harsh – because she is completely intolerant of women who hold and live the opinion that motherhood is something to be celebrated and discoursed upon. She calls such women ‘dummies.’ She extrapolates her opinion (determined on the basis of first-hand encounters with a handful of mothers and reading websites) to society-at-large and uses it to diagnose what she perceives to be a social ill. That’s bigotry.

    As I said in my post, I’ve been there with not wanting to listen someone go on at length about motherhood. But I’ve also been there with politics and environmentalism and sports and certain aspects of popular culture. The thing is, I don’t – and didn’t – refer to people who are interested in those things as dummies, just because their interest differ/ed from my own.

    THAT’s what I find problematic.

    Her Bad Mother February 12, 2009 at 9:48 am

    bok – fetishizing something and commodifying something are two different things, unless you’re a Marxist. I don’t get claims that motherhood is ‘fetishized’ (I certainly did not get Cooke’s, and suspected that she does not understand the proper uses of the term ‘fetish’) – at the crudest level, ‘fetishize’ is used to refer to something being valued in disproportion to its worth, and I actually don’t think that that’s practically possible in the case of motherhood. Should mothers be worshiped as saints? No. But we are NOWHERE near that in our society. Motherhood, on the contrary, is undervalued (to an extreme, I would say). Sure, there are elements of commodification (as there are with most walks of life – ‘Youth’ with capital Y, anybody?) but commodification doesn’t = value.

    Motherhood could stand to be celebrated and hyped. In fact, I think that it DEMANDS to be celebrated and hyped. It’s been marginalized and kept relegated to the private sphere for too long. Maybe then nobody would tolerate calling mothers, as a group, dummies. And, also, maybe I would someday get a day off ;)

    Erica February 12, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Bravo!

    Cheryl February 12, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Angry and smart. I love this post.

    Thanks.

    Mrs C February 12, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Hmm. The Guardian is a UK website. My British friends use the word ‘dummy’ to mean ‘soother’.

    Or ‘pacifier’

    Funny.

    bok February 12, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Even as I typed, I knew I should have known better than to try and use the correct terms remembered from my philosophy of art seminars at university, given the present company! :o )

    I think we’re actually on the same page here. I’m absolutely for the celebration of motherhood.

    But the Ad Man’s version of motherhood which dominates the media these days- the dreaded “yummy mummy” (barf) myth- doesn’t celebrate real motherhood.
    It celebrates something unattainable which puts yet more pressure on women to a)bear children and b) bear them wearing perfect make-up and Boden clothes, in their spotless home with their textbook husband in tow. Never mind their REAL, multi dimesional, imperfect experiences, the discourse that matters which is played out in blogs like this.

    The article was offensive, but to give the writer the benefit of the doubt, I wonder whether her target was those who talk endlessly about their kids and motherhood in order to create or buy into this false “yummy mummy” image rather than to discuss their real experience.

    Or perhaps the article is as ignorant as it appears on the surface.

    J. February 12, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Well said! Bravo!!

    Super Careo February 12, 2009 at 10:36 am

    I think you are absolutely right. I don’t understand how she thinks that mother’s talking about being a mother = her being judged.

    This is also pretty funny because last night while I was making dinner, doing dishes, baking some bread (with an apron on, of course) and sipping a cocktail the thought came to me that being a housewife wouldn’t be THAT bad a thing to be. I mean, all you have to do is make sure the house is clean and have something to eat on the table by 5 o’clock. Compared to working 40 hours a week and having to do all the rest of this junk … it sounded pretty appealing.

    Mrs C February 12, 2009 at 10:39 am

    bok’s point about the Ad Man is a very good one and would explain Cooke’s feeling of alienation.

    So if the women that Ms Cooke is talking about are ‘yummy mummys’ who buy into the hype, then I think that everyone is on the same page.

    Mamalang February 12, 2009 at 10:43 am

    http://www.fborfw.com/strip_fix/index.php

    That is the link to the “For Better or Worse” Comic in the paper today. I read it right after I read your post. So simple, but so true.

    Classy Lady February 12, 2009 at 11:01 am

    I always read and not commented, but this deserves a BIG WOOHOO!! Very well said!

    Her Bad Mother February 12, 2009 at 11:12 am

    bok – “But the Ad Man’s version of motherhood which dominates the media these days- the dreaded “yummy mummy” (barf) myth- doesn’t celebrate real motherhood.
    It celebrates something unattainable which puts yet more pressure on women to a)bear children and b) bear them wearing perfect make-up and Boden clothes, in their spotless home with their textbook husband in tow”

    100% agreed! ;)

    Liz February 12, 2009 at 11:16 am

    HMB, I think you are a wonderful writer and mother. I love this blog. I’m just peeking my head out to say that I identify with Rachel Cooke’s ire. I find a difference in my life between the mothers who only talk about their children and talk down to me because I don’t have any. Along the lines of “You’ll understand when you….” I hate that. Honestly. These mothers are the same people who can never, not once, accomodate their schedules for me, I must ALWAYS acquiese because I don’t have children. If I”m stressed or I didn’t sleep, I am not as stressed or as tired as them. I’m not knocking motherhood or mothers, I’m knocking the women who are pretty self absorbed and turned into bad friends. Though, in fairness, these women were most likely this way before they had children.

    And then I have friends with children who are considerate of the fact that there is a world outside their children. And that though I may need to bend to their schedule more often (because travelling with two kids IS much harder than me travelling alone), they acknowledge that. And I love their kids and I love hearing about their kids.

    My point is that Rachel’s article sort of missed the mark, but I do understand the feelings that inspired her to write it.

    With respect,
    Liz

    Anonymous February 12, 2009 at 11:22 am

    useful acticle.
    —————–
    girlshot

    Liz February 12, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Ok, I just read the comments, and yes to Anonymous 11:04 who said exactly what I was trying to say (but all intelligently).

    And I agree with whoever said that cunt was an inappropriate and offensive (and in this context ironic?) slur.

    It’s sort of crap that the people who are attacking the original author for being unfeminist and catty and unsupporting of women are also calling her a stupid bitch and a cunt.

    Liz

    Fairly Odd Mother February 12, 2009 at 11:44 am

    She reminds me of people who rant on and on about music they don’t like or understand while forgetting one very simple thing: “don’t like it, then don’t listen.” Same with us mothers who write about their children—stop reading us if we upset you so!

    I am proud to call myself a feminist—a determined, left wing, liberal feminist—AND a mom. She would probably choke on her latte to hear that I left a well-paying career to not only become a mom but a homeschooling mom as well. I am almost entirely supported by my working husband (gasp!). Oh the shame I am bringing to women everywhere.

    That said, I was fairly scornful of women who were ‘just’ a mom before I had children. What changed? I became a mom. So perhaps you don’t really know until you walk in the shoes.

    Cammy February 12, 2009 at 11:50 am

    This post made me love your blog even more.

    LAVANDULA February 12, 2009 at 11:56 am

    who says I can’t be a mother and a feminist too? oh yeah that would be rachel cooke….well i’m here along with countless others to prove her wrong! bravo catherine for bringing this to our attention.

    Amy Ruth Webb February 12, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Oh, geez! Takes me back to my grad school days. I was in what is considered one of the top programs for Women’s Studies. And the director of the program told a fellow student that she was not allowed to bring her baby into the T.A. office . Of a Women’s Studies program. I finished my degree elsewhere.

    Natasha February 12, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Very well written.

    ANY TIME a person feels judged AND LETS IT BOTHER THEM, that is their own issue demanding an overpriced therapist.

    Sheesh.

    I am a mom with four kids ages 3-9. And I hate reading mommy blogs. I, too, find it boring. But that’s just where I am right now. I am SUBMERSED in motherhood all day. So, when I get spare time to myself, I don’t care to submerse myself in it any further. Like, duh. ;-) But, at one time, I did get a lot more out of mommy blogs.

    I strongly believe that every person who can be vulnerable, opening herself up to share her experiences, her thoughts, her successes and failures, is contributing to the human consciousness. What the world needs now is not a collective (or worse– selective) muzzle. The world needs authenticity, heart, tolerance… in short? An infusion of “love sweet love”.

    Good job, famous girl. And thanks be to @gwenbell for linking me up. (Not like I’ve never been here before but you’re a mommy blog, right? So, I don’t come by a lot. ;-D Nothing personal. It never is.)

    Twitter ID: @SomethingGirl

    Janna February 12, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    I just read the article and I could feel the hairs on my neck stand up I was so outraged. Thank you for posting a thought out rebuttal to this ridiculous article.

    K@ndi February 12, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Isn’t she just blaming mothers instead of blaming the patriarchy that makes women feel guilty for not wanting children? She’s blaming the support circles for mothers rather than the institution that created the need to have those support circles in the first place. The very same institution that made her feel guilty. So while we fight amongst ourselves for a right to speak (or not), the patriarchy lives on.

    Jozet at Halushki February 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    I think she doth protest too much.

    Her slips are showing.

    Frankly, I find people who go on and on about the conversations they had with other people at parties to be boring. It’s like listening to my kids tell me about the great Playstation game they just played.

    Heh. I’m such a mommy.

    Good lord, if she doesn’t want to read about mommies talking about what their cute kids say, there is a simple answer: change the channel.

    With 50 brazillion websites and message boards out there, she reminds me of the old guy who sits at the side of the kiddie pool complaining that 5 year olds should wear less revealing swimsuits.

    Beth February 12, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Amen, amen, and AMEN. I’m passing this around to all the proud feminist mothers I know.

    Anonymous February 12, 2009 at 3:56 pm

    Ok, I can’t hold back any longer…..
    Here is my perspective on all this. It is not remotely condescending or demeaning to tell someone who has yet to experience something: “you’ll understand when…” or “you would understand if..” That is merely a truth. It is FACT. It is something everyone does on many different matters, not just motherhood. Until you have actually stepped into a situation (no matter what it may be) and lived it, you cannot truly relate to what it feels like. Again, this is FACT. So when a friend tells Ms. COok that she cannot understand, it’s true, she cannot truly understand at all. And along that same vein, those of us who are mothers (and especially those who have been deeply entrenched in it for a long time) would probably struggle to understand exactly what Ms. Cooke’s life is all about and what she feels every day being around women who ARE mothers. How she may feel not having that instant motherly connection that mothers have. We just can’t, and that’s a fact too.
    Bearing all that in mind, and herein lies the big difference, we are not going out of our way accusing Ms. Cooke of being incredibly boring and one dimensional by telling her that she has LESS to offer us in a conversation because she is not a mother and therefore cannot talk to us on that level. I mean, we could, right? But we aren’t. Because what’s the point of being mean and telling someone they are “boring”. Which is what she has done and ergo has instigated all this outrage. Ms. Cooke has taken it upon herself to accuse those mommies who dare speak of their current life situation as boring. Not cool. I can not only have a conversation with her about all those lovely subject matters she seems to prefer to discuss but ALSO about something that is near and dear to my heart: motherhood. So I guess that makes me more well rounded??? Her perspective is very close minded in my opinion. It is perfectly normal to want to speak about the things/feelings/emotions that are currently the biggest fraction of your life. When you are going through a break up, that’s what you talk to your friends about. When you are applying for a new job, that’s what you talk to your friends about. When you are deeply enmeshed in the bone-deep exhaustion and all consuming tasks of motherhood, that’s what you primarily talk about. And as a friend, you listen to whatever is foremost on your fiend’s mind at whatever stage they are going through in their life. That’s being a good friend. Being a good friend is about being there and listening and relating and engaging. IT is not about making stupid, mindless small talk to avoid the elephant in the room merely because the other person is not interested in the subject matter you are currently dealing with in your life. Ms. Cooke would make a lousy friend.
    Pascale Wowak

    Her Bad Mother February 12, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    Anonymous 11:04 – you said – “there are indeed mothers out there (and I have experienced them in the plenty before I gave birth and I continue to witness their behavior to those without children) who behave badly.”

    There are people from every walk of life who behave badly, but we usually don’t generalize their behavior to others of their type and claim that such behavior is a social problem. How is a mother who can’t stop talking about motherhood any more of a problem than a sports enthusiast who can’t stop talking about the Super Bowl or an environmentalist who can’t stop talking about global warming? Sure, such an individual might be irritating, but representative of a social ill? That’s where the argument breaks down into absurdity. There are people out there with limited social skills, and some of those people are mothers. So?

    Given that motherhood has for so long been marginalized and discussion about it relegated to the private sphere, I think that any effort to shut mothers up is worrisome, or worse. We need to be encouraging mothers to speak out about what it’s like to be mothers. Maybe then it’ll be received as a normal part of social discourse and, perhaps, as interesting as business trips to Yemen.

    Erin W. February 12, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    What a fantastic post! I need to make my way over here a little more often.
    I can relate to those who don’t like listening to every single little thing that your darling child has done with his boogers in the last 25 minutes, but I don’t think that the fact that we talk about it is a social commentary for how mothers are dulling down feminism.
    Yes, I am a mom. Yes, I talk about my daughter. At great length.
    I find it disappointing that this “feminist” is looking down on us for embracing and celebrating something that can ONLY come from OUR bodies. I think that, by being a mother – and a mother who celebrates that at great length – I’m taking part in the ultimate feminist act. So what if it’s what I’m “expected” to do? Just because society expects me to have children, that doesn’t make the act any less feminist. Men can’t bare children (despite what TLC might think… That’s a whole different rant though) can they?
    UGHHH Women like this just make me sick.

    Her Bad Mother February 12, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Also, Pascale? That’s a WHOLE ‘nother post ;)

    roo February 12, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    After 140 or so have chimed in,
    I doubt there’s anything I could add
    to the discussion at hand.

    What I wanted you to know, regardless, is that
    the back-lash against so-called
    breeders inspires in me such feelings of impotent rage. I feel it very strongly working in the arts in New York. And I’m having those feelings as a 33-year-old, childless (or -free, whatever) career woman.

    Such a contempt of mothers.
    Hatred, really.
    How can people not understand the implicit misogyny of that outlook?

    Want to talk old-school feminism?
    Try: the personal is political.

    I’ll admit,
    much as I admire your writing,
    and the sophisticated thought consistently reflected therein,
    I often skim or skip your posts that deal most specifically with the burdens and drudgery of keeping two small people alive and thriving.

    It’s outside my experience, for the most part. Luckily for me, so much of your writing about motherhood is simply writing about womanhood, personhood, through your experience of them as a mother.

    Intelligent people think deeply about the activities that form their daily experiences. If you spend your days wiping up shit, you might spend a lot of time thinking about it. About what it means that you’re the one there wiping it up, maybe. Or simply about how tired you are of doing it, day after day.

    I could go on.
    In short, sometimes shit is worth writing about.

    Even if you’re a feminist.

    lildb February 12, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    kgirl totally nailed it regarding our throwing each other under the bus for all of the inane reasons under the sun.

    it all makes me think that the writer of the original piece is insecure in her position in her life, so she needs to poke at someone and make them lessish in order to buoy up her own awesomeness a few notches.

    and it’s sad, and it makes me want to give her a hug, and maybe a cookie. i wish she were more comfortable with her current role in life so she didn’t feel the need to demean others and their choices. it’s SO FUCKING POINTLESS to do so.

    thanks for yet another brilliant epic on mominism, Lady C. you outdo yourself. again.

    (i’m going to try to match you when i write *my* epic, on, um, nominism, which is the high art of nomming on cookies.)

    Anonymous February 12, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    HBM,

    The difference between the socially inept environmentalist and the socially inept mother is the patriarchy. The patriarchy has nothing to do with enviro nerd-boy waxing on and on, but I do believe the patriarchy has a lot to do with women who demean other women who aren’t mothers. Just as I believe the patriarchy has everything to do with the crazy low status/ oddly and unrealistically sexualized high status of motherhood.

    So can I say that you are both right? I believe motherhood should be celebrated! And I love that the mommy bloggers are doing so! I think the author was wrong to criticize this trend. But what often happens with the oppressed is that they learn through their oppression to oppress others. And I do believe that some mothers (enough to make this discussion meaningful) oppress women who aren’t mothers. And so yes, I agree with Rachel Cooke’s main points.

    It’s unfortunate that the patriarchy is so successful. They have long worked magic by pitting women against women. It’s so successful! And that is exactly what is happening here. Rachel Cooke’s article does contain bigotry towards mothers. But by not giving any sort of understanding to some of the valid points she has made and by not giving empathy to yes, the bigotry that she has received from other mothers, well the oppression just continues.

    kristy February 12, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    I’m late to the fight and sorely pissed off, but here goes.

    To Amanda and the anonymi in support:
    This is so stupid. It’s like when conservatives get all frothy about how intolerant liberals are of intolerance. It doesn’t work that way.

    This isn’t just a black-and-white matter of hypocrisy, a la “She wrote an article saying she didn’t like my opinion. Well, I don’t like HER opinion. So I’m more right!”

    Cooke threw women, mothers, almost universally under the bus. Calling her on it and being pissed off about it (in response) is not the equivalent of throwing her under the bus, too.

    Cooke basically said, “Women shouldn’t behave in a certain way.” And what I am saying in response is that when women dictate how other women should behave, it brings us all down.

    Her Bad Mother February 12, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Anonymous – the patriarchy demeans WOMEN, mothers and non-mothers both. But I would say that it has gone farther to demean and marginalize mothers, to keep them isolated from each other and from public life. Ask any woman who has felt that she turned invisible the moment she started toting a baby.

    I agree with some of what you’ve said, and certainly with the spirit of your argument. But I don’t agree that patriarchy compels women who are mothers to demean women who are not. I don’t think mothers, on the whole, do that, period. Maybe some individual mothers do, but generally? No. It’s not necessarily demeaning to believe or even to state (Pascale made this point below) that a non-mother can’t understand the condition of motherhood until she’s experienced it, any more than it’s demeaning for a Ghanaian to say that I can’t understand what it’s like to live in Ghana until I’ve done it.

    So although I totally get that – and have witnessed – the occassional mother being holier-than-thou about her motherhood, I don’t think that this is the norm, and I’m not entirely convinced that it represents the same sort of bigotry (‘Sickening’ ‘dummies’) that Cooke displays.

    Otherwise? YES. The first target for our anger SHOULD be patriarchy. But we should also be holding each other accountable for doing its work, and I think that Cooke has done more in that regard than any mother she’s encountered.

    Anonymous February 12, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    Well, let me add just one last thing.

    A question:

    Forget Rachel Cooke. Do you think that mothers sometimes degrade women who aren’t mothers?

    I’ll answer the question for myself. I do. I’ve experienced it. And now that I am a mother I am way more valued and respected by my colleagues and community. And I witness mothers degrade those who aren’t mothers. In private conversations between mothers I see this happening ALOT. In open circles it sometimes…just comes out….

    And another question. If yes, sometimes mothers degrade women who aren’t mothers… do you see a connection with the patriarchy?

    Her Bad Mother February 12, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Anonymous – I have never, personally, seen a mother degrade a non-mother for not being a mother. I won’t for one minute deny that it happens, but I’ve never seen it, and I’m not even sure what it would look like. Just saying “you won’t know until you’ve had kids”? Is that REALLY degrading, in the same way that someone saying they hate blacks or that homosexuals are an abomination or – going out on a rhetorical limb here – that mothertalk is sickening is degrading?

    In all seriousness, what does that look like?

    As for myself, sure, I get more respect in some circles, but less in others. Being a mother in a dense urban community is sometimes like being a vegetarian at a ranch – the community is just not built for you, and people aren’t really comfortable seeing you there with your tofu. Or, how about breastfeeding? Mothers are still regularly shamed for breastfeeding, for public mothering. Women still lose jobs and job contracts (I did) for having babies. Women are still expected to keep mothering private. The only thing about motherhood that might be – MIGHT BE – revered is the idea/ideal of it, not the practice or reality.

    And no – if a mother degrades a non-mother (which again, don’t know what that looks like, so I’m limited in here), I don’t think that it’s necessarily to do with patriarchalism. I think that it has more to do with personality glitches, somebody trying to lord something over another (the way many people do with money or education.)

    Mom101 February 12, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Oh yawn, another woman insecure with her choices.

    Put it this way: If someone asks me why I didn’t become an accountant (or an astronaut or a fire eater at the circus) I don’t come back with a snarky response. Because I have no problem with the decision.

    Yes there are women who talk nonstop about mothering and it drives me nuts. But I also hate women who talk nonstop about their jobs, their husbands, or Rachel Rae.

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