Until this week I had no idea that Hugo Chávez formally recognised the economic value of traditional “women’s work” . To be honest, I didn’t know much about Chávez. The one Venezuelan I know didn’t like him, but then none of us like our political leaders, do we? The most I’d assumed was that Chávez didn’t like women overly much, given the state of abortion law in Venezuela. Seems I was wrong, at least where a certain type of woman is concerned. It appears Chávez acknowledged that women who, to use the terminology of the average pay gap apologist, “don’t work because they’re raising children”, were bloody essential to a country’s welfare. Even if things were a bit more complex than that, as a basic principle that seems brilliant. Globally, we pay lip service to the devotion of mothers, yet so often stop short of saying you could actually put a price tag on it.
With Mother’s Day coming two days after International Women’s Day, I can’t help wishing it was more about that – genuine, heartfelt recognition – and less about a bunch of flowers, a pat on the head and yet another year of being horrendously undervalued. Don’t get me wrong, on a very personal level I love it. The card my five-year-old has written for me (“Thank you for all the love yoof givan me”) is just marvellous and I’ll treasure it forever. But as a cultural event, I wish Mother’s Day kicked a bit more arse. The commercial focus of it these days all feels rather KFC “Mum’s Night Off” in how it values what mothers do, bigging up inequality as a noble sacrifice in return for which you get, if not a bucket of chicken, then the only marginally better box of Thornton’s Continentals. It celebrates a particular type of motherhood – twee, self-effacing, repressed, waiting for that one day of the year when it can truly let rip with a half-bottle of rosé wine and a Lush bath bomb. It has got, let’s be honest, fuck all to do in appreciating what a wide range of mothers, all of different backgrounds and with different needs, do for their own children and society at large. If it did have, it would at least offer some form of meaningful response to all the things which piss us off.
For I am pissed off about motherhood, not in a clichéd “ooh, my kids are driving me up the wall” way (although naturally they are), but in a more fundamental way. I am pissed off about the fact that here in the UK mothers are loved on an individual level, but mocked and even actively disliked as a group. To be more specific, here is a bullet-pointed list of just a few of the things about UK – and often by extension global – attitudes to mothers which really make me really, really angry:
- I am pissed off about the fact that whenever a woman has children, she presented as selfish (very young, and she is a benefit scrounger; a little older, and she is mucking her employer around and hence responsible for all the workplace discrimination faced by womankind; older still, and she’s an career-obsessed, pathetic, unnatural user of IVF). For women at least, there’s never a right time to have children and every life stage you pick makes you a moral failure.
- I am pissed off about the media obsession with entirely bogus “mummy wars”: working mothers vs SAHMs, breast-feeding obsessives vs bottle feeders, Gina Ford aficionados vs attachment mummies, middle-class Waitrose Polly Fillas vs working-class Iceland Kerry Katonas … Basically, Daily Mail, much as you’d love to think we mummies all hate each other, we don’t, not least because we’re real people who understand the compromises we all have to make. Sorry about that.
- I am pissed off with motherhood being seen as a valid reason for women not having an equal say in what happens to women globally. “Oh, they can’t be doing with all this earning / having power and influence. Got kids to raise, haven’t they?” Well, no, that’s not good enough. If the facts of human reproduction are getting in the way of women shaping the formal structures of our world, then there’s something wrong with our man-made reward systems.
- I am pissed off about stay-at-home mothers being made to feel like shit. It’s funny, isn’t it, how often we see “the hardest job in the world” described as an alternative to “working”. Well, it is work. Presiding over toddler fights and scraping the shit off training pants isn’t some fluffy indulgence. Show some proper respect.
- I am pissed off about mothers in paid employment being made to feel like shit. As a mother who’s also the main earner for her household, I’m sick of feeling as though I’m not a “proper’ mother because other people are sometimes doing the things which are apparently my job. Mother’s Day cards make me feel this more than ever. So I’m not always the one who’s there to “dry your tears”, am I? Well, I’m the one who ensures you’ve got a home, food and lots of love, so I’m bloody well not apologising for that.
- I am pissed off about workplace and childcare structures not seeing the presence of mothers as natural and fundamental. Every “concession” we mothers receive barely changes the essential belief that all workers should behave as though they don’t have children. It’s even more ironic given that most women have always done paid as well as unpaid work. We’re just expected to struggle on and it shouldn’t be like this. Childcare is extortionate and available only to those who work “normal” hours. Bloated male employers routinely grumble about all they have to do for these selfish mummies and how this disadvantages all their other employees (as though we’re a less valuable class of worker). Well, I’ve had enough. Employers have always got a hell of a lot out of mummies in the immediate term, and as for the long term – where exactly do they think their market and workforce come from?
- I am pissed off about the way in which mothers are reduced to over-sexualised objects of ridicule in battles over male pride. Men mocking each other with the “I’ve been fucking your mother” taunt, or even just the suggestive “your mother”. Well, fuck you all. But not literally. Because actually, we mummies are discerning in whom we choose to fuck.
- I am pissed off about the proliferation of crap porn that’s been labelled as specifically for mummies. There’s plenty of decent porn around. We don’t need this sugary, stomach-turning, curiously unsexy rubbish (“I now declare this Ana opened” – that phrase is still enough to send shivers of revulsion down my spine).
So, yeah, those are just a few of the things about which I’m pissed off. And it seems to me that Mother’s Day is doing bugger all to address these concerns, but plenty to reinforce the idea of Mummy as a brave little soldier who’ll accept any old bollocks as long as you take her out to Pizza Express once in a while.
So what I’m calling for is a more radical, arse-kicking Mother’s Day. I’ll still accept all offers of chocolates, wine, bath bombs, flowers etc. But I also want something a bit more sustained, thank you.
Love Mummy x