The Politics of Motherhood

Every Wednesday at about 11pm I think ‘Damn, I missed 10 O’Clock live’. In fact, it happens with such regularity I’m starting to wonder if I actually like the show or if I’ve been subtly brainwashed by subliminal messages hidden in the swirling patterns of Lauren Laverne’s outfits.

This week some combination of Lemsip and lack of sleep meant I didn’t even have my 11pm revelation, but was reminded of my forgetfulness by legions of outspoken women tweeting angrily about the controversial ramblings of Angela Epstein during a discussion on feminism chaired by the very lovely David Mitchell (that’s not relevant, I just love Peep Show).

You are an absolute disgrace to your gender – @LouHaigh

Angela Epstein is talking rubbish – @meg_wump

A human being exists who actually believes this crap and she actually gets to go on TV – @DavidBrewis (a man, incidentally, just to prove it isn’t only angry women)

These were just some of the comments cluttering my timeline. It was like a car crash; I knew I shouldn’t but I just had to watch.

It was a bit of a let down. There was no real drama. I didn’t feel the need to throw things at my TV. Angela Epstein was not, as I had been led to believe, the devil incarnate intent on bringing ruin to womankind. Instead, it was just a disappointingly predictable, unhelpful and superficial ‘discussion’ on modern day feminism in which a woman who is essentially a caricature of herself and an unknown young ‘feminist journalist’ argued with a woman intent on making every other woman watching feel bad about herself while claiming to represent them – but then, she does write for the Daily Mail.

Ground breaking it was not, but it did provoke debate.

Epstein claimed that ‘feminists had ruined feminism’ and that ‘feminism had scared a generation of women into childlessness’ as they worried too much about their careers to dare to take a break to procreate. She also infuriated members of the twittersphere by suggesting that we don’t need feminism because women these days don’t have it that bad.

I’m reluctant to fan the flames of Britain’s biggest hate machine by commenting on anything emanating from a Mail journalist, but Epstein’s seemingly thoughtless yet deliberately provocative diatribe raises two important issues:

1. Why are modern women so reluctant to identify themselves as feminists?

2. Does motherhood fundamentally change women and their priorities so that they no longer want top pursue their careers as Epstein suggests?

I’m amazed by how many of my friends respond to my attempts to discuss anything relating to politics and women by saying ‘Oh no, I’m not really a feminist’ with the same dismissal and befuddlement they might say ‘Oh no, I’m not really a fan of Justin Bieber’ or ‘Oh no, I’ve read 50 Shades but I don’t think I fancy all those whips and chains myself”.

I’d never have actively said I wasn’t a feminist, but a year or two ago I’d probably have been with them in thinking it didn’t really matter. Maybe I’d been affected by this pervading view that feminists are short haired, braless,  dungaree-wearing angry man-haters and nothing to do with me. After all, women have the vote and we can go out to work these days. What more is there?

According to Ms Epstein, becoming a mother changes you completely. It floors you and shakes you to your core. The things that were important to you before are suddenly not priorities. Women who have fought hard for years to forge their way to the top of the patriarchal business world are suddenly more concerned with CBeebies than spreadsheets, more skilled at making cupcakes than conference calls.

Undoubtedly, there is some truth in this. I’ve blogged before about my surprise at how few mums I knew were eager to return to work after maternity leave.

But to put the lack of female advancement in the workplace down to a desire to do housework is offensive and unhelpful.

For some, having a child narrows their world. Suddenly all that matters is that bundle of joy in their arms; the rest if the world fades into the background. But for others like me, that bundle of joy brings the rest of the world into much sharper focus around you. Suddenly it matters so much more what kind of world you live in. Terrible things aren’t just happening to nameless, faceless people across the world; they’re happening to someone else’s son or daughter. Injustices aren’t things to be mildly concerned about before you switch off the news to watch The Voice; they’re issues which need sorting now so your children don’t have to deal with them later.

David Mitchell joked at the start of the 10 o’clock live discussion that there were no men in the debate but he’d decide the outcome so it was just like society. Sadly, there is more truth in this than we’d like to admit. Equality has come a long way, but we’re not there yet. Feminism isn’t about moaning that even though you work you still have to do the housework (though that is annoying!), nor is it about how hard life is juggling work, home and your volunteer job on the PTA. It’s about tackling the view that we still have to fit into set stereotypes. It’s about challenging the disturbing acceptance of ‘jokes’ about violence against women (as done so brilliantly by the #FBrape campaign) which make it so hard to free women from domestic violence. It’s not about man hating, because real equality would free men as much as it frees women – free them to  achieve a true work/life balance with their families so that they too can attempt to ‘have it all’.

Epstein has it wrong. Women aren’t all content to define themselves as mother purely by the act of being around their children, and feminists aren’t defined by the act of abandoning their bras and hating men.

If she doesn’t believe me, she can see the proof in 20 years time when my son will be old enough to proclaim himself a feminist in his own right.


2 responses

  1. I have always been pro-feminism-women’s right to vote, women’s right to a equal education, women’s right to equal pay in the workplace. However, since becoming a mother, I have had to put some of my feminist instincts aside. I have put my son’s needs before my own. I now work part-time and my husband is the main earner. Therefore, I do more at home. I like to think we still have an equal partnership though-a meeting of minds.

  2. I don’t think your decision to choose to work part time should need to affect your feminist ideals. I don’t think there is one right way to be a feminist, I just wished more people recognised that it’s still important. Thanks for commenting. Interesting to hear different viewpoints on the issue.

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