Tuesday, 13 January 2009

QuickMedium Pace Hit: Rosemary McLeod on man-mothers

Azlemed noticed this in Stuff yesterday and sent it through to us. I found McLeod's venom towards French justice minister Rachida Dati quite hard to stomach, and then she finished with this:
A man-mother denies even the hormonal avalanche of birth, knowing that emotion is an embarrassing weakness that must be overcome.

She typically works right up till labour, and barks orders on her cellphone minutes after delivery, as another woman I know did. Maternal bonding and love must be sidelined if you have "no right to fail", as the French premier has told Dati is her situation. In any case, you wouldn't want to appear inferior, like someone's housebound wife.

Women everywhere, and this is hardly news, have to hide the stresses of organising a child's life, even their illnesses, to hold down their jobs. Few can afford nannies, or to give up work. Such women, looking to Dati for inspiration, won't find any, and women who guiltily enjoy spending time with their babies will feel even more marginalised, inferior and judged.

I'm fed up with man-mothers being held up as examples for all women to emulate and admire. Real progress will come when we're truly able to put the needs of a child first, and be respected for it.
My problems with all this, in a nutshell:
  1. McLeod seems to be denying that Dati is female, in particular with the title to her column. Now that's a mature way to start. Frankly I just found it confusing because I wasn't quite sure what she was talking about for a while.
  2. Calling someone a "man", or a "man-mother" shouldn't be an insult, surely?
  3. A whole mountain of assumptions are being made here about how Dati is managing her family, with a lot of negative conclusions drawn as a result. Not least all the judgemental stuff about who the father is. And that working mums can't breastfeed.
  4. If we're going to treat women as full human beings and respect their right to make their own decisions then sometimes there will be women who make decisions we don't agree with. For example, I don't agree with all those women who voted Act in the last election, but I don't think the solution to that disagreement is arguing that only my approach to electoral politics puts the children first and that therefore Act-voting women should be disenfranchised. In fact I'm not sure it's a disagreement that needs to be "solved" at all.
  5. Yet again we see this "think of the children" mentality, that assumes women can only be good mothers if they are making some kind of dramatic sacrifice for their offspring. I am so over this.
McLeod actually makes some points I agree with, in particular this bit:
Despite what male journalists may believe, the unmarried mother who must work through her pregnancy and return to work instantly is no new thing. Poor women do it everywhere, unnoticed. They have no choice.
But I don't appreciate her assumption that if all women could choose they would pick what she appears to prescribe; to stop work early in the pregnancy and then not return to work for an undisclosed period of time; for all mothers to take primary responsibility for their baby; to breast-feed (not always a choice either in my experience) because bottles are bad bad bad.

I'm not clear on how McLeod's judgemental attitude helps any mothers, be they in paid employment full time, part time, or not at all.


Azlemed said...

I wasnt sure what she was trying to prove with any of her comments... other than the fact that she seems far removed from the reality that is motherhood.

it seems to me that whatever way you choose to parent someone is going to disagree with it, and having women call others " man mothers" etc is not very helpful at all.


muerk said...

Whilst this article is polemical, I actually agree with it. Sue me, but I think newborn babies need their mums and that parents should put their children's needs first.

I think that having a baby and then just up and returning to work is madness. How is a mum going to bond with baby if she isn't there?

The ex-expat said...

Muerk, when I was baby it was my dad who did the baby-rearing while my mum went off to work. I think as long as the child is well-cared for, there is no problem.

Lyn W said...

Rosemary's article is excellent. As a self employed midwife caring for women from all walks of life I can tell you from experience that the superwoman image is one that causes much harm. Back to work the day after a caesarean section is medically ridiculous and I would wonder at her caregivers advice or her own personal regard! So this latest example, along with the pregorexic then alarmingly skinny, immaculately dressed super star post birth women out and about within weeks of birthing is what our new mothers have to contend with! Give them a break!

M-H said...

I thought that was the point she was trying to make, that images of mothers as being able to bounce back after birth as if they hadn't had a baby at all are what is "far removed from the reality that is motherhood". Having a baby isn't for the day, it's for life, and pretending that it isn't an important event and that it has changed your life forever is actually an extremely woman-hating thing to do.

I do think that women should be able to make choices on how they will put their families first without being judged, but I also think that having a baby isn't like having the flu - once you've had it you don't get over it; you've got it.

I remember a story in the Good Weekend magazine here in Sydney a few years ago. A woman in her forties, pregnant for the first time, was conducting an international teleconference late at night when she went into labour in her apartment, on her own, a month early. She completed the teleconference (over an hour later), and then called a taxi to take her to hospital, where she gave birth in the foyer to a very small baby. Luckily, this all worked out OK, but this was being held up as an example of where feminism has brought us. I didn't think so then and I don't think so now. To me this is an example of women trying to measure up to some external ideal of how women should behave that is really based on the convenience of business/politics/society rather than fighting for the right to put their families first - in whatever way they feel they should.

Make Tea Not War said...

Another perspective on Dati- a favourable one from a woman


Personally I find both perspectives quite irritating. Why do women constantly have to police and judge each other for not conforming to one idea of what a woman, or mother, is supposed to be?

Anonymous said...

I am interested in these kinds of articles because they seem to be based on the assumption that previous generations of women didn't work. Poor women (for a start) have always worked, the difference is that in the past was that the oldest child would be expected to be the caregiver of younger children.

Anyway, I agree that in the moern context there is an issue of choice that should be discussed. At the moment there isn't real choice; stay out of the workforce and you will miss career opportunities. In the industry I work in we certainly see this to that extent that women who are ambitious in terms of their career probably shouldn't take more than the minimum of time out if they have children. This seems a bit stink to me.


Julie said...

I completely agree that the superwoman image is incredibly harmful. I did it to myself after my son's birth, despite being aware of the trap, and it was very counter-productive indeed.

However I don't agree with McLeod's way of arguing in that column. She could quite easily make the points about the supermum stuff without denying Dati her womanhood, making a lot of negative assumptions about Dati's life, and snidely remarking on the baby's father (or lack thereof).

On the issues of caesareans, the need to recover from them, the pregoreixa stuff, we've written quite a bit here in the past (mainly me wittering on about my own limited experiences, but also a great guest post from a midwife), have a look at our Pregnancy and childbirth section for more :-)

Thanks Tea for the link, I look forward to reading it soon.