‘As a mother…’ generally isn’t something women say when they’re in the company of other mothers. Well, at least not in my entirely anecdotal experience.
Rather than an introduction to an argument or opinion, it can be read as more of a statement: “I am a thing of which you are not.”
To be clear – most of the time I don’t think that’s how the phrase is intended. It’s a throwaway remark that most women probably just say because they themselves have heard it countless times before. And after all – they are a mother.
But how it is said and how it is read are two very different things.
We discussed the phrase ‘As a mother…’ with two mothers and one non-mother on this week’s episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues.
I noticed the phrase first in commercials, then on reality television shows, and then I began overhearing it in cafes and on the bus. My friends say it. My colleagues say it. Commenters on Facebook say it.
Of course – many mums hate the phrase. They are as uncomfortable with those three words as I am.
But one I’ve heard too many times to count over the last few weeks is, “As a mother… I feel very affected by the children being held in cages at the United States border.”
I think I speak on behalf of my child-free comrades when I say: So do we. You do not have to be a mother to think that the practice of tearing children away from their parents and imprisoning them is distressing and abhorrent.
The same goes for the recent murder of 22-year-old Melbourne woman Eurydice Dixon. “As a mother…” I heard over and over again, “I can’t stop thinking about that poor girl, whose life was taken far too soon.”
I would hope that we live in a world where as human beings we are deeply disturbed by rape and murder, regardless of whether we’ve procreated or not.
Those three seemingly innocuous words can come across as patronising, alienating and ultimately dismissive.
Are you necessarily a more empathetic person by virtue of being a mother? What of the men and women who work with children, or are heavily involved in the lives of their nieces and nephews? Or who would desperately love to have children but can’t? Are they automatically denied access to the ‘As a mother…’ club?
There are countless life experiences that can provide an individual with wisdom and insight that have nothing to do with motherhood. The loss of a parent, perhaps. Falling out with a sibling. A demanding job. A catastrophe. Wild success. Wild failure. A health scare. Moving abroad.
But it feels like as a culture, we’ve drawn up two camps. In one, are the childfree women who get nine hours sleep every night, enjoy manicures, lack empathy and are feeling quite alright about children in cages, and in the other, are mothers, who are more tired than you, busier than you, more stressed out than you, and know love like you could never imagine.
No single person tells us this. But it is a message that pervades advertising and films and even our language.
Motherhood, for women, has almost been set as the benchmark of authority. We only need to take one look back at our former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who was dismissed as “deliberately barren” which made her, according to Senator George Brandis, “a one-dimensional person”. Mark Latham went as far as to suggest she lacked empathy because she was “childless”.
This is the context in which women hear the words “As a mother…” and feel immediately excluded and belittled.
Your opinion and your thoughts are not more or less valid because of your status as a parent.
They are valid because you are a person – children or not.