she has fallen and now she is awake

Mothering as an identity

So, Jezebel strikes again. With this remarkable bit of ignorance. (oh, I know it’s trying for humour, but it fails. Fails so hard.) To quote:

Maybe this is a feminist thing, or maybe it’s because I’m not a mother, but even if I was a stay-at-home mom with no job (and therefore no reason to already have business cards) I wouldn’t extoll my ability to wipe snotty noses and read bedtime stories as a core part of my persona. As if your main accomplishment is childbirth, and you would like to commemorate your skills with a card detailing your contact info after the names of your offspring. To provide to other moms when you need to carpool, or if they want your ants on a log recipe.

Jezebel chimes in with:

My own mother was a stay-at-home mom (although she abhorred the expression) and I think she would have seen being a mother as a key part of her persona, and something she was proud of. (She also had other people call her much more often for her analysis of Schopenhauer or her opinion on politics than for recipes or carpool questions, for that matter.) But when I asked her, she too found these cards odd. “It’s always problematic to base your identity on someone else,” she said definitively. “And that’s a lot of pressure on the kids. But I’ll tell you who it would be good for: the mother of the bully. So you know who to call when he beats your kid up or steals her bike. You’d know exactly who was responsible.”

Here’s the thing – motherhood is more than just snotty noses, bedtime stories*, childbirth, carpooling and ants on a log. It’s also more than Schopenhauer or politics. I’ll tell you a secret; it can be both. You can wipe snotty noses AND expound on Schopenhauer. You can carpool and talk politics. You can bounce a baby and write.

You can have more than one identity. And since when is acknowledging one’s parental status ‘basing your identity on someone else’? Why is a card with salient details for the environment so bad if it’s motherhood, but AWESOME if it’s a corporation? Why is it okay to base your entire identity on a subculture, on a hobby, or a job, but not motherhood?

Don’t get me wrong – there are a LOT of ways the patriarchy and mainstream culture like to jam mothers into boxes. But a BIG part of doing that is denying the importance of that identity even as they strip it back to nothing. So instead of ‘mother’ encompassing the rollerderby and the retro, the Martha-mothers and the mainstream, it simply strips away everything that makes you important and stuffs you into a box labelled ‘unimportant’ because mothers do it. The causality is the wrong way around – motherhood doesn’t cause you to drop out of society, society makes mothers drop out.

Bunbun was two weeks old when I first started getting flack for not getting out with friends, or taking time for myself. I have had to explain on so many occasions that I don’t actually relish time away from her. That my birthday celebration shouldn’t be apart from her because I want to celebrate it with her. That’s not because my identity is based on her; it is far more than that. I birthed her, I still nourish her from my body. We are linked with something a lot stronger than time or money or external factors. That allegiance cannot be altered or moved. It is not a commodity. So society tries to make it one, creates nonsensical consumerist mother-identities that we must buy into or face being alone forevermore. Combine that with the way many mothers must work**, and other choose to work, and you’ve got this godawful push-pull bullshit where I am NEVER EVER supposed to take time away from my child because I already ‘deprive’ her of her mother by working yet I am also in danger of losing myself and should go and undertake whatever ridiculous thing being sold to me as the cure for it because otherwise I deprive her of a good mother.

Good mother being one who is still as fuckable, likeable, entertaining, amusing, active and personable as before the child’s arrival.

God forbid we acknowledge the changes motherhood makes and not apologise for them.

The other nice little bit of misgynist bullshit? Mothers being the primary cause of bullying. Since y’know, we’re ‘just’ mothers and obviously totally and completely responsible for every single action our child takes. It’s a good little bit of double binding there – you’ve got the card, you are obviously totally identified with your child and therefore responsible and if you don’t, you weren’t there, you don’t care and are therefore responsible. It’s a nice way to assume that the mother is the primary carer and nurturer as well as blame her for it. ***

But hey, it’s totally feminist and totally woman-loving to say “It’s like she was lobotomized during the c-section.” and it certainly shouldn’t be called out for it’s expectation that new mother’s continue being entertaining. We should all have friends this worried about us, this caring and this kind. Certainly one’s that are this understanding about the early months of parenting.

*And guess what? My personal and professional identities BOTH include storytimes!

**If one more fucking arsehole starts with the ‘plasma screens/designer handbags/holidays’ bullshit about needing work I will lose the fucking plot. Having food, electricity and a roof over one’s head are not luxuries. That sort of nonsense comes from people for whom poverty is a theoretical conundrum, not a lived experience, and who will ALWAYS see a woman’s career as lesser than and adjunct to a man’s. So they get to keep us down in dual style – shit pay and shit respect no matter what we ‘choose’.

***Obligatory disclaimer – yeah, I’d be fucking horrified if Bunbun were bullying someone. God knows I feel enough shame when she’s hitting her cousins. And I am responsible for her, but once she’s at school and reasonably autonomous, I am no longer responsible. Unless you want me to still be identifying myself with her completely. Oh wait, that was the problem wasn’t it? That I was too involved with my life as a parent?


2 responses to “Mothering as an identity

  1. Claire March 21, 2011 at 19:05

    This is why I have given up on Jezebel. I once replied to a comment like the above pointing out that hating children = hating mothers = hating women, which led to some incredibly nasty responses.

  2. Claire March 21, 2011 at 19:20

    Just to add to my comment – a few years ago I may well have made these kinds of nasty comments, which makes me hate myself a little.

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