Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Mumsnot

And now this.

Mumsnot.

This is a very clever title for a very upsetting debate.

The way it's framed is particularly saddening: if a woman doesn't have children, what value does she have, and indeed, does she have any?

HELLO? EXCUSE ME?

Of COURSE a woman, like any other person, or animal, or flower, has value, simply by existing.

OK, evil people, flowers and animals have perhaps less value, and usually do more damage.

Value — now there's a word. What on earth does it mean to "have value"? In economic terms, it means "be tradeable". I'm not sure that that's what the Mumsnot debate means. After all, women have been traded for centuries, and it's usually the idea that they're not virginal that prompts the idea of their loss of value. When did tradability shift to the post-partum female?

And who is assigning that value? It used to be men, on the basis of dowry or chattels. What is it now? An index of male fertility, or capacity to entrap and keep a female? Or, horror, is it what women themselves are now using as a literal matrix of self-evaluation?

Matrix: from Latin, female animal used for breeding, parent plant, from matr-, mate

Here's the deal.

A woman, with or without children, has value.

Just has value.

It is self-evaluation that does so much harm.

Evaluation implies measurement against established norms. But there aren't any with motherhood. We aren't just defined by the groups we notionally fall into. We aren't defined at all except at the point of death, when it all comes to an end. Until then we are in permanent flux and emergence. The notion of 'value' that Mumsnot is talking about is purely comparative, purely social. It leaves out of account the richness of all life, reducing it to two categories: reproductive or not.

I aspire never to be defined by having had children. They passed through me, and I was a vessel, an agent. I was changed in bearing them, but the same problems I had had before having children still beset me afterwards. Mumsnot isn't the issue — it's like saying Dietnot, or Mortgagenot, or Faceliftnot. What's really under discussion is how extraordinarily difficult it is to be happy.

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