Wednesday, 24 February 2016

'If Moms were treated like Dads'

My daughter sent me the following link yesterday, and I watched it with growing confusion: see what you think:

'If Moms were treated like Dads' is the title – so, let me think, what was I expecting? A few witty comments about American women taking it easy as men don't do enough around the house; feigned incompetence – suddenly becoming unable to do the washing; never taking responsibility for parenting decisions? A teasing interlude of reverse sexism?

If I'm honest, yes, that's what I was expecting – a Buzzfeed moment I could laugh ruefully at, but privately deconstruct. Or publicly deconstruct, pointing out the basic stereotyping of men and women alike, and bemoaning the paucity of representation of middle class lives etc etc.

Instead what I watched illustrated what I mean by 'Motherload' perfectly.

In the video we watch a teacher tell a mother to ask her husband's permission before their child can enter a gifted reading programme. We see a man put down a woman, calling what she's doing 'being stuck with the weekend babysitting'. We watch a man say to a woman, 'Bet you can't wait to get back to work, eh?' as they watch their children run amok. We see a women tell another woman, who is roughhousing with her children, 'Don't let your girlfriends see you doing that!'. And we watch a pair of men muscle up to a woman they are not used to seeing at the playground (presumably because she's usually at work and has a stay-at-home husband).

What took me by surprise is that (perhaps unintentionally), all of these vignettes can be read in multiple ways. It's hard to see clearly what they illustrate, and where the comedy gold resides.

I think the 'permission-seeking' is intended to moan – I mean mean – that 'mothers have all the power in parenting decisions these days'. But it's only a few decades since seeking your husband's position in all matters was the norm. 'Equality between the sexes' is a very new and fragile thing.

A man belittling a woman's activity, and another woman warning a woman not to be 'unladylike' are straightforwardly sexist, and have little to do with imagining what would happen if a woman were treated as a man is.

The comment about longing to get back to work, because it's easier to be in the office than to parent, is one regularly exchanged between working mothers.

And working mothers find it difficult to gain access to the stay-at-home tribe, as both 'types' are so anxiously segregated under the current ideology of compulsory anxiety about parenting.

This isn't about 'men' and 'women' at all. This is about (1) power relations, (2) shifting roles, (3) the anxiety we are all experiencing trying to pigeonhole the meaning of being a 'woman' or a 'man' and being a 'mother', 'father' or 'parent' in the twenty-first century.

What the Buzzfeed comedy video inadvertently does is show up the massive confusion currently playing itself out in Western, affluent, educated societies about what a woman is and does, or should be and do, once she becomes a mother. The same issues beset fathers, but the spotlight is currently on women, because the jockeying for position between women about what their real role should be is so inflamed and furious at the moment.

It's not that women are 'colonising men's ground' (it wasn't men's in the first place); and it's not that women are trying to 'have it all' (they just want access to the opportunities given to men as of right).

It's that if women no longer want to play the role of unpaid labour in the home, if they want fulfilment, if they nowadays need to work, whether they like it or not, simply because mortgages are so huge, if they expect to marry for love and to have equality in their relationships and public lives, then we don't know what to do with them, and we don't know who is going to change the nappies.

'Motherload' means the confusion over what a woman is for once she has children.

1 comment:

Min said...

Really interesting post. I've not heard the term "motherload" before, and I agree with much of what you've said here.