(This appeared as my F Word column in March 2016)
Man At A Recent Event I Was Speaking At Who Stood Up To Say, “I
think mothers are the epitome of power and we should respect
when I said, “And what about those of us who aren't mothers?” you
said, “Obviously I'm talking about the rule not the exception.”
and then I rolled my eyes but it was quite clear that everyone wanted
me to not Go Into It, because I'd been Going Into It all afternoon
and the audience just wanted their cake and tea.
I thought of you later. You're obviously someone's son, and you're
probably a dad as well. But when did your conception of women become
narrowed and defined to just Woman As Mother?
me explain to you why your words made something cringe inside me,
like you were scratching nails down a chalkboard. It was as if you
were saying, “Women exist to give life, and it is that we should
respect, and none of the rest of it.” It's as if you were standing
in for society who has been looking askance at me as soon as I hit
25, wondering when I was going to stop faffing around and do what
nature created me to do. It's also like you were saying women who are
mothers don't count for anything else, their greatest role in life is
basically producing their children. Who, if they are girls, will have
their own greatest role to play and so on and so forth, until we're
all Russian nesting dolls, our charm lying in the fact that our tops
can be snapped off to reveal the generations that lie within us.
have not one hundred per cent decided that kids are not for me. I
thought I had ruled firmly anti-child when I first hit my thirties,
but now coming up on five years in this decade, I'm wondering if this
is an option I should reconsider. Unfortunately, my decision rests
not on any altruistic reasons to have children—Looking to the
Future and Love of Small Creatures but on very selfish things: a) I'd
like everyone to get off my back and b) I don't want to die alone.
These, I'm sure you'll agree, makes me the opposite of Woman As
Strong Mother and basically makes me one of those people who is so
scared by her own mortality that she's thinking of ways to prolong
you, I too have my own personal mom. She's great, totally awesome,
totally strong, kick-ass in many ways, and has done many things to
shape me into the person I am today. But while my mother may have
grown into her own personal stree shakti as it were during the
time she was my mother, I like to think that she would have grown and
evolved and become this person without me in her life as well. To put
it more succinctly, even though she may say this out of love, I do
not think her biggest achievement in life was to bring me into this
fact, while I'm thinking of my mother, I'm also thinking of an old
friend of hers who never had children, and who was around my whole
childhood. She was the person who gave me Little Women when
I was seven and told me that while the small print might be
intimidating, I would love it (I did, and when I visited Louisa May
Alcott's home when I was eleven, I was the only person shown into the
writer's private writing room, an honour accorded to me as the
youngest reader on that tour.) She treated me as a small adult, I
can't remember a time she ever talked down to me, and that shaped the
way I thought of myself—your parents don't count, because your
parents are duty bound to love you and listen to you—as well as the
way I speak to children now.
many ways, I think of the older women I met, my mother's friends who
didn't have children and yet who knew how to connect with a child.
Would you call their lives pointless? Some were in my life only very
briefly, but I remember them all so strongly. One friend I remember
gave me a set of two carved combs shaped like a man and a woman. “Oh,
a man and his wife!” I said, delighted and she looked at me and
said, “Why not a woman and husband?” Why not indeed? That's the
first time I ever thought about that, and it may have been a
throwaway conversation, but somewhere in my head it took root.
about the mothers who lose their children? What about women who can't
have children? What about more like me who don't want to? What about
the women who produce terrorists and murderers? A blanket statement
like yours is so harmful because it brushes everything else under the
carpet, because it airily dismisses everyone else as “the
exception.” Why, I bet even the woman you're holding up as this
ideal of Motherhood has mixed feelings sometimes about her own kids.
this to say: sometimes you need to think before you speak.
Not Mother But A Woman Nonetheless
This is a superb piece! Thank you for writing it. It needs to be said, especially because all people want is their cake and tea even when attending an event where these things are/can be brought up and deliberated on. :(ReplyDelete