I have the perfect baby, with a freshly-baked biscuity smell, radiating joy and All That Is Good. When my arms become her cradle she sparks endorphins that buoy me beyond ecstasy. She is the most blessed of blessings, most miraculous of miracles. Only, why must I die because I have given her life? Why must I self-destroy so that she may grow?
Why have all the facets of my pre-pregnant self: study, thought, solitude, exploration, creativity, collaboration, professionalism, income, independence, travel, ambition become crudely condensed into one word ‘work’? Why must I boldly ‘opt in’ to this world I once roamed freely, to retain any shred of self? And why the pretence that this is not a binary choice? The options are total not partial – and it is a Sophie’s Choice we lay before all mothers – work and despise yourself, or commit public suicide, as a natural consequence of your birth-giving sex.
Feminism, tired from the fight, has not slowed the ‘motherhood’ hamster wheel. It has not even rattled the cage. The unfortunate but inevitable lot of the modern mother is now standard parlance – ‘it’s hard for the Mum’ – they mutter in the offices and conferences and restaurants and aeroplanes as they cast a thought of her with baby, back home in glorified house arrest. ‘It’s hard for the Mum’ they whisper, when they overhear her weeping in the office toilets for the sick child she really can’t stop for, but will have to, because She’s The Mum.
The right to work was once our prize, to lumber as a donkey is now our punishment. Working Mothers are destined for distress; were their husbands nannies, they would be fired for ineptitude; ‘childcare’ she pays for is fraught, not because quality is lacking, but because what is required to ape a real Mother’s load, can’t not trespass on basic employee rights. Working Mothers organise themselves obsessively, feigning momentary power over their frantic lives, only to come crashing down in depression, when it all unravels, or worse, have their personalities ground down so that the unbearably joyless nag no longer resembles the dynamic woman she once was.
No wonder so many throw in the towel, retire prematurely from the workplace, fool themselves any real choice was involved, and enter financial dependency on their spouses, infantilising themselves from their prime and for the remainder of their lives. Maternal online groups compare ‘what they do’ and ‘how much they do it’ to the point of sadomasochism – just look at any thread on Mumsnet. But all attempts by women to improve these sorry affairs are futile, for the problem and the solution are male.
The bold and frightening truth, the elephant in the room, is that women must be encouraged to mother their children less. Less mothering and more fathering is the only solution to redress the gender imbalance.
Until she can have a full night’s rest, and leave home without fretting over her inadequate substitutes, to fulfil all the demands of a working day and stand a chance of triumph amongst a competitive workforce – There Will Be No Change.
Until then we cannot scratch our heads and wonder why there aren’t more women filmmakers, screenwriters, producers or astrophysicists, engineers, board-roomers or any other indicator of professional success. Until women mother less, There Will Never Be A Woman On The Moon. Because how will she get back in time for bath?
Of course her child-rearing hiatus scuppers chances of notable achievement, most liftetimes are insufficient to fulfil the most worthy of endeavours. No amount of part time hours, working from home, breast-feeding-baby-at-the-desk will paper the cracks – proper work cannot be completed when a baby cries in earshot. Reminders on the value of mothering or pleas to consider it as ‘real work’ justify not magnify the crippling division of labour.
Holding motherhood in higher regard will not alert us to the incompetencies of fatherhood, left unchecked for too long. Until fathers express their own concerns about the conditions in which they are made to father, until they organise and petition and nag politicians and speak up on television, raise their hands and admit their contribution fails to meet the needs of the infant they have bred, until they demand months and years, not days and weeks from their desks in order to catch-up on child-rearing experience, because nature has failed them on instincts – we will continue to purge our culture of the brightest lights in all creative, scientific, or technological fields, by virtue of their sex.
This isn’t our fight. It’s theirs. If collective neglect is to be our rocket flare, sisters, we must consider it …