There has been intense discussion in feminist circles in recent days over the controversial concept of “mother privilege.”
I do not believe there is such thing as mother privilege, but I used to think there was.
The bottom line is that women cannot win when it comes to reproductive choices. It is true that mothers escape one particular kind of criticism; the kind directed at women who haven’t had children or don’t want to have children. But becoming a mother opens the door to a carnival of other types of misogyny and discrimination.
On one level, there is a nebulous thread of “mother reverence” running through society, but it is completely hollow and does not manifest on a practical level in any way. I regard it with great suspicion as you need only look at it twice to see the hypocrisy it is built on.
A few years ago, in my mid-late 20s, I regarded my friends who were mothers as privileged in some ways because they weren’t constantly being reminded of their “ticking biological clock” or being told that they were being “cavalier with their fertility.” I found myself excluded by some of my friends who had children, because they preferred to spend time with other mothers who shared their experience. Just as I was more comfortable at that time with women who were single, building careers and looking for their next serious relationship.
I talked to a close friend about this and she said: “But Janie, don’t you think I’m excluded too? I’m a single mother and I know absolutely no one who shares my experience. All my mum friends have rich, loving partners and my other friends don’t have children.”
That opened my eyes. And I realised it should have been obvious all along how mothers and pregnant women are regarded by society. The way that pregnant women are regarded as society’s property, meaning complete strangers think it is acceptable to touch their stomachs on public transport and lecture them about what they eat.
I saw the perceptions of mothers are highly classist as well as deeply misogynistic.
If you’re a single mum, society sees you as irresponsible at best and promiscuous at worst.
If you’re a working mum, you’re accused of neglecting your children.
If you’re a stay at home mum, you’re seen as a drain on society.
If you’re a young mum, you’re irresponsible and or promiscuous, again.
If you’re an older mum, you’re selfish and putting your baby’s health and future at risk.
If you don’t have or want children, you’re a selfish career woman or just weird.
If you can’t have children, you have to endure pity that you neither want nor need.
If you’re a poor mum, you have to deal with frequent suggestions that you should have had an abortion.
If you do have an abortion or give your child up for adoption, you’re selfish.
If you’re a rich mum, you’re a middle class cliche and out of touch with other mums.
So there really is no escape from it. These criticisms of women will be twisted again and again to fit the situation you’re in. You just have to try not to fall for a rhetoric that is designed to make women suspicious of each other.
And if you’re one of the women who hasn’t had any children yet or who isn’t going to have any, if you’re sick of apologising for that, blame society, don’t blame mothers.