The Mummy Wars are over. They never actually existed.
It was the line that brokered the ceasefire of the century: “Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.”
With that simple sentence came a halt in the so-called “mummy wars” between working and non-working mothers - just as a fresh bucket of kero had been dumped on the embers this month by campaigning US politicians and their media-savvy wives.
This olive branch was delivered by Democratic consultant and working mother Hilary Rosen by way of apology to Ann Romney, Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s wife and a stay-at-home mother to five. Rosen had controversially accused Mrs Romney of “not having worked a day in her life”. Naturally, an online skirmish followed, with plenty of publicity smart-bombs.
Good old Roseanne Barr even stuck her oar in, saying “I call bullshit on that, girlfriend” to Ann Romney’s claim that she did it all herself when her children were little, apart from a few hours’ help a week from a cleaner. Barr suggested the cleaner be found and asked about her hours, and won priceless TV coverage with that.
In the comment streams on opinion sites and women’s blogs, the reaction to this so-called outbreak of “nasty mums at war” got stabby enough to hit the papers. And who can blame the headline writers. It’s a pretty catchy phrase, what with all those visions of flying mobile phones and half-full bottles of defrosted breast milk, silk-blouse/apron ripping and mass manicure destruction.
When someone calls a “mummy war”, the internet explodes.
But hold on a minute. To borrow from Barr, I’d just like to call “bullshit” on this whole idea, and say that out here in Australia in the real world, handy headline-grabbers aside, there really is no “mummy war” to speak of.
These bitchfights over definitions may make eye-catching copy (of course non-working mothers “work”). But even the term “mummy wars”, so obnoxiously patronising to all mothers, is also so outdated as to have lost relevance or meaning to the multi-tasking, part-time or from home, sometimes working/sometimes not, job-sharing, or mumpreneur/eBay micro business queen, or not-working-but-madly-volunteering mothers of my generation.
Sure, when feminism delivered women their first opportunity to dive into the corporate world - full time, long hours, few exceptions - it caused a social ripple. Those first working women really were forced to choose between working like men and effectively giving up their chance to spend any magic time raising their little kids, or not working. There was little in between.
And sure, this must have been as confronting to the women “left behind” in traditional roles as it was to many of those first-wave working women. And from what I’ve read, this whole, tired “mommy wars” tag dates back to all that.
But now, as the workforce continues to catch up to reality, decent part-time work exists and even Tony Abbott is talking about home-based child carers (nannies!) being subsidised, many women have real choices .... mummy wars? What mummy wars?
I certainly didn’t notice any when I was a part time working-from-home mother, or a working mother on a year’s maternity leave. Nor when I was a full time stay-at-home mum (helping out at school and often taking home some kid or other for a friend with a big job).
I didn’t spend my non-working days thinking “damn you (insert name of guilty working mother here), for your selfish lifestyle choice and lack of diligence at mothering”.
And in the four years since I’ve been back to largely office-based work - often having one or another of my children brought home by a stay-at-home friend, or recently being bailed out with a brand new school shirt on the first day of “winter uniform” by a non-working mum who was more organised than me - I’m still unaware of any real-world mummy warring.
It seems to me that in these weird, fluid times, when there are financial imperatives for women to resume some kind of work but also more choices, we have realised that what we mothers have in common is we’re all just doing our best, and muddling through.
To suggest that “working” and “non-working” mothers cannot relate to each other is not only stupid, but wrong. And to suggest they disrespect each other’s choices (or disapprove of steps taken by necessity) is just as bad.
Certainly, we must admit that as with every other platform of contemporary communication, there exists a bunch of vocal “mummy trolls” (the epithet given to people who say hideous things, anonymously, online). And when it suits manipulative politicians to try to fan resentment, for their own purposes, old wounds can still be opened - especially when your audience is whole communities of tired women.
I reckon what she wanted was a class war, but in the end the one thing mummy-battling Hilary Rosen got right is that this whole debate is phoney. So, let’s be done with it.
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