Are you thinking hairy legged earth mother with a child on each hip and a baby in a papoose? Or tiger mom face-timing her kids on their way to clarinet lessons as she runs a multi-national in the city?
Personally neither works for me, but they do seem to reflect the extremes we see around us.
I give you the Duchess of Cambridge; OK, I'm pretty sure her legs are never hairy and as a well educated young woman who chose a life of hat wearing and hospital opening, her membership of the sisterhood is uncertain, but she certainly seems to be giving motherhood her full attention. It might be obvious to you and I that with unlimited funds and no real job to return a nanny is irrelevant, but she did have that option, indeed it was probably expected of her. The fact that she chose not to farm out the more tedious aspects of child care (night feeds anyone?) and to be "hands on", is to her credit and can only benefit baby George.
So what does that leave us with? Step forward Katie Hopkins, who, as an educated, self made, confident woman, not afraid to go for what she wants or to tell people what she thinks, might well be what early feminism had in mind. And she's a mother. Is she feminist mother? Well I suspect she herself would argue against this, and as my personal definition of feminism includes respect for other women, then on balance I think not. However, she does portray herself as the sort of woman who pops out kids whilst finishing the annual report with one hand and emailing New York with the other. She wrote recently that she "took just two weeks maternity leave after the birth of each of her three children" in a way that suggests that she thought this was a good thing.
So far, so "having it all", but this particular brand of feminism seems to be based on pretending to be men. Katie's plan to reach the top involves clambering over female colleagues on the way, hence the repeated TV appearances and articles which alienate and belittle other women. There is no solidarity here, just a repudiation of femininity and the outsourcing of child care as perhaps a menial chore, to be done by someone less important.
But who is more important to a child than their mother? And what more powerful, consuming, meaningful and ultimately rewarding role can a woman have, than to raise her children?
Now before you cast me as the hairy legged earth mother, can I just say that I know, from experience, that motherhood is hard. There were days when I was at home with young children that I yearned to be in an office, at a desk that didn't cry if I left it to go to the loo. The height of my fantasy life at this point was to be able to buy, and drink, a take out coffee - I don't know why, it just seemed like the pinnacle of pre-birth freedom. So in no way do I think it is the easy option, but I also know that when you have a child you have to accept that it's not entirely about you any more. Your life has irrevocably changed, and you need to be on board with that, not in denial of it, Being a mother doesn't mean giving up your identity, but you do have to find a way to merge the two together.
Is motherhood the greatest thing a woman can do? Probably.
Should it be all she does? I think not, that way lies attachment parenting.
So here's what I think a feminist mother looks like.
- She knows that her children come first.
- She understands that she is their bedrock, the foundation from which they learn about themselves and the world.
- She has space in her mind left over to think and to be passionate about other things and other people.
- She may work because she has to or because she wants to, but knows which days she absolutely has to take off, to be at the really important football match/assembly/play.
- She knows that her value lies in the above, not her dress size.
But that's what I think, what about you? I know you're out there feminist mothers, tell me what I've missed.