as a mother, I learned the phrase "as a mother" is divisive & indulgent
September 21, 2018 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Visiting a Syrian refugee camp with Save the Children, [Samantha Cameron] describes how “as a mother, it is horrifying to hear the harrowing stories of the children I meet today”...Is Cameron suggesting that mothers have a special sensitivity that non-mothers lack? That the latter would be less horrified?...If I’m honest, becoming a mother has made me more likely to be upset by images of children in pain. However, this says less about the virtues of motherhood and more about my own moral failings, such as an inability to empathise with others unless their experiences are closely aligned with my own. As a mother, I've learned the phrase "as a mother" is divisive and indulgent (Glosswitch, The New Statesman)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl (56 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
As someone who has had mothers, I have to agree with their line of thinking. I've never stopped before to think about that phrase but when you do her reasoning becomes clear.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:48 AM on September 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


My own mother uses that phrase when she's trying to tell me she knows more about my own mental issues than I do. You know, instinctively. As a mother.
posted by HypotheticalWoman at 10:51 AM on September 21, 2018 [8 favorites]


That one has driven me insane for years now. I'm glad someone is now talking about it. Same thing with newspaper articles that always have to describe a murder or accident victim as a "New York City mother of [x number of children]," as though how many children she has is relevant to the fact that she's been murdered.
posted by holborne at 11:17 AM on September 21, 2018 [19 favorites]


As the author writes in the article, excerpted above:

If I’m honest, becoming a mother has made me more likely to be upset by images of children in pain. However, this says less about the virtues of motherhood and more about my own moral failings, such as an inability to empathise with others unless their experiences are closely aligned with my own.

I understand how this phrase is problematic when made as a claim of epistemic privilege, but it also seems to usefully describe a particular path to empathy shared by a lot of people when they become parents. I remember, as a student, an older graduate student describing her particular pathway to activism and how it was shaped by the broadening of her empathic circle after becoming a parent. We discussed the tension between what we called "Darwinian impulses" and the call to charity that the author mentions:

As a mother I want every child to have a piece of pie but, should the pieces be limited, as a mother I want my children to be first in the queue.

I don't think that these two impulses are necessarily irreconcilable: my interlocutor was drawn to a demanding research career that has provided tangible benefits to humanity, and has made personal sacrifices in so doing. Her children have shared in some of her sacrifices, but there are undoubtedly things that she refuses to compromise on for their well-being, some of which probably provide them with certain advantages. Favoring one's ingroup is often (usually) selfish, but it is also part of a rubric of reciprocal obligation that has undergirded human sociality since the deep past.
The tension between working to reduce the scope of zero-sum competition, while still favoring kith and kin in the competitions that remain, is one of the challenges of parenthood, and of personhood.
posted by Svejk at 12:08 PM on September 21, 2018 [12 favorites]


Yes, hate that line. So self-righteous.
posted by agregoli at 12:08 PM on September 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


As long as we're here, this sort of shenanigan arguably extends to those obnoxious ads on the Internet.
"One Weird Trick Discovered by a Mom".

Why is it always discovered by a mom?

It took me a bit to realize: a presumption of 'common-sense' experience and a further presumption of a lack of formal training - which, for the ad's demographic, is seen as a specific plus.
posted by Quackles at 12:11 PM on September 21, 2018 [15 favorites]


As an engineer, I think I have an intuitive understanding of this phenomenon.
posted by mellow seas at 1:01 PM on September 21, 2018 [10 favorites]


Yep yep yep yep yep yep yep.

I mean, you can take that expansion of your sympathies, reflect on it, and use it to challenge yourself to get as far away from that mindset as you can. Once the puppers sneakily invaded my heart, I became unable to watch any kind of animal cruelty on TV/movies or read about it--I've ruled out whole series on the grounds of one episode with that content (Damages, you might've been fun). So then I thought, why don't I feel this way about other animals (am I going to end up a vegetarian? I feel sad walking by the crabs in the tank at the supermarket)? Or why can I not extend the patience and compassion I feel for "misbehaving" dogs to the people being jerks in my life? And of course I found myself compelled to support a few good rescue groups, because one thing growing up a leftist Episcopalian teaches you (even if you ditch the church later) is to compulsively universalize your concerns. So the discovery of this sudden axis of deep love and care in my heart, I hope I've been trying to do something more with it, but then I know a lot of dog owners for whom none of this ever happens. I would imagine something analogous happens with parents, but I know a ton of parents who use their children as an excuse to narrow their focus and become even more profoundly selfish--a mom is definitely not necessarily a mom to all children.
posted by praemunire at 1:02 PM on September 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


Same thing with newspaper articles that always have to describe a murder or accident victim as a "New York City mother of [x number of children]," as though how many children she has is relevant to the fact that she's been murdered.

If I'm ever murdered I want someone to make sure I'm referred to as "a daughter of two".
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:08 PM on September 21, 2018 [32 favorites]


The Venn Diagram of 'As a mother' and 'Can i speak to a manager' and that haircut is a circle.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 2:39 PM on September 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


Naaaaaah, this hate on the phrase "as a mother" is just good old misogyny. These fads against common behaviors being held against women (and women only) come and go... Remember the vocal fry hating phase we went through?

I mean. Heaven fucking forbid we admit that women who undergo as womanly an experience as motherhood might possibly have a valuable perspective on anything... let alone BECAUSE OF their floofy, brain-dead womanly experience! No,no. Consign the appreciation of mothers or motherhood to the realm.of condescending pats on their heads on Mother's Day, please. The world of substance, ideas, and concrete value is not for mommish riffraff.
posted by MiraK at 4:22 PM on September 21, 2018 [19 favorites]


Yeah no. You have it precisely backwards. What’s misogynist, if anything, is the idea that a woman’s life or opinion is worth more because “she’s a mom,” because it suggests that women aren’t worthy of attention unless they have children. If being a mother is relevant to the discussion, sure, it’s a perfectly valid point. But what’s the point of stuff like “As a mom, I think everyone should vaccinate their kids”? It adds nothing to the discussion except to signal that in this case, maybe we should pay attention to a woman’s opinion even though we normally wouldn’t. That’s also why “murder victim and mother of two” is so awful; we’re supposed to feel worse because the victim’s life is more valuable than if she didn’t have children.
posted by holborne at 5:25 PM on September 21, 2018 [51 favorites]


I'm with MiraK. I'm sick to death of this discourse. It is straight up anti feminist. As we know, EVERYTHING a women says or does is problematic, maybe even dangerous. And motherhood makes it worse. Because your society weaponises children and uses them systematically to restrict women's participation in everyday life, people who ought to know better redirect their hatred and terror of the life-ruining spectre of children towards the nearest woman, just like everyone does with everything bad. Seriously, people need to work out their issues with their moms in therapy, and not through endless
broad-brush internet critiques of all the most inconsequential remarks mothers are slightly likelier to make than other people. No wonder parents are so fucking miserable! So how about leaving mothers the fuck alone for a minute. There's better sneering to be had out there.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:58 PM on September 21, 2018 [10 favorites]


One of the original premises of the article is that the phrase itself plays into sexist tropes and is actually insulting to mothers because it treats them as an indistinguishable mass without their own intelligent, individual opinions:

It’s not just that it’s offensive to those who don’t have children. Motherhood-as-kneejerk-opinion-former reduces mothers, these diverse, thinking individuals, to one indistinct mass, functioning on entirely predictable emotional responses.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:22 PM on September 21, 2018 [18 favorites]


Pretty much any argument that starts "As a ________, I..." has problems. It is foregrounding identity as the start of understanding. I'm not saying that identity doesn't matter, or that it should never be mentioned, but I do think that identity doesn't automatically confer wisdom. It's lazy writing The "As a" rhetorical strategy is weak.

Compare:
As a mother, it is horrifying to hear the harrowing stories of the children I meet today.
vs
The children I meet today have harrowing stories that are horrifying to hear.

The first puts the focus on how her identity makes her horrified, the second on the children and their harrowing stories.

I often hear "As a" used to avoid justifying behavior or decisions.

As a venture capitalist, I'm interested in disruption.

As an American, I value liberty.

As a father of daughters, I want to end sexual harassment.

As a $PROFESSIONAL, diversity isn't my job.
posted by medusa at 8:27 PM on September 21, 2018 [15 favorites]


Nah, I don't buy it. Constantly scrutinising mothers for the "problematic" ideas embedded in every little thing they say is nothing more than a particularly reliable form of clickbait, because everybody already loves the idea that stupid annoying moms are doing it wrong. Of course they call it feminist, that sounds great. But it's not. Feminism that focuses on policing women's language is just good old misogyny and a waste of everybody's time.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 8:38 PM on September 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


This discourse is complicated by a double-bind we find in a society shaped by the capitalist patriarchy.

Capitalist patriarchy says women who refuse to (or cannot) perform all the difficult, painful, and entirely unconpensated labor of gestation, birthing, and/or parenting are bad and selfish. But simultaneously, capitalist patriarchy also says motherwork is worthless, brain-dead, disrespectable, and not even real work because it is unpaid.

Making this double bind explicit will free us from it.

Mothers are NOT morally superior to women who are not mothers. But equally, motherwork is just like any other work in that performing it confers special skills and knowledge on the worker.

Why WOULDN'T motherhood give people a more pronounced or valuable perspective on issues such as whether children ought to be vaccinated? Mothers specialize in promoting the welfare of their children. Why should we discount that specialization completely? It's just like a police officer saying "As a police officer, I think public safety is best achieved by......." The only reason to discount the qualifications motherhood brings is misogyny. Capitalist misogyny.

And by the way, saying, "As a mother, I think vaccines are...." is NOTHING like saying, "As the father of daughters I think women should be respected" --because the objectionable bits there are

- the of daughters part, which reduces women from whole people to beloved relatives only,

----- and subsidiary to that, the father bit reduces women's value to their relationship TO A MAN, which is more sexist.
posted by MiraK at 9:08 PM on September 21, 2018 [8 favorites]


Why WOULDN'T motherhood give people a more pronounced perspective on issues such as whether children ought to be vaccinated?

this form of as-a-mother argument is part of how we ended up with an anti-vaccination movement, which has had and continues to have demonstrably negative impacts on children and on society as a whole, so i'm not really sure this is proving the point you want it to prove, here.
posted by halation at 9:28 PM on September 21, 2018 [26 favorites]


Because your society weaponises children and uses them systematically to restrict women's participation in everyday life, people who ought to know better redirect their hatred and terror of the life-ruining spectre of children towards the nearest woman, just like everyone does with everything bad.

No. This is women who ought to know better leveraging misogyny against other women who are not performing their proper, legitimating role in society. It is absolutely, unquestionably invoking historical rhetoric that accommodated some degree of accommodation of the expression of women's opinion by bracketing it with insistence on a woman's true femininity; you can see women negotiating it, e.g., in the suffrage movement. It is nothing other than the flip-side of the kinds of personal attacks conservatives make on public women's, especially unmarried public women's, private lives--the insinuations that their husbands must be miserable, the stereotype of the feminist who's only that way because she can't get married, the dismissive characterization by the white nationalists of Heather Heyer after her murder as "childless." They're women who have failed to be satisfactory wives and mothers, of course it follows that they're valueless! But I'm a mom, I'm different!

Unfortunately, this sort of dynamic occurs in plenty of other contexts in society; I'm happy to put much of the blame on the patriarchy for creating the conditions to make this an effective tactic, but women should know better. It's not 1908 and they are not trying to overcome a widespread belief and practice that they should confine themselves to domestic matters by arguing that when the broader world impinged upon their home, it was their special role as angels of the house to speak up.

[preemptive note, 'cause it's happened a couple of times recently: it is not a demonstration of great feminist wokeness to assume that a gender-neutral handle must belong to a man]
posted by praemunire at 10:34 PM on September 21, 2018 [18 favorites]


performing it confers special skills and knowledge on the worker.

And those special skills are in being a mother (parent). Performing the work of parenting doesn't confer any special skills or knowledge about, for example, if vaccines are effective or if the suffering of refugees is bad.

It's just like a police officer saying "As a police officer, I think public safety is best achieved by......." The only reason to discount the qualifications motherhood brings is misogyny. Capitalist misogyny.

Police officers often call on their experience to support racist theories of public safety, like the drug war and broken windows, that do not actually achieve public safety. I'm a big fan of the idea that workers often know the best way to perform their own work, but your examples of police and vaccines well illustrate how that is not always true.

Heaven fucking forbid we admit that women who undergo as womanly an experience as motherhood might possibly have a valuable perspective on anything.

Likewise, heaven fucking forbid that women who do not undergo the "womanly" experience of motherhood have opinions worth listening to even though we cannot append "as a mother" to them. (I am curious, is it also "womanly" to forgo children?) No one is saying mothers don't have valuable perspectives. But "as a mother" can just as easily precede "I know vaccines cause autism" as "children should be vaccinated."

the father bit reduces women's value to their relationship TO A MAN, which is more sexist.

"As a mother" reduces a woman's value to whether she has produced children. It's about as sexist as you can get.
posted by Mavri at 10:41 PM on September 21, 2018 [23 favorites]


this form of as-a-mother argument is part of how we ended up with an anti-vaccination movement,

Just like some forms of "as a police officer..." arguments are how we sometimes end up with bad public safety policy. Yeah? But nobody ever says police officers should be stopped from ever using their profession as the source of their opinions.

Just like other workers, mothers will sometimes be mistaken in their opinions and judgements which are based on their experience as that worker. Just like for anyone else, the solution to this problem is to properly evaluate people's opinions and recommendations, NOT SUGGEST THAT THEIR PROFESSION ITSELF IS ALWAYS IRRELEVANT AND SHOULD NEVER BE MENTIONED.

I've never said mothers should be automatically believed and that mothers are always right! I just don't want mothers to be the only type of worker to be shamed into never publicly claiming their work experience as the source of their opinion.

Likewise, heaven fucking forbid that women who do not undergo the "womanly" experience of motherhood have opinions worth listening to even though we cannot append "as a mother" to them

What. Who on earth is arguing this? I only see articles like OP and assholes on reddit froth at their mouths wherever a mother dares to say the words as a mother. Literally nobody has ever said "the only opinions worth listening to are those which begin with as a mother."

"As a mother" reduces a woman's value to whether she has produced children.

No, it doesn't, any more than "as a police officer" reduces a person's value to whether or not they are police officers, or any more than when someone says "as a father" they are reducing men's value to whether or not they are parents.

This is women who ought to know better leveraging misogyny against other women who are not performing their proper, legitimating role in society.

You're buying into the double bind wholesale if you think moms must be prevented from ever publicly claiming expertise on the basis of motherwork just because it kinda sounds like a misogynistic diss. Why not suggest better wording that avoids this implication instead of a wholesale ban on the words "as a mother"?
posted by MiraK at 10:59 PM on September 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


[Mothers'] special skills are in being a mother (parent). Performing the work of parenting doesn't confer any special skills or knowledge about, for example, if vaccines are effective or if the suffering of refugees is bad.

This is one way that misogyny works: to angrily shame women for daring to step out of the private sphere into the public using a womanly role as their claim to public attention.

Why do you believe that motherhood alone out of all the kinds of work and indeed all types of life experiences is so uniquely confining, and it's skills and knowledge utterly devoid of meaning or value outside of the original job function only?



FYI motherhood absolutely does give people a specialized lens through which to view these issues, a different and valuable perspective that contributes to a fuller picture of these issues. Like, motherhood does not make people experts in immunology. But motherhood does give people an immense and immediate personal stake in the immunization debate, just like citizenship gives people much more of an immediate and personal stake in the politics of any given country. This is easily reason enough to justify "as a mother" prefixes in expressions of opinion on the matter.
posted by MiraK at 11:19 PM on September 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Why do you believe that motherhood alone out of all the kinds of work and indeed all types of life experiences is so uniquely confining, and it's skills and knowledge utterly devoid of meaning or value outside of the original job function only?

No one said any of this.

"As a father" is just as obnoxious. You don't hear it as much because men have been raised to believe that their opinions have value on their own.

Look, if you want to go around saying things like, “as a mother, it is horrifying to hear the harrowing stories of the children I meet today", then go right ahead. You will be far from the only person to imply that women without children are lacking.
posted by Mavri at 11:45 PM on September 21, 2018 [16 favorites]


Is there any way a mom can convey the idea that motherhood has a bearing on her opinions about vaccines or immigrant kids without disparaging non-mothers?

(Genuinely wondering. This is not snark.)
posted by MiraK at 1:13 AM on September 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


As a barren woman, no there isn't. I care just as much about other people's kids as you do. I don't care as much about your own kids, but that's the same as anybody.

I can emphasize. I can love. I can care. The fact that my body has failed me does not make any less feeling or mean I am any less concerned about children than you.
posted by daybeforetheday at 2:27 AM on September 22, 2018 [28 favorites]


I can emphasize. I can love. I can care. The fact that my body has failed me does not make any less feeling or mean I am any less concerned about children than you.

I definitely see how toxic expressions of patriarchy do imply that non-mothers care less and are mean, etc. I'm sure "as a mom" is often used to imply moral or emotional INFERIORITY of women who aren't mothers, andat needs to stop. That isn't what is being implied every time moms say "as a mom" though.

I mean, there are certainly things that moms have that people who haven't ever raised kids do not: Skills and knowledge from first-hand experience of parenting. It is possible for these to be the source of a mother's opinion on something.

For instance: A mom has spoken to her kids about the HPV vaccine, spoken to her kids' peers about it, heard from them what their thoughts and concerns about it are, felt them out, seen through the kids' finessing of what they feel are unacceptable statements about it, and knows what they don't understand about it. Her years-long daily relationships with these kids is specialized knowledge that non mothers don't have! Her opinions about HPV vaccines are very likely to be shaped by this specialized knowledge. Which is to say, she might very well hold certain opinions as a mother.

This isn't a value judgement about a non-mother's whole person, let alone her moral or emotional INFERIORITY to the mother. It simply is.

Can you see how a blanket shaming of moms who say "as a mother" devalues this, and is therefore misogynistic?
posted by MiraK at 4:10 AM on September 22, 2018


The word "mother" is both reductive and too broad

Having another living creature gestate in your body gives you a unique and valuable viewpoint about that. It can happen to men and NBs too.

Having to look out for the welfare of someone else 24/7 gives you a unique and valuable viewpoint about that. Happens to a lot of people!

Breastfeeding gives you a unique viewpoint on breastfeeding!

Etc
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:28 AM on September 22, 2018


"As a ___" claims special knowledge. Yeah, that COULD be relevant, if you are talking to someone about something that hasn't be3n mentioned here. I am not a mother, and I'm sure the knowledge of how to prepare a bottle, for example, is not something I have a good grasp on. But that's not the kind of example provided here. The ones mentioned in this thread are topics that ANYONE could have a valid opinion about, motherhood does not confer special knowledge about vaccinations, caring about tragedies involving children, etc.
posted by agregoli at 7:02 AM on September 22, 2018 [10 favorites]


Of course I'm not arguing that motherhood is the ONLY human condition that confers specialized knowledge on issues relating to vaccine policy. Neither am I saying motherhood necessarily makes mom's righter than anyone else on the issue of vaccine policy.

There's a plethora of viewpoints and a wide variety of specialized knowledge different people could base their opinion on.

"As a person who suffers from polio I have this opinion on what type of education might work for the general public on vaccine policy."

"As a school teacher I have this other opinion about how best to win parents over to vaccine policy."

"As a libertarian think-tank person, I have this wholly jerkwad opinion about what vaccine policy should be."

"As a public policy official I know what works in educating people."

"As a climate scientist I don't think you should be printing educational materials on paper."

"As a microbiologist I have an informed opinion on the science behind vaccines."

"As a fat person, I have opinions about what doctors should and should not say when I am in the clinic to get vaccinated."

"As a mother I have opinions about what might be keeping other moms from trusting in vaccines."

Out of all these statements, you all want to object only to the last one?!?!
posted by MiraK at 7:26 AM on September 22, 2018


I’m glad to see that straw men can also be mothers.
posted by Etrigan at 8:25 AM on September 22, 2018 [16 favorites]


I don’t think it’s just the last one. You can make arguments and points without having to argue from a position of authority. You don’t need to qualify your opinions.
posted by hwyengr at 9:39 AM on September 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


i mean? “As a leading research scientist in preventable disease, I know the importance of facts against misinformation about preventable disease. As a mother, I also know how scary it can be to give your child mystery substances” These are separate domains of this hypothetical person’s life, giving them valuable insight into how others who have gained access to those domains might (very culturally!) construct epistemic claims. But! Only the latter is dismissed as “well, everyone can do THAT!”

This is interesting because it could imply that
a) our cultural understanding of “motherhood knowledge” is really a misogynist watering down of generally held beliefs, loosely tied together with parental domain knowledge and then undermined as common sense, because mommies think their job is so hard, amirite?
Or! And! b) that parental domain knowledge, which is generally tasked to the most female presenting of a family unit, is itself considered less valuable because it relies on things like care, a demand for bizarre levels of empathy, and the acknowledgment of how emotional experience colors our perception of what’s ontologically relevant, which are all culturally icky because they’ve been perceived as feminized, and therefore are“obviously” both exclusionary (“but real knowledge is that which everyone has access to!”) and less valuable modes of thinking.
All of which adds up to basically that it’s misogyny all the way down.
posted by zinful at 12:12 PM on September 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Important to add here that I’m a child free by choice cis woman who has learned so much about parental domain knowledge from metafilter, that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise*...but I consider that knowledge to be “knowing-that” rather than “-how” and don’t believe I can speak as any authority on the what it’s like to be a parent.


*lack of extended interaction with parents other than my own; see thread on childlessness
posted by zinful at 12:20 PM on September 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


These are separate domains of this hypothetical person’s life, giving them valuable insight into how others who have gained access to those domains might (very culturally!) construct epistemic claims. But! Only the latter is dismissed as “well, everyone can do THAT!”

part of the problem, though, is that everyone can do that, if they have experience of caregiving and close human relationships, because caregiving and empathy are not solely the domains of people who have physically conceived, carried, birthed, and raised another human. empathy and caregiving tasks are highly gendered in most cultures, and misogyny plays a huge role in the cultural devaluing of caregiving tasks and the low monetary compensation often provided for paid caregiving roles. these things are all true. we need to work to change those things, but arguing that mothers have unique and specialised caregiving knowledge that other humans do not possess and cannot otherwise obtain is not the way to work toward that change. if anything, it reinscribes the whole angel-of-the-home domestic-sphere feminine-mystique bullshit that helps keep the devaluing of caregiving entrenched, while also alienating those who do not have biological children and suggesting that empathy and care are somehow not part of all human experience.
posted by halation at 1:18 PM on September 22, 2018 [14 favorites]


Seriously: people who have not parented tend to have *no idea* what parenting is like, what goes into it, what it teaches you, etc.

Because parenting is feminized and misogyny is so pervasive, most people THINK they know. They believe other types of family relational care work are good approximations of parenting. I used to think so too, until I became a parent. It's kind of not your fault if you think this, but it is your fault if you refuse to hear mothers who tell you you're wrong.
posted by MiraK at 3:07 PM on September 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


my 2 cents, the patriarchy wants moms and not-moms to fight, to feel their experiences are not valued by the other and society at large, to divide and conquor.

I'm ok with " As a X, i have such and such perspective." I don't think this has to mean anyone not X can have nothing of value to add. Arguing from authority is a useful short-cut to having confidence in a proposition.

I do think not-X people are right to be weary of being dismissed categorically.

Motherhood is a category of experience that should be valued and mothers should be heard. Yes

Not being a mother should not disqualify a person from being valued and heard. Yes

Fighting between mothers and not-mothers benefits neither in their quest to be valued and heard, but it does benefit those who don't want to hear from one or both of those groups. (like congressional republicans)

Sure, no one else will every truly know what its like to be me, but society, language and civil rights are not built up by saying "no one but me and my kind...." they're built by assuming other people can understand and empathize with each other 2nd hand enough to share a world together.

Can't we all just get along?
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 7:06 PM on September 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


How could people who have children possibly not know 9000 times more about having children than me, a person who has no children. What kind of disrespectful nonsense! There's simply no other area of life where personal hands-on expertise gets so little respect. It's the way we treat women in general, but even more grotesque. People expect superhuman levels of sensitivity and consideration from mothers, as though the experience were powerful enough to transform them from human women into saints, yet give them credit for nothing. It is inexcusable misogyny and it's everywhere.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:07 PM on September 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


I don't care who you are, just vaccinate your kids.
posted by greatalleycat at 10:53 PM on September 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


motherhood does give people an immense and immediate personal stake in the immunization debate, just like citizenship gives people much more of an immediate and personal stake in the politics of any given country.

To be frank, I am stunned that you could put forth the second clause of this sentence. I am staring at it and wondering how anyone at this historical moment--

I'm a U.S. citizen. I have an immediate and personal stake in the politics of the country I am a citizen of. I live in a city of over 3 million immigrants. They live here. They work here. Some of them are citizens. Some of them are legal residents. Some of them are not. They all have an intensely immediate and personal stake in the politics of the United States. In certain ways, their stake is higher than mine. It is entirely plausible that some of them may literally live or die based on how those politics work out in the next few years. Some of them are related in one way or another to people who already have.

The flaw in that comparison ought to suggest to you the problem in your thinking. What, you think I don't have an immediate and personal stake in the immunization "debate" because it's only my niece or something?

Just this evening--not looking for it, it just came across my dash--I saw someone saying that she objected to that anti-Gosar family ad because "as a mother" she has some kind of special understanding of the harms of family divisiveness. Seriously?
posted by praemunire at 11:00 PM on September 22, 2018 [13 favorites]


The examples in the article don't have to do with special qualities only knowable to parents or mothers. They are about things like having empathy for children who are suffering, thinking it's good for students to have nutritious meals, or knowing what pain feels like. And I did not read the article as an anti feminist attack on mothers but rather as a critique of the sexist notions about women's roles that lead to statements qualified by "as a mother." It's not a step forward if women feel the need to append "as a mother" to their statements to be taken more seriously, especially with issues that really are universal to the human condition.

Others are obviously free to disagree with me that the article's premise is feminist. Disagreement is one thing, but I'm actually quite dismayed to read sentences stating that people who agree with the premise of the article have "hatred and terror of the life-ruining spectre of children" (?!) or "need to work out their issues with their moms in therapy." I have no hatred or terror of children; in fact I love the ones in my life, and tried to become a mother myself but was thwarted by infertility and pregnancy loss. I also love my own mother a lot, and rather than having "issues" with her that I need to work out in therapy, I am grateful for and very aware of the sacrifices she made for me and my brother--sacrifices that I recognize fell disproportionately on her because she is a woman.

I'm also dismayed to read sentences dismissing the examples of problematic rhetoric as "the most inconsequential remarks mothers are slightly likelier to make than other people." The thesis of the article is that they are not inconsequential--it contains many explanations of how divisive and insulting these remarks are to mothers and non-mothers alike--and it's not just mothers who make these remarks. It's journalists, advertisers, politicians, who are invested in sowing divisiveness and using mothers to further their agendas or increase their bottom line.

motherhood does give people an immense and immediate personal stake in the immunization debate

Is it more immense, immediate and personal though, than for someone who isn't a parent? This is where one of the the critiques in the original article: there is no reason for anyone to make statements that attribute qualities not limited to parents--feeling sad about refugee children, wanting to preserve herd immunity, concern for the continuation of the human race--to being a parent.

Unfortunately, the statement bears strong resemblance to what Andrea Leadsom said, when she was explaining why she'd make a better party leader than Theresa May:
"I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country. A tangible stake. [Theresa May] possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people. But I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next. So it really keeps you focused on what are you really saying because what it means is you don’t want a downturn - but then 'never mind let’s look to the ten years hence it will all be fine'. But my children will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next ten years."
You know who has a real, tangible stake in the next ten years? People who care about the future of humanity. We need to stop these artificial divisions between parents, who "have a real stake" and others, who supposedly don't.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:52 AM on September 23, 2018 [18 favorites]


I think what MiraK is trying to get at is that there are obviously times when the the construction "As a..., I..." is used in a way that's not justified. But the specific policing of "As a mother..." - that's where the misogyny comes in. We're always trying to find ways to tell mothers they're doing mothering wrong. But there are certain things that do become clearer once you have a child - I consider myself as bleeding heart liberal as it gets, and I've always felt pain over the suffering of children in particular, and that's been true since well before the birth of my son a year ago. But there was something about holding my child in my arms and feeding him, caressing him, that made absolutely visceral how cruel it was to separate children from their parents or to treat refugee children the way we have been. Obviously I knew this before. But it feels like I know it now at a different level - like down to my bones. And if that sounds foofy and sentimental - well, so be it.
posted by peacheater at 4:28 AM on September 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


No one knows someone else's emotional experience or capacity. So I am uncomfortable when people use examples like you just did, peacheater. YOU now know this feeling "in your bones." You had an emotional shift, I don't doubt it. There is no way for you to know, however, if your emotions match anyone else's, parent or not. So why claim special, superior emotionality?
posted by agregoli at 6:47 AM on September 23, 2018 [11 favorites]


The examples in the article don't have to do with special qualities only knowable to parents or mothers.

This is true! And this is the problem! The article uses a very biased sample set to come to a broad conclusion that "As a mother ..." is ALWAYS a bad, wrong, evil thing to say. It devalues ALL motherwork on the basis of some mothers being wrong sometimes.

This is misogyny. This is what I've been trying to say from the start.


Agregoli, it's not "superior emotionality," it's heightened sensitivity. Marine biologists in general feel more for, and know more about, dolphins than the general public. Cat owners have more empathy for cats than non cat owners. And so on.
posted by MiraK at 7:04 AM on September 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


You are claiming you know more, and feel deeper, than non-parents. A superior brand of human, is how it reads. Believe it or not, its offensive.
posted by agregoli at 7:28 AM on September 23, 2018 [15 favorites]


Does this "heightened sensitivity" come from conceiving inside one's body, carrying a pregnancy to term, birthing a child (and if so, does c-section count?), breastfeeding a child, raising that child to some specified age or milestone? What about people who become parents through adoption, who lose a child, who were not present for some period of their child's life for whatever reason, or who were never legal or biological parents of the child but who "raised" them in every other sense of the word? Does it apply to parents who abuse their children? Does it apply to parents who abandon or neglect their children? Must the person identify as a "mother" to have this special quality?

Define "mother."
posted by melissasaurus at 7:30 AM on September 23, 2018 [7 favorites]


Define "cat owner."

Jesus Christ.

Parents know more ABOUT PARENTING, and feel deeper, than non-parents, ABOUT CHILDREN. Yes. There may be various exceptional cases but in general that's true. It's a consequence of PARENTING EXPERIENCE.


A superior brand of human, is how it reads.

I submit that this erroneous conclusion is where the problem lies, and it's certainly not the person who says "parenting experience gives me parenting skills and heightened Ed sensitivitiy to parenting related things like kids" who forces you to feel like this.
posted by MiraK at 7:48 AM on September 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


I do not believe the argument here is that it is "always a bad, wrong, evil thing to say" the phrase as a mother. The argument of the article, as I'm understanding it, is that using as a mother as a rhetorical tactic is exclusionary, unverifiable, and/or not very helpful to conversation. I'm seeing more "policing," "shaming," and assertions of people being "bad" and "wrong" and "evil" in this thread coming from parents, not non-parents, to be honest.
posted by halation at 7:49 AM on September 23, 2018 [11 favorites]


I do not believe the argument here is that it is "always a bad, wrong, evil thing to say" the phrase as a mother.

It's literally the title. The whole article and this whole conversation is about this phrase. Naturally I thought people are objecting to the phrase.


If you're objecting not to the phrase but to something else entirely, please clarify what that is, and maybe apologize for miscommunicating so very hard.
posted by MiraK at 7:55 AM on September 23, 2018


Mod note: The title says it's "divisive and indulgent" and MiraK, you need to take a couple steps back here and let the thread breathe. It's ok if people do not agree with you.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 7:57 AM on September 23, 2018 [10 favorites]


Whether mothers collectively do or do not have special knowledge and empathy and etc., I think this conversation has demonstrated that "as a mother, I . . ." is at least strategically unwise.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 8:02 AM on September 23, 2018


Define "cat owner."

Jesus Christ.


I mean, yes. If you're going to assert the following:
Cat owners have more empathy for cats than non cat owners.
Then I would want you to define "cat owner."

If you say "mothers have more empathy for X than nonmothers" I would want you to define "mothers" otherwise I cannot determine whether I agree or disagree with the statement. Do you mean biological mothers? legal mothers? foster mothers? nannies? older siblings? close aunts?

Who gets to say "as a mother," in your opinion? Am I a mother? How would I determine that?
posted by melissasaurus at 8:41 AM on September 23, 2018 [8 favorites]


Mothers know more about parenting than non-mothers. Mothers know more about how society treats mothers than non-mothers.

But I can feel in my very bones how cruel it was to separate children from their parents or to treat refugee children the way we have been That's empathy, and claiming that non-mothers can't have it is really hurtful. I can't claim I know what the exact pain feels like, but neither can anyone who hasn't had their child separated from them.

I admit that I'm coming at this from a very painful place, and maybe I need to step back from this thread. It's making me feel that I will always be a lesser person and that deep down, mothers will judge me.
posted by daybeforetheday at 12:46 PM on September 23, 2018 [15 favorites]


It's making me feel that I will always be a lesser person and that deep down, mothers will judge me.

This has been the overwhelming lesson from this thread for me. I had no idea how strongly this idea is being communicated from society to women who are not mothers. The "privilege" of having toed the patriarchal line satisfactorily in this particular way (privilege in quotes because patriarchy approves of motherhood but not of mothers) blinded me to it, clearly. If anyone wants to share their stories and perspective about this, I'm all ears.
posted by MiraK at 5:43 PM on September 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


MiraK, I really appreciated your comment. I think you expressed something I have not been able to articulate when you wrote "patriarchy approves of motherhood but not mothers." I think that gets at a really unfortunate truth that underlies a lot of the frustrations felt by both mothers and women without kids: mothers feeling that they are not accorded real respect, but rather a lot of empty platitudes, and women without kids feeling devalued and judged as lesser than, our opinions dismissed as irrelevant.

When I read the Andrea Leadsom comments the first time, it was like being slapped in the face. Only a couple of months before, I had lost a second pregnancy that meant I would likely never have living children. These losses, after years of infertility, were the worst experiences I've had in my life, because I really wanted kids. To then hear a politician say outright that she thought I, and other people without children, weren't capable of caring as much about the future as she does because she has children--it wasn't even insulting, it was wounding. It cuts to the core to have people make thoughtless remarks that imply you are less of a person, less capable of empathy, less capable of caring about other humans--especially children--if you do not have kids for whatever reason.

If you would like to read more stories and perspectives, many people shared them in this thread, about the hurtful phrase You never know true love until you have a child.

Thank you for listening. I sincerely mean that.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:56 PM on September 23, 2018 [13 favorites]


Anyone saying that "As a parent" they care so much about x general topic that is non parent specific, (i.e. the environment/climate change, vacinations etc.) is just really annoying. Its paticularly bad when its used in advertising or polical speech because it feels so manipulative. Like the're counting on the fact that if the viewer/listener is also a parent the psrent will feel duty bound to agree with the message or else have to question the quality of their own parenting. Sort of perversely I am always made happier about my choice not to have kids when I hear someone start in about how "As a parent they blah, blah, blah ..." Im like, "Ha! You can't pull my strings that easily you slimy politician/advertiser." Ultimately, however, I'm in the camp that thinks the words "As a parent/mom/dad/grandparent..." is most often divisive and insulting to people who aren't parents.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:52 PM on September 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


This has been the overwhelming lesson from this thread for me. I had no idea how strongly this idea is being communicated from society to women who are not mothers. The "privilege" of having toed the patriarchal line satisfactorily in this particular way (privilege in quotes because patriarchy approves of motherhood but not of mothers) blinded me to it, clearly.

I have to say that again, I have arrived at the same conclusion as MiraK. I sincerely apologize for implying in any way that women who are not mothers are in any way lesser than. That was truly not my intention and I hope you'll accept that.
posted by peacheater at 4:46 AM on September 24, 2018 [3 favorites]


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