I first became aware of The Motherhood Challenge a week ago, when a friend tagged me in the viral meme. I didn’t take part because memes aren’t my thing, but I smiled at the cute photos my friend had shared of her daughter. I know she’s had a pretty difficult time of it these past few months, so it was lovely to see such a positive post and to smile over the sweet photos. After that, I didn’t think much of it.
Until I read this brilliantly written article by Flic Everett for The Guardian. It made me think a bit harder about the meme and question some of the bigger ideas behind it. And, over the next couple of days I read more articles slating The Motherhood Challenge, heard people debating it on the radio and watched arguments unfold on Twitter. Things were getting quite heated over what I had first thought was, essentially, just an opportunity to share some cute photos online.
The main thrust of the argument against The Motherhood Challenge seems to be that it glorifies motherhood, contributing yet again to this idea that women who have babies are virtuous, angelic figures, fulfilling their duty as women.
What about the women who don’t want to, or can’t, have babies? Are their lives not important too? What about the mums who aren’t tagged in the meme? Does this mean they’re not “good” enough mothers? And isn’t showing only the positive, uplifting, joyous moments of motherhood a bit fake? We all know real motherhood is about changing nappies, negotiating tantrums and picking toast off the floor, don’t we?
I found myself nodding along. HELL YEAH I’m sick of people painting mums as saintly creatures when most of the mothers I know are just trying their best to get through each day with a smile. HELL YEAH I’m sick of feeling inferior to other mothers who have prettier Instagram accounts than mine, showing heavenly moments with their brood – not a tantrum in sight.
And so, I thought I agreed with Flic Everett. I was all ready to don a placard emblazoned DOWN WITH THE MOTHERHOOD CHALLENGE and jump on the anti-challenge bandwagon that everyone else seemed to be riding.
But then I thought about it some more and I realised that, actually, I don’t agree. Not entirely anyway.
Yes any viral meme gets pretty annoying after a while. And yes, it can feel awkward to be tagged in something and then not take part. And yes, I’m sick of this idea that motherhood is our final calling and any woman who doesn’t have a baby is somehow failing at life. And yes, I don’t like the division of mums – I’d hate for someone to feel hurt or upset simply because they weren’t tagged on Facebook.
BUT. But. It seems to me like the arguments against The Motherhood Challenge are actually a bit more complex. One of the points is that it might hurt someone’s feelings – either a person who isn’t tagged or a person who has suffered baby loss, fertility issues, postnatal depression… Being confronted by lots of images of smiling mothers and children will make them feel inadequate, or so the argument goes.
Now I’m sure this is true to a certain extent – but it’s also true of lots of other things online. If we all thought too hard about whether something we post online was going to offend someone or make them feel bad then we’d never post anything, ever.
The other argument against The Motherhood Challenge is that it promotes this idea that motherhood is a lofty ideal to achieve. Mums are angelic beings, more worthy than anyone else in society. We should all celebrate our mum achivements more than any other success in life, because this is what makes us Good People. Got a promotion recently? Who cares. If you haven’t successfully potty trained your toddler by the age of 3 then you’re a bad human being etc.
On the surface, I agree with this. I hate the thought of boundaries being placed on women. Not every woman can or wants to have children. And that doesn’t make them any less human than someone who has a big brood of kids. However, what it also doesn’t mean is that those mums who DO have a big brood of kids should never talk about something online that is such a huge part of their lives.
I’d love to post more interesting stuff on my Facebook page about political documentaries I’ve watched, or big board meetings I’ve been on, or exotic places I’m travelling to. But the truth is I’m at home with my kids in Devon, picking toast off the floor and scrubbing crayon off the walls. At the moment, being a mum is a HUGE part of my identity. It’s what I do all day, so it’s inevitable this is going to make up a huge part of what I talk about online – or anywhere else for that matter.
More importantly though, the underlying argument against The Motherhood Challenge that I just can’t get behind is one that I find slightly sinister. Far from being an argument borne from feminist ideals sticking up for women’s rights, I think it’s actually rather anti-feminist.
Like it or not, a huge proportion of the population are at home with young children. The majority of this population is women. To tell this section of society that their voice doesn’t matter is extremely damaging. It silences a huge group of women who have just as much right to a voice as the next person on Facebook.
When I first became a mum five and a half years ago I really struggled with my identity and feelings of self-worth. I’d gone from being a promising journalist in a macho newsroom to a ghost pushing a pram. Sleep deprivation, colic and general exhaustion meant I had little idea time of day it was, let alone what was happening in the news.
I felt embarrassed about my status at home with the baby. I wasn’t achieving anything like my former colleagues, breaking news stories and winning awards. Except, of course I was. I was raising a human. Trying to get through each day with lots of little acts of kindness, giving myself to this tiny demanding creature who needed me so badly.
Starting a blog gave me a voice. I realised that I was in the same boat as many other women around the UK. And, as the years have gone on and my voice and confidence has got louder, I can see how vital it is that we don’t silence mums online – or anywhere.
Pictures of mums raising babies may be boring to look at on Facebook, and they may irritate you in their sentimental rose-tinted beauty, but to tell a mum that she shouldn’t talk about her proud mum moments on the internet is akin to telling a female doctor that she should get back into the kitchen. It’s just another form of “women, know your place” which I just can’t get behind.
ALL women should be allowed a voice. Even if you don’t like what they’re saying.