Tensions recently flared in London when an ill-mannered, silky-haired mummy militia claimed yet another fatality: an acclaimed tea-shop in the snotty suburb of Primrose Hill. According to the owner of the tea-rooms, the mothers’ insatiable thirst for caffeinated beverages gave rise to an explosion of expensive coffee shops, which hiked rents and reduced the teashop to financial rubble.
“The yummy mummies just want somewhere to settle their prams and have a mummies’ meeting” said traumatised witness Amit Jain, commenting on the closure of the tea shop. “So anywhere with coffee and a table is in demand.”
Video may have killed the radio star but MUMMY killed the boutique tea-shop AND was responsible for the gentrification of an entire suburb.
Mums are pretty destructive, it seems. In Australian newspapers, mothers with children have been blamed for sabotaging peoples’ early morning jogs ( ‘their prams block the paths’), ruining the otherwise DELIGHTFUL experience of a long-haul flight, killing the romance of fine dining and clogging the corridors of cafes with Peugeot-sized prams.
In Berlin a café has taken action, placing a stone bollard bearing a picture of a pram with a red stripe through it in the entrance, while a Pittsburgh restaurant announced a ban on all children under six.
The problem, of course, is not just the wailing kids, but the personality bypass mothers undergo while giving birth.
One commentator said mothers were all ‘rude and deserving.’ Unlike the fabled mothers of yore who knew that their prams weren’t welcome indoors, mothers these days are ‘so empowered’ that even waiters can’t direct them where to leave their bugaboos, says Wendy Tuohy.
Amy Jenkins has described affluent mothers as flat-out lazy, surviving ‘off someone else’ and ‘not contributing in the workforce.’ How does she know? Because Jenkins has seen them idling around cafes cooing Gucci Gucci Gucci to their brood .
Oh, and they’re also really gross. Wendy Tuohy once saw a mother changing her child’s nappy ‘on a footpath bench, facing the traffic, on a busy strip.’
All of this mother-hating begs a question. How could a society which glorifies motherhood as the most sanctified of earthly duties (and which stigmatises childless women) be so harsh on those who carry out the labour?
And what choice do these stereotypes leave women? To not have kids and accept that people like Tony Abbott may mistake you for Cruella De Vil, or breed and transform into a crazed mummy warlord?
The problem people seem to have is not that mothers are raising children, but that they’re raising them in a very public manner. They’re performing supposedly private, invisible and mostly unpaid labour in public spaces that, until only a few decades ago, excluded them.
The fact that women with children are demanding a right to public life is translated as them being ‘too empowered’, too entitled, too pushy, too selfish. They’ve overstepped their appropriate sphere.
It also leads to casual judgments that they have somehow managed to avoid the world of work. Look at Jenkins’ distinction between REAL work in the labour market and parenting. The very term ‘working mother’, suggests that parental work is not actually work.
From the description of latte-lapping mothers you’d not be blamed for thinking that they pass the rest of their days strumming lutes under poplar trees.
I mean, HOW VERY DARE they have a coffee with friends?
But if Jenkins was to listen to a mothers’ conversation she’d find a series of half-sentences as they stop to retrieve Spongebob squarepants from a pot plant or prevent the toddler from channelling Jackson Pollock with the tomato sauce. The simple truth is that parental work never stops. The responsibility is all-consuming.
Mothers are caught in a catch twenty-two. If they are seen calming screaming babies or changing nappies, then they are damned for making visible what was traditionally private labour. But if a well-behaved child gives them respite to chat with friends then they’re condemned for being idle.
Where dishy dads receive all but a standing ovation, mothers suffer collective scorn and sneering.
I wonder what the anti-mother mafia expects women to do? Should they simply go back to the private hell of a home without friendship or mocha-lattes? Should they put their life on hold for six years? Should restaurants be confined to those who can afford a babysitter?
Surely it is in the best interests of everyone that parents and children engage actively in public life. Kids breathe life into our mannered public spaces. Like drunken giants they crash through all the rules of sensory repression. Loud, garrulous and riotous they turn our beige little-Switzerland into a wild Rabelaisian carnival.
And in making cultural life accessible to parents and children we not only create a more erudite society, we also help to prevent parental myopia and its attendant horrors, namely over-posting photos of children on facebook.
Hating on the mummy militia is misdirected. We should be questioning why, after so many years of feminist activism, the burden of care work falls almost entirely on women. We should ask why a wealthy nation like Australia has not adopted the parental leave arrangements seen in many Scandinavian countries where both partners receive equal benefits.
If we tire of mothers and prams it is because there really are too many of them. Let’s pay some partners to even out the ranks.