‘Mummy groups’ are ruining grown-up spaces

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Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

View more articles from Alecia Simmonds

Fair claim or simply absurd?

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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.

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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.

169 comments

  • There certainly needs to be a minimum age for plane travel. A baby's cry is genetically programmed into a humans brain to respond to, and in a confined and highly stressful situation of a 5 hour flight, screaming kids are not welcome.

    Commenter
    Dean
    Date and time
    November 05, 2012, 7:39AM
    • Dean, there's no such right as the "right not to be bothered." Not even on a place. You share this planet with almost 7 billion people. Some of them are going to bother you. Just as you bother them.

      Well, apologies for the interruption. Please resume proving everything the author was writing about.

      Commenter
      BBB
      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 8:40AM
    • Not welcome? I wonder if people were saying that about you when you were a baby. well tough luck to you when you are in a plan with infants - get over it... babies are humans, flying is a form of transport in the public domain, babies are humans and part of the public in general... buy a private jet if you don't like it.

      Commenter
      mop
      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 8:46AM
    • Dean, are you suggesting that families with young babies should be banned from plane travel? I am pleased that the airlines don't seem to care whether you think screaming kids are welcome or not. Cheers.

      Commenter
      Jo
      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 8:47AM
    • @BBB - that's your excuse? Seriously? Perhaps next year I'll skateboard through an Anzac Day dawn service in the nuddy - these people don't have a "right not to be bothered" surely?

      Or do we actually have a reasonable expectation on how others will behave in certain circumstances based on the standards that we as a society set collectively - and that people who take small children on planes are violating?

      Commenter
      DisDis
      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 9:04AM
    • They should have a 'young family' section at the back of the plane. It could be equipped with things kids need like changing spaces, toys, coloured seats etc. Would make it easier for staff to distribute special kids meals, and for families to load onto the plane.

      They have a similar model in trains in Europe, why not extend to the plane. As someone who travels without family, would be nice not to have to endure a screaming baby and a toddler running wild for 13hrs - and surely a relief for the parent, who doesn't have to feel guilty, if their child just won't settle down. Everyone wins!

      Commenter
      Win-win
      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 9:25AM
    • I am a father of 3 young 'uns - 7, 4 and 1. I completely agree with Dean. A screaming child on a plane is horrible and unfair to the other passengers, who sometimes have paid 1000's of $ for their ticket. Unless absolutely necessary, there should be a minimum age limit.

      Commenter
      mighty deceaser
      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 10:03AM
    • Disdis- do these collectively set standards include things such as patience, tolerance and compassion- or just a 'that kid is bothering me and infringing my rights' type attitudes.

      Commenter
      RN
      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 10:07AM
    • @win-win - have you ever actually counted how many kids are on a plane? If you had, you would realise that for an airline, families with small children/babies are a very small part of their custom. There is no economy of scale for them to introduce this, as the cost outlay would nowhere near be recouped in passengers. In other words, it would be a BIG loss for the airline.

      Realistically, I've done a fair bit of air travel, both long and short haul, and with kids on board. I can't recall a time when there's been a screaming child for more than a minute, or kids running the roost. Either I am more tolerant of others, or maybe it is a self-perpetuating myth promoted by the more selfish in the community.

      Commenter
      ST
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 10:39AM
    • Although I am a father now, the whole baby crying on planes has never bothered me at all and it is unreasonable for others to complain about it. Dean with all due respect why don't you take ear plugs with you on the plane? I never went on one without them. With modern technology you can watch movies or listen to music as well. Come on let's be fair if you take proper steps to avoid the potential disruption it is not a big deal whatsoever.

      The only time this baby on a plane annoyed me was when the baby had obviously done a poo and the parents didn't change the baby for about 20 minutes whilst they had their wines. This was ridiculously inconsiderate and is not something you can to minimise. I have taken a baby / toddler on a few flights and as soon as you smell it you change her nappy ... not difficult.

      Commenter
      James Shaw
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      November 05, 2012, 11:41AM

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