Formula or breast. Stay-at-home or work. Permissive or disciplinarian. Free range or helicopter. Rebecca Bowyer from Seeing the Lighter Side and Amy Ahearn from Handbag Mafia are joining me on the frontline, to toss around some truth bombs and chat about the “Mummy Wars”. Is this shit for real, or not?
What are the Mummy Wars?
Rebecca: That’s where we lob grenades at each other’s washing lines, yes? In the hope that we destroy all the washing and never have to fold it?
Amy: It’s the umbrella term for the way that mums apparently compare each other, find each other lacking – and say so.
Hugzilla: “Mummy Wars” to me is the media shorthand for female competition in the parenting sphere.
Rebecca: Are they really wars, though, or is it just a bunch of people having differences of opinion – like they always have – but having a single forum for attack thanks to the internet? And then it gets called the Mummy Wars because, well, headlines.. interesting articles… endless content.
Hugzilla: It’s a construct. It’s not really a “thing”.
Amy: Do you feel like it’s also a way to minimise women’s issues? Like they can be dismissed with the roll of an eye, a shrug and “meh, Mummy Wars”.
Hugzilla: It’s like when you watch The Voice and the two female judges can’t have a simple difference of opinion without it being framed as a catfight, and played for maximum drama. But the male judges can agree to disagree as a matter of routine and it goes completely unremarked upon. A total non-issue.
Rebecca: Way back when, when we used to live in suburbs and the only real communication was television (3 channels), newspapers and magazines, do you think it was more coherent? Or is it just that now women are more outspoken about their opinions?
Hugzilla: I think it goes deeper than that. I think it has its roots in the patriarchal culture of pitting women against each other. Divide and conquer.
Amy: Absolutely Mel. And I think women are definitely more outspoken (thank god, or I’d be in shit).
Rebecca: Really? Pitting women against each other? Didn’t they just silence them?
Hugzilla: You can’t silence women any more.
Rebecca: Nup, I don’t think it is a thing. I think there are cohorts of mothers who agree with one point of view, and others who have a different opinion.
Amy: That’s what I was getting at- it’s a way to dismiss women’s concerns, issues etc – a way to minimise what we are saying and make it unimportant
Rebecca: That’s not a war, that’s a functioning democratic society.
Have you ever felt judged as a mother?
Rebecca: On a personal level, not really – as in, not to my face.
Amy: Last week I saw a mother’s group out for lunch. One was openly breastfeeding next to one openly bottle feeding while another had one of those breastfeeding apron thingies on. There were prams and carriers and no one gave a shit what anyone was doing. I actually said to Carl, “Look at that”. They literally give no fucks about who is doing what in which way. Mummy Wars, who made that shit up?
Hugzilla: I can honestly say that I’ve never felt judged for my parenting. I don’t see it. I don’t hear it. But I do know women who feel that they are being judged. Constantly. I think the truth is probably somewhere in between.
Rebecca: Differences of opinion, sure, a bit of an eyeroll when someone from a previous generation would say “That’s not how we used to do it.” But I’ve certainly never warred with other mummies!
Hugzilla: I’ve definitely seen it online but that tends to be symptomatic of the argumentative culture of “keyboard warriors” in general. In real life, I have overwhelmingly found that women go out of their way to support each other.
Rebecca: I do know of women who feel judged for their parenting – and to be honest, it’s usually by their own mothers! I think online is a different story – and I really think that’s what’s made the difference.
Amy: I have seen it too. I do think we all judge whether we intend to or not – it’s human nature – but something about parenting makes us sensitive to any criticism. Perceived or intended.
Hugzilla: The generational divide I definitely understand. I think that labelling differences of opinion as “The Mummy Wars” is a deliberate media distortion – a way of drumming up controversy for clicks. Mothers are not a hive mind and we aren’t all going to think and act the same way – but that doesn’t automatically infer judgement of other choices.
Amy: I probably felt the judgement more as a younger mum in my early twenties. Not so much now – or I just don’t notice it or care.
Hugzilla: Why can’t women just have differences of opinion without it being perceived as open warfare?
Rebecca: Think about it – in face-to-face interactions, we tend to mix with people who have the same values as us, so we’re bound to agree with them. Online you can end up stumbling across a community who are diehard *insert issue here (breastfeeding, early toilet training, cry it out)* supporters. If you try to go against their worldview you’ll get slammed. It’s so less likely to happen face to face.
Hugzilla: Totally Bec. But again, why are women expected to think and act with a singular hive mind? Why is any difference of approach framed in the terms of Mummy Wars?
Rebecca: Because we still have the ideal of the ‘perfect mother’. You know, the one in the bench spray commercial who smiles while cleaning up after her offspring and wearing corporate gear because she just popped home from her high-powered job to bake some cookies, with perfect hair, make-up and teeth.
Hugzilla: I think we need to stop buying into these bullshit myths, and just be the best mothers we can.
Is there a male equivalent: the Daddy Wars?
Amy: There is no Daddy Wars because dads are presented – for the most part – as hapless idiots who babysit every now and then.
Rebecca: Yes Amy, and that presents its own problems.
Hugzilla: Do you think there is Daddy competition? How does it manifest?
Rebecca: I think men compete very differently to women. It’s not going to be verbal so it won’t be picked up in the same way. But they definitely compete! I think there’s a real struggle for dads who want to be involved to actually be taken seriously though.
Amy: I have honestly never heard or seen dads competing over dadliness.
Hugzilla: Neither have I.
Why are women so invested in motherhood?
Hugzilla: So why are women waging online wars about motherhood? Why do formula feeding vs breastfeeding discussions go ballistic? Working mums vs stay at home mums? And why the fuck do they care?
Rebecca: Same reason anyone wages war about a strongly held belief – because they believe they’re right and want to convince others to do the same because they believe it will benefit other children. Pre-internet parenting was much more invisible – it happened behind closed doors and people talked about it a lot less. There was less opportunity to comment or convert.
Amy: I don’t know if they are waging war exactly – there are a lot of mothers who are passionate about it; or at least about certain aspects. I actually care when it comes to breast vs bottle, but not because I want to win a war, but because it pisses me off that women aren’t better supported or educated to breastfeed.
Hugzilla: Sorry, I should have put quotation marks around “war”. I was using it ironically.
Rebecca: I think mother guilt plays a huge role. The stakes are so very high. We all want the best for our children and we are led to believe that every tiny thing we do will change the course of their future.
Amy: I think it gets combative because we project our own guilt. I know I have done it in the past.
Rebecca: If we fail we destroy the lives of our children – we’ve been made to feel so incredibly responsible… And they wonder why parents started doing the helicopter thing.
Hugzilla: But really Bec? Are our children really not that resilient? Short of death, neglect or serious injury, none of our parenting decisions are innately harmful.
Rebecca: Oh, I don’t believe any of it for a second. But that’s what the messaging is. I took a deliberately more hands-off approach to parenting a few months ago and I think my kids – and my stress levels – have benefited. Also there seems to be a new study coming out every 5 seconds, so if you’re wanting to keep up with ‘best practice parenting’ you’d go insane. For every study that says A there’s one that says B.
Amy: It gets confusing – there is so much advice out there so how do you know? You don’t, so you just pick a method and no matter what, someone will tell you it’s wrong.
Rebecca: Pretty much.
Hugzilla: And that’s why I don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks.