Last night, at eleven o’clock, as I was popping away the last of the dishes, finishing my work (and wine) and getting the school things ready for the morning I received a message from a close friend. “Christ!”, it said. “That’s some roasting!” I clicked the link (eurgh) and up popped Anna May Mangan‘s vitriolic take down of the ‘Slummy Mummy’ in the Daily Mail, that bastion of women-haters, mother-guilt-trippers and cancer-scaremongerers.
Anna wrote this bitter and barely researched article about her ‘concern’ that so many children were being brought up by women who drink (shock), swear (shocker) and feed their children fish fingers (DELICIOUS). Anna is concerned that we are returning to the 18th Century and to Hogarth’s Gin Lane, with babies discarded on cobbled streets while their gin-soaked mothers spin out on the pavement loopy on the mummy-juice. She’s terribly concerned that Helen and Ellie of Scummy Mummies would dare to discuss how they opened their front door attached to an electric breast-pump (rather modest, I say. I once opened the door in a double zipper onesie which I had closed, or so I thought; the poor postman got an eyeful of postpartum muff because I’d pulled only one zipper up rather than two.) She’s super concerned that Steph Douglas of Don’t Buy Her Flowers dares to have the occasional mummy headache (AKA hangover) and she’s critically concerned and probably popping an eye vein that Sarah Turner of The Unmumsy Mum and Katie Kirby of Hurrah for Gin are deceiving their readers like some Fagin-and-Nancy duo pickpocket racket, taking money off innocent new mums and peddling mistruths like er… ‘motherhood is hard’.
Well fuck me. When my kid was screaming at 3am this morning that her room was “DARK, DARK MUMMY” for the eighth time I totally forgot that this was a walk in the pissing park that I should be thankful for every second. When she whazzed Coco-Pops (YES ANNA, COCO-POPS) around the dining room at 7am I forgot to smile super-sweetly and kiss her little forehead and say ‘oh well done
you little shitbag darling! GREAT MIXING’. When the eldest did a wee on the sofa arm I totally didn’t lose my shit and mentally work out how many bloody years we still had to pay off the HP and instead, of course, thought only of #gratitude and #love.
What Anna did forget to tell her readers, (and some might think is a little deceitful, like er…ME), is that in October 2009 she wrote an article for the Express about her utter delight that her brats – sorry, I mean kids – had finally left home and she and her husband could sit and drink champers all day long if they so wanted. Hmm. Anna! As long as it’s not gin, eh?
The real nugget of why this is so offensive, and not just to slummy mummies everywhere, but to ALL mothers, is that one of the biggest problems that we have in our society is this hideous judgement that we pass on women once they conceive. There is an ownership instantly of her burgeoning bump; a need to control it, and her, like a walking incubator, lest she dares to make a decision for herself. Don’t eat eggs! Don’t drink alcohol! Don’t bloody breathe because you might breathe some kind of toxin that will cause cancer because it was in the Daily Mail the other day! And God forbid, you whining Nelly, that your baby arrives and you find that it isn’t all Disney-esque, skipping through fields with your child strapped to your bosom; it’s actually pretty gruelling at times. I wonder if Anna has ever slumped down at the table and thought ‘shit-me-not, this is bloody hard’ because she’s been up eleventy times in the night with her newborn chewing on her tits?
God forbid if she might have needed to know that she wasn’t alone at that moment. If she had gone online in the lonely, dark night, and found an honest voice, with wit and warmth and tinged with the love they have for their children but that ultimately bears the resonating truth that yes, motherhood is hard.
Let’s get serious for a second. In the UK, 1 in 5 women will suffer from postnatal depression. Suicide has remained the leading direct cause of death of women in the last ten years in pregnancy or the first year after giving birth. In the last five years, there has been a dramatic increase in reported maternal mental health issues. We can no longer afford to not tackle the pressure that is placed on women ‘to do it all’. We are expected by this government to work, on top of being Supermum, to be at every school play, to ferry kids around all day, cook organic meals from scratch and still find time to make ourselves look immaculate and have a sex life with our partners. This issue also must be related to the rise in social media, with sancti-mummies around every corner to tell you how you are messing up your little darling because you left them to cry for five minutes while you went for a poo, or their brain will turn to pea-soup because you fed them beige food for the third time that week or GOD FORBID, you drank a glass of wine at the end of a hard day while having a good old sob because quite frankly there are days when you feel like you stitched yourself up like a kipper by trying to ‘have it all’.
The women that Anna has ‘shamed’ with such vitriol are providing a much-needed balance and sense of norm for those of us who need our parenting to be free of judgment; but full of solidarity and sisterhood. We need to know, in those moments of despair, that actually, today is just one day and the kids will be alright. It’s about reading and realising that you aren’t alone, stuck in a spiral of feeling like a failure, but rather that these voices tell you with compassion and humour that you are actually doing a bloody good job. Thank god they are, because in a world of ‘instructional manuals’ for parenting, books like Anna’s own hideously titled ‘The Pushy Mother’s Guide’, and the Daily Mail and it’s ilk casting guilt and failure at every turn, we need this sisterhood of support to help us keep our expectations realistic and our sanity in check. What the Daily Mail really hates though, is empowered women, and without a doubt the collective of women who come together to support each other through these bloggers, forums and even our own community means that they are a powerful force to be reckoned with. It’s actually tempting to feel very sad for Anna that she clearly doesn’t believe in that feminine power, or enjoy a sisterhood that meant she could be honest about her own shortcomings in a supportive community.
The Motherload® was conceived as a safe place for women to come together, as a community and to share in that same ethos – non-judgemental, candid, supportive and above all, funny. Because parenting IS funny. It is gross. It is a total loss of your identity at times. BUT – and this is the bit Anna is totally missing – it’s okay to be you, when you are the one dealing with the excrement of your children. It’s okay to have a glass of wine to wind down in the evening whilst reading blogs online and laughing, or crying along. And it’s okay to be a normal mum, who is just trying her best to navigate motherhood, and feeling a sense of success when you have survived another day.
The Motherload®’s Own Boastful Slummy-Mummies Comment:
“I don’t write many blog posts on parenting anymore, not because I don’t have anything to say, but there are some people who just take the words out of my fingers and turn them into a magical reality which makes realise I’m not alone, I’m not a freak, that what I feel isn’t me failing at ‘grown-upping’ and being a mum, but in fact the norm. Sadly, the woman who wrote this disparaging rage-splurge piece for the Daily Mail is also another type of the norm. No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we try to build the importance of women coming together, of squads and tribes, of girl power and gangs, there will always be people filled with what I can only imagine is an anger or hatred that feel the need to drag others down for their own…what? Gain? Confidence? Resentment? I don’t think we’ll ever know, and I’m not sure I want to. But we have to remind ourselves when we see posts like the one in the Daily Mail, that – thanks to the people this woman has been so quick to judge – for every evil troll drainer out there, there are ten women there to pick you back up and dust you off. You just have to surround yourselves by the right ones.”
“Motherhood is just so effing hard, isn’t it? We’re all feeling our way, bringing our children up the best we can. At what point did we become so judgemental of each other? We’re all mums. We’re all women. We’re all doing our bloody best here. Maybe we have a glass of wine at night, maybe we don’t. Maybe we breastfeed, maybe we don’t. It’s nobody’s business unless of course our children are actually neglected as intimated in the “article”. The author doesn’t seem to get it. We don’t think it’s cool to turn up at the school gates in our pyjamas but if there is a mum in her pyjamas at the school gates at least she managed to get her kids to school (assuming she didn’t forget them in her hungover state). We have no idea what is going on in each other’s lives, at least we didn’t before we all started writing about it. And thank God we do, now we know we’re not alone! Less judging, more supporting, have a bloody laugh for the sake of all that is good and holy. Live and let live.
“It seems that self-proclaimed parenting expert Anna has had a bit of a sense of humour bypass. Does she not realise that parenting can often be a bit shit? We were all people before we had kids, with jobs, with friends, with dreams…. and one way to deal with the dawning realisation that actually, kids come along and they DO change all that whether you want them to or not, is to laugh. Laugh along with other people who are experiencing the same as you, and can write it in a way that you relate to. Writing, or reading, or laughing at these blogs doesn’t mean you are a bad parent, or that you don’t love your children. It just means you like a giggle at the ridiculousness of parenting. She sounds bitter, like she’s upset she just doesn’t ‘get the joke’ and like she’s over-compensating. She is actually the exact kind of person that they’re satirising in a lot of cases and a judgy bellend”
“More than the apparent dishonesty, though, what really annoys me is how these books patronise women by suggesting that a home-cooked meal, laundered baby clothes and clean nappies are beyond the wit of most mums.”
It’s not patronising to let women know that it’s okay not to have a home-cooked meal on the table at 5pm every night. At no point do they say it’s beyond the wit of most mums. But as we no longer live in the 1950s, and we aren’t all housewives, and the media ideal of ‘perfection’ is more pervasive than ever, we need an antidote to that. I wish I’d seen things like the Unmumsy Mum and Hurrah for Gin when I had my first baby and was terrified and genuinely concerned that I didn’t love him enough, or do the ‘right’ things. It might have saved me from hours of heartache and tears. And to be perfectly honest, survival parenting reigns in our house.”
Anna May Mangan’s line about cherishing every moment is utter bullshit. There are many moments of young children’s lives that no-one in their right mind would want to cherish. It’s so clear that she’s writing as someone looking back on early motherhood, rather than someone who is living it. And bringing her cancer experience into the argument is a low blow. I had cancer while I was pregnant and it didn’t make me judge other mothers. I didn’t go around saying ‘Look at those bitches, daring to be cancer-free and still moaning about their sleep deprivation, their miscarriages and their post-natal depression.’ It didn’t make me cherish every moment, either. Women like Katie Kirby are doing a massive service to mums who find motherhood hard (a.k.a every mum I know) with their brave, honest and funny writing. None of us are stupid enough to think they don’t love their kids, or aren’t looking after them properly. They don’t have to say it at the end of every sentence, because that would be patronising and annoying. And they leave that to people like Anna May Mangan, who wouldn’t know what female empowerment and solidarity was if it beat her over the head.
About Kate Dyson
Founder of The Motherload®. Wife, mum to two girls, two cats and shit loads of washing in baskets that sit around the house waiting to be ironed. It never happens.
Hater of exercise, denier of weight gain, lover of wine.
You can follow Kate on Twitter
Image credit: The Motherload®