Lighting up

Article by Andie Fox /
Blue Milk (Blog) /
February 07, 2013 /
Click here to view original /

Five years ago when I first started a blog about feminist motherhood I looked all around for feminist discussions about motherhood and found very little, so, I often tried to write about everything. But these days I can barely keep up with all the stuff about motherhood in the media and I have increasingly noticed that feminist perspectives on the topic are becoming mainstream. There’s a long way to go but that’s incredible progress in a short number of years.

So, when an Australian media identity, Chrissie Swan was photographed pregnant and smoking and a subsequent storm of condemnation broke out I didn’t have to wait more than 24 hours before a bunch of feminist commentary started appearing in the media to unpack all that hypocrisy. (This topic is of particular interest to me because my blog is named after the shaming of pregnant women who occasionally drink alcohol – a topic I’ve written about often.)

Here are my favourite and not so favourite bits of what’s being said by feminists about the supposed scandal around Chrissie Swan smoking while pregnant.

From Karen Pickering in The Hoopla:

It’s an unofficial sport in our society to speculate on the bodies of women – are they too fat, too thin, pregnant yet, not pregnant, showing stretch marks, using contraceptives, having abortions, having too much sex, not enough sex, or wearing “appropriate” clothing. In every culture, women’s bodies are battlegrounds where patriarchy and capitalism intersect to make life difficult for women trying exercise bodily autonomy.

Women’s bodies are scrutinised and policed from every angle, and this process only intensifies during pregnancy.

From Clementine Ford in Daily Life:

No one’s suggesting that it’s right to expose your unborn child to cigarette smoke – but concern for the welfare of children isn’t what’s driving public outrage here. We know that shaming people doesn’t inspire change, particularly not when you’re dealing with addiction. If the public is so concerned about Chrissie Swan smoking, the last thing they should be doing is adding to her stress levels by standing around in a ring and chanting BAD MOTHER at her. Addiction is hard enough without also exposing yourself to the inevitable backlash of millions of people only too eager to flex their sanctimony muscles.

Because this is what drives backlash. It’s not a concern for the well being of a child. It’s certainly not concern for the well being of its mother. It’s sanctimony, and the gleeful feeling one gets from being part of a bullying mob whose circle of burning pitchforks is unique protection against having to answer for their own sins. It’s the ever present idea that a woman’s body does not belong to her, especially not when she’s carrying a foetus. It’s looking for cracks in the armour, calling the services of the Pregnancy Police so we can engage in a spot of Outrage Olympics.

From crooked fences:

There is another aspect of the rightfully compassionate response to Chrissie Swan that made me twitch, and which I am still struggling to articulate clearly. It is the feeling that were it a different woman, one who was less ‘one of us’ and more ‘other’, I don’t feel confident that there would have been the same outpouring of compassion. And to complicate things further, would the compassionate response extend to an ‘other’ mother whose addiction was to a substance other than alcohol or tobacco?

Our image of who smokes during pregnancy is not a middle class white woman with her own radio show. It is the single mother, the poor mother, the teen mother, the Indigenous mother.

As Chrissie herself said on air: “I knew it was wrong that there is so much terrible judgment that only awful people and bad parents and idiots and bogans smoke during pregnancy – and I didn’t feel like I belonged in any of those categories – so I kept it all under wraps and dealt with it how I could.”

From Zoey Martin at The Shake:

I know that is hard to process. But they do. Somehow one thing that you do doesn’t get to define everything else.

Good mothers yell at their children.

Good mothers feed their kids McDonalds

Good mothers let their kids watch TV all day.

Good mothers let their kids go to bed without brushing their teeth.

Good mothers let their kids have chocolate for breakfast.

Good mothers lose their children in shopping centres.

Good mothers go to work.

Good mothers stay at home.

And my not so favourite, from Lauren Rosewarne at The Drum:

A couple of weeks ago when the whole Kochie/boobgate thing exploded, I was uncharacteristically apprehensive about writing anything. So exceptionally well have I internalised how verboten it is to question the lactaters, or the baby-carriers, or the gluten-free vegan wholefood earthmothers, that for days I thought it best to just keep quiet.

Far, far more scary than the charmingly misogynist men who round out my inbox daily are the mothers. They’re tweeting and they’re blogging and they’re boycotting all kinds of stuff. Messing with them is done at your own peril.

As a feminist, apparently, I should know better than to ever dare take on any woman who has ever Created Life.

And I’m pretty sure it was the fear of these holier-than-thou Über mums that motivated Chrissie Swan’s smoking mea culpa.

But here’s a good reply to that from No Place For Sheep:

I am not interested in having a smoking while pregnant debate, and Ms Swan’s perceived moral failings. Neither am I a fan of vicious pile-ons. What does interest me is the language Rosewarne uses to describe those criticising Swan, whilst simultaneously calling for us to cease “scrutinising and loathing” other women.

Swan’s critics are, according to Rosewarne, members of the “militant mummy mafia” and “holier than thou über mums.” Rosewarne claims she feels it is “…verboten to question the lactaters, or the baby-carriers, or the gluten-free vegan wholefood earthmothers.”

She continues, in an outstandingly anti feminist and alarmingly patriarchal-like complaint: ”As a feminist, apparently, I should know better than to ever dare take on any woman who has ever Created Life” (note Dr Rosewarne’s use of capitals here).

Well, I’m a woman who has Created Life, lactated and been a baby-carrier and I have no objection at all to being questioned (“taken on?”) about that or anything else. I do, however, wish to note my objection to being cast into the inexplicable abyss of Rosewarne’s only too-evident prejudices against women, all women, who give birth.

For those interested I took part in an impromptu Twitter debate on these last two links today if you want to look me up and see what we all said – @bluemilk.