The militancy of the mummy mafia

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
February 07, 2013 /

Click here to view original /

My mum was a nurse. Not quite in the Ratched sense, but it’s probably best you not assume that there were any there-theres or hair stroking during times of illness.

She’s all about the tough love and the “zip it up and take two Panadol”. And if my brother or I were ever crying, the “I’ll give you something to cry about!” threat was never far away.

To quote from an email I wrote a loved one earlier this morning: “Mothers scare the bejesus out of me!”

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.

Let’s backtrack for a moment. Chrissie Swan – broadcaster, TV host, columnist, mother, zaftig – has gained fame as a kind of everywoman. She’s struggled with her weight, her fertility, life as a working mum, and, seemingly, a problem with the fags.

In the process of being a public figure – and a self-deprecating, frequently confessing public figure at that – she has ingratiated herself to an audience, notably of mothers. And to me also, truth be told, because while I don’t do the school run or have an interest if your kids eat McDonald’s once a month, I find her quite likable.

The paparazzi who have nothing better to do with their time than catching celebs out sans make-up captured a snapshot of Swan having a drag on a ciggie. Not just any sneaky drag however – insert foreboding music – but a drag on a ciggie while she was pregnant.

Media savvy as Swan is, she knew precisely what would happen upon release of the photo and thus she launched a pre-emptive strike on radio. Crying out of guilt and, I’d guess, from the agony of imminent judgment.

And where will this judgment come from? The court of mummy opinion, of course.

Chrissie Swan being of sane mind and body knows that smoking – when pregnant or at any other time – is a suboptimal decision. Just as we all know that picking the Mars Bar over the carrot isn’t the best choice. Or taking the lift instead of the stairs or ever paying to see an Adam Sandler film. But we each do these sorts of things because we’re human, because we’re flawed, and rarely is anybody harder on us than we are on ourselves.

That Chrissie Swan felt she had to, ostensibly, explain her actions – her bodily choices – to a throng of mothers chomping at the bit to do their holier-than-thou shaming is ridiculous. And is testimony to how grotesquely judgmental women are of each other.

There are lots of things I don’t understand about The Sisterhood. One is how hard-earned reproductive rights were by feminists, and yet how eagerly contemporary women – many using the F-word to describe themselves – will feel perfectly justified telling other women how to use their bodies.

Two of my grandfathers died of smoke-related illness: by no means am I taking any lobbying posts with Philip Morris. But if it’s okay for women to tell the state to back off when it comes to restricting abortion, then I’m pretty bloody sure it’s okay to tell other women to back the hell off in this instance.

When it comes to our own bodies, few women have escaped that internalised tyranny of having to be ever vigilant. To overthink every mouthful, every sip, every kilo, every stretch mark. The judgment of other women is not only highly offensive but is so thoroughly unnecessary: we’ve got the scrutiny and the loathing down to a fine art, thank you very much.

© Lauren Rosewarne