Charlotte Gill: Why Are Feminists Not Standing Up For Mothers?

Charlotte Gill: Why Are Feminists Not Standing Up For Mothers?

Why are feminists not standing up for mothers? How breastfeeding and struggling to balance work and kids is now being neglected and their voices are n

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Why are feminists not standing up for mothers? How breastfeeding and struggling to balance work and kids is now being neglected and their voices are not being heard.

When New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern brought her baby to the UN General Assembly last week, there couldn’t have been more shock if she had flung the three-month-old’s nappy at the Iranian delegation.

There was a similar cacophony of tut-tutting earlier this month when MP Jo Swinson took her baby son into the Commons. Personally, I couldn’t see the big deal. That infant probably makes more sense than the entire Labour front bench put together.

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But both kerfuffles highlighted something that’s long been troubling me: the extent to which mothers and motherhood have been neglected by modern feminism.

I’m not a mum myself yet, but I hope to be one day. And I’m keenly aware how many of the most important issues surrounding motherhood – from breastfeeding to the struggles of those women trying to balance work and kids – are now pushed below the surface, on to internet forums like Mumsnet.

The trouble is that the modern brand of feminism has always treated mothers as a bit of an afterthought, even though some of the loudest feminists are mums themselves. In its current guise, feminism is the perfect home if you’re single and want to be rude about men.

You’ll hear plenty of ‘patriarchy’ this and ‘patriarchy’ that. But never is there talk of the other P-word: parenthood.

Huge numbers of feminist debates have become centred around sexual harassment, consent and body image. All of these are certainly vital subjects, but there are also lots of others specific to mothers about which much less is heard.

For instance, is IVF a safe and healthy choice? Is it right that we live in a society where more and more thirtysomething women are freezing their eggs, even though statistics show there is a tragically slender chance of many of them eventually becoming babies. Is it right that private clinics are making fortunes by charging desperate women huge sums to be pumped full of hormones?

Another important talking point is the right to choose. I’m not referring to abortion – an obsession of modern feminists – but whether or not women should have the right to have a caesarean. C-sections are one of the most neglected feminist areas even though there’s real suffering when they are denied – usually because cash-strapped NHS hospitals say they are too expensive.

In August, a report revealed almost one in six NHS trusts do not offer women caesareans on request. Rebecca Schiller, chief executive of the campaign group Birthrights, said: ‘It is clear that women requesting caesareans meet judgmental attitudes, barriers and disrespect more often than they find compassion and support.’ So why aren’t feminists talking about it?

Then there’s breastfeeding. The many women who, through no fault of their own, can’t manage it face huge levels of distress, stigma and bullying from proselytising NHS staff. But where are the sisters proclaiming formula milk a feminist issue?

AS FOR the much-discussed gender pay gap, comb through the evidence and it’s crystal-clear the biggest reason women don’t earn as much as men isn’t discrimination – it’s babies. This is because women still take on the brunt of childcare, which pushes them towards part-time work, and that’s the lowest paid.

The gap becomes even more pronounced as women get older and become ‘sandwich carers’, looking after both their children and their ageing parents.

Which brings me to another right to choose mothers should be allowed: the right to stay at home and look after their babies if that’s what they want to do – without being derided by politicians or other women at the school gates.

At the Conservative Party conference this week, Jacob Rees-Mogg is going to accuse the Government of not doing enough to help traditional families, and he’s right.

Policymakers have become relaxed in this area because these is nothing driving them to do otherwise, no #MeToo movement for mothers. Come on feminists, it’s time to stop keeping mum.


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