Stop the Tyranny of Good Mother Supremacy
For one of my degrees, I studied a nude beach. That nude beach was severed into two beaches – the “family” beach and the “gay” beach. I studied the family beach because women frequented there whereas the gay beach was mostly men. Let’s face it though – nude beaches are replete with middle-aged men, gay or straight.
Part of what was so curious about the "straight" beach was the way that the gay beach was constructed as the “sexual” beach. I was, after all, studying the relationship between sexuality and public nudity even though, in the North American context, that relationship is usually disavowed. The paradox of the whole thing was that there was a relationship between sexuality and public nudity on both beaches, but the ardent denial of any relationship between sex and the family beach only served to marginalize those who wanted to take advantage of that relationship. By creating this hierarchy of sex over there, not here, the beachgoers at the “family” beach made sex dirty and unwelcome, even though that was furthest from their own truth.
The same thing happens with modern day motherhood.
Oftentimes, the so-called “mommy wars” and generally discord between “good" and “bad” mothers is characterized as competition – oh you know – those petty women always want to fight with each other about everything. I disagree. While competition might have its place (see Pinterest or toddler birthday parties for examples), it is about a certain kind of feminine supremacy.
I actually found something very similar in my online dating research. I primarily studied self-identified heterosexual men and women looking for marriageable partners. In order to be a “marriageable partner,” women especially had to construct a “self” – an online profile – that was as “appropriately feminine” as possible. “Appropriately feminine” here meant not overly sexual. Again, a kind of feminine supremacy loomed large – those women who performed it best won – in this case, a partner.
Mothers are no different than the family beach beachgoers or the appropriately feminine online daters – if you want to be legitimate as a woman and a mother – you have to construct the proper self. The proper self is a tricky one when it comes to motherhood however, because the goal posts are always changing and so there is an ever-expanding group you have to throw under the bus to maintain supremacy. Soon, there is a lot of territory to claim and a lot of other mothers to keep in their place.
Like all of these examples, with the supremacy of the “good mother” we are talking about a climate of fear by a group of people working within a system that oppresses them rather than against it. It’s bullshit really, that many of us mothers who question this supremacy and who try to make space for different kinds of mothers, different incarnations of motherhood, find ourselves at the receiving end of disdainful comments and pseudo offence-taking by those who wish to maintain the dominant discourse.
I say, fuck that shit. If you want to speak your truth, I stand with you. So many other mothers do too. Don’t hide and don’t be cowed by who we are SUPPOSED to be. That shit will strangle the life out of you.
Do you. Let other mothers do them. Stop the tyranny of the good mother. Define what motherhood means for you so that you can maintain a shred of sanity in this bullshit game that is profoundly stacked against you.
You are a good mother.
Fuck all those who dare question you.
Do you Mama.