I was brought up to be repelled by sentimentality. I am suspicious of public declarations of emotion. I am uncomfortable about the solemn pronouncements made by the great and the powerful around Anzac Day, for example. A lot of it looks very self-serving to me. I suspect it is often about basking in the reflected glory of ‘the fallen’ – at no cost to the modern day pontificator.
I was positively nauseated by much of the po-faced commentary around the 100th anniversary of Gallipolli. Not by the simple grief of relatives and friends of those who have died in war. Or the heartfelt horror expressed by those who have survived armed conflict. Their words felt real to me. It was the cheap tears of the rest of us I found difficult. Much as I begin to squirm uncomfortably every Anzac Day, it is Mother’s Day where the full force of society’s hypocrisy and sentimentality lets rip.
For a full twenty-four hours social media is filled to gagging point with twee poems, saccharine scenes of soft focus meadows and flower arrangements and pious (if slightly guilty and/or pissed) declarations of love for ‘mum’. Some of them are genuinely moving, particularly if the mother being eulogized deserves a eulogy. By which I mean she is actually dead rather than just sounding like she may as well be.
Main-stream media is no help either. It is just as crammed with teary eyes, misty lenses and soggy sentiment. Mother’s day cards are among the most nauseating creations on the planet. In the name of love, they stereotype, patronize and sentimentalise the messy, sticky, exhausting, complex and earthy task of birthing and raising kids.
Motherhood is full of blood, vernix, mucus, vomit, snot, wee, poo, food stains, dirt, muck and tears. Slow motion floating through fields of daffodils does not feature often in any mother’s day.
We are big on declaring our love (or ‘lurve’) on such occasions. We make ourselves teary-eyed with our own big-heartedness. Our hearts swell as we emote earnestly about the woman who gave birth to us. What good people we are! How loving, how spiritual, how deeply we feel things.
Mothers are among the most discriminated against people on the planet. They work harder, for longer, often in under-valued caring professions where employment is becoming more precarious, but for less pay. They own little land, yet produce most of the world’s food. We invest in them less. In the developing world, motherhood can kill yet we restrict women’s access to reproductive health. When they are pregnant, even in the west, most religions still regard mothers as little more than a uterus. Her liberty is often lost from the moment the sperm and egg become a zygote.
When mothers get old, we belittle them further. We fire them once they hit 50. We ramp up their insecurity so they’ll spend big on futile attempts to look young. We sneer at them when their bellies, thighs, hips and waistlines show the ravages of past pregnancies. Then we encourage them to starve themselves.
Because we routinely pay them less for their work and rarely promote them, they retire with less. Because they often live longer than men, many women, particularly those who spent their lifetime caring for others and so compromised their earning potential, must stretch this small sum over a longer time. That’s why many women face a very precarious old age. The fastest growing group among the homeless is women over 55.
We claim having children is a ‘lifestyle choice’ while abortion remains a crime in every state in Australia except Victoria and the ACT. Forget that mothers have given birth to every tax-payer who ever lived, we still begrudge every dollar of tax that goes towards supporting them. Greedy bitches, double dipping for their (miserly) paid parental leave.
And then we add insult to injury by claiming to love them. Frankly, who cares about that kind of love? What good is a feeling to anyone – except to the person who has the smug pleasure of feeling it, perhaps?
No doubt every raging male partner who has beaten a woman to within an inch of her life claims through tears that he ‘loves’ her. No doubt he really feels that he does, how else could she have the power to enrage him so? But what good do his feelings do her? Far too often that feeling of love can be fatal.
I suspect we do not really think we have to love our mothers in any concrete way at all. We still expect, as we did when we were children, that the hard work of love should be done by her. Mother is still far too interchangeable with servant.
To be any use at all love has to be an action. Who cares what you feel as long as you act in a loving way?
If actions are our measure then the only group that has consistently loved mothers is feminism. Feminism is the only movement that has ever fought for women’s rights, including the rights of mothers. Feminism fights for equal pay, equal superannuation, equal representation in leadership and politics.
Feminism fights for better pay and conditions for women in low paying jobs. Feminism fights for decent childcare, decent paid parental leave, decent public education.
Feminism fights for reproductive rights, women’s health services and women’s refuges. Feminism battles our obsession with how women look, what they wear, what they should and shouldn’t do. It protests against violence against women, rape and sexual assault.
It fights sexual harassment and discrimination – particularly against mothers – in paid employment. It is currently keeping a toll of women killed by men – mostly at the hands of the men who claim to love them.
So to everyone and anyone who adopted the soft focus lense of love on Mother’s Day, why don’t you get active on behalf of all mothers every day of the year? That’s love. The rest is sentimentality.
Even in the short days since Mother’s Day, it’s clear there is far more sentimentality than there is actual love.