I’m rarely shocked any more. Still, life is full of surprises, and a little shock was waiting around the corner for me as soon as I woke up this morning. A friend’s post on Facebook had a link to an article by Catherine Deveny, Australian stand-up comedian and columnist. Please see her Wikipedia bio and her article in the Guardian, “Sorry, but being a mother is not the most important job in the world.”
Firstly, the definition of a job is bound to a salary/fee/payment, and one doesn’t necessarily identify themselves with a job (as by definition with motherhood), unless they really love it, are entrepreneurs (even then, not necessarily) or come from the Anglo-Saxon world.
Both prerequisites (payment and lack of identification) have nothing to do with being a mother, so let’s investigate what the article illuminates by omitting the term “job” and focusing on the word “important”.
Hmmm, important, for whom? The writer of the article, the reader, the mother (the columnist is a mother of two boys), the neighbour, the father, the economy, society, who? The child’s point of view is completely missing! And by nature and definition, the child is the only one in need, a non-autonomous life in the process of breeding. How do we value non-autonomous life in the process of breeding?
Quoting the columnist: “The deification of mothers not only delegitimises the relationship fathers, neighbours, friends, grandparents, teachers and carers have with children, it also diminishes the immense worth and value of these relationships. How do gay dads feel about this line, I wonder? Or the single dads, stepdads or granddads? No matter how devoted and hard working you are, fellas, you’ll always be second best.” Or, “Even if it were a job, there is no way being a professional mother could be the hardest when compared to working 16 hours a day in a clothing factory in Bangladesh, making bricks in an Indian kiln, or being a Chinese miner. Nor could it ever be considered the most important job in comparison with a surgeon who saves lives, anyone running a nation, or a judge deciding on people’s destiny.”
Let’s consider this one step at a time; unfortunately for our society, mothers are deified only by their children and their needs, and by nobody else. But to compare their experience to that of a father (which I am, and a very dedicated one), a neighbour, a teacher, a relative, a grandparent, a gay parent or a single male parent is entirely out of line. I wholeheartedly respect, value, support and am thankful for the contribution of extended families, neighbourhoods, gay parents and single male parents to the lives of children, but the antagonistic co-reference to motherhood is unacceptable, firstly, because none of those roles is antagonistic to that of a mother and vice versa. Each role within context holds absolute importance at a place and time, as long as it feeds the prospects and the selfless support of non-autonomous life in the process of breeding, the life of a child. So why should the owners of all these roles feel antagonism towards the role of a mother? Value of parenthood is not a battery with limited life that if taken by one pole, empties the other. And in parenthood, the focal point is the child, not the adult.
Furthermore, how can one compare motherhood to a 16-hour-day worker in a clothing factory in Bangladesh or a Chinese mine? Motherhood is the most challenging form of entrepreneurship on earth, born by millions of women who were not necessarily raised or programmed to be entrepreneurs. They survive every day successfully, not only for themselves but for their children, with no certainty whatsoever from the moment of conception. From the very first day, hormonal changes can cause women to experience sickness which can make their lives unbearable, and yet they manage to move on with hope and anticipation, full of feelings of regret and detest that they’re forbidden to express against “the gift they were offered”. Hormones also force some to fight clinical depression and win, day after day. They breastfeed or bottle-feed with sleep intervals every three hours, something that jobs and military service impose only for limited periods of time. The nervous system rots every single night and wakes up only partially healed the morning after.
And it is the same world that has made it compulsory that women, among them mothers, not only can make the choice to work, but have to work. Then the myth of modern couples who share everything pops up. For those who have raised children, it is common knowledge that for a well-intentioned and dedicated father, disappointment is a natural state as soon as the baby arrives at its new home. The baby doesn’t feed from daddy, isn’t reassured by daddy and doesn’t ask daddy for anything, unless harsh reality has made daddy the baby’s last resort. Daddy has to earn his child’s love every single day, whether we like it or not. Mummy is entirely depended on. This is nature. And this nature is a burden too, the entrepreneurial burden of being a 24/7 decision maker, a critical decision maker, for the survival of non-autonomous life in the process of breeding, whilst having your body, soul and brain relentlessly drained. In the eyes of those who belong to the 1⁄7 of the world that don’t live on one US dollar a day, it must be horrendous for those working 16-hour-days in a mine, but, excuse me, miners’ wives exist too, bearing an entrepreneurially, emotionally, ethically and physically critical responsibility 24/7 that their miner husbands don’t. Of course, the miner bears a different kind of agony, which brings me to my last point.
I’m actually thankful to the columnist for her article. I live at a time of sociopolitical turbulence in my country, and my instinct has always told me that something’s not right existentially with our times, but being unable to see the specifics of this wrong has always frustrated me. I’m not, at this point, particularly interested in why a mother would write such an article, what she’s trying to prove and to whom, or what kind of trauma lies underneath; this, existentially, has dwelled in my brain extensively for many years. What caught my attention in this article, however, was what I felt to be “the life of the battery”! The “why” one should consider deified motherhood as the potential cause of the deprivation of deity for any other important role to the life of a child, the non-autonomous life in the process of breeding. And then it all became clear! Humanity strives for wealth, not only material and financial wealth, but also emotional, intellectual and spiritual wealth. The trap humanity has fallen into is that it stopped producing wealth autonomously; it has focused only on existing and identified wealth. Therefore, if there are limits to wealth, there is a constant need for redistribution; if you have more, I have less. If you are deified as a mother, I’m less important as a gay or single male parent. If you have more money, you are the reason why I have less. If you are better educated, you are the reason why I am less. And then I remembered a composition I wrote in the 6th grade, back in 1983. It was another politically turbulent time in the world and we were asked to write a text entitled “The Sun Rises Every Morning”. I wrote, “It’s been quite cloudy for a few millennia, as education hasn’t matured enough to show humanity that distribution of wealth is not the problem. Capitalism and socialism are two sides of the same coin; who and how enjoys a limited quantity of money. The sun will rise when each one of us creates their own wealth in their own hands, hand in hand with everyone else around!” Of course, I was only 12 and my views have become a little more sophisticated since then, but overall, my existential burden still weighs the same. It seems like my mother was consistent over the years; hard job. Bless her! And of course, the columnist states: “And if being a mother is that important, why aren’t all the highly paid men with stellar careers not devoting their lives to raising children?” So, is it that all the highly paid men choose stellar careers rather than raising their children because the former is more important to the latter? No, I won’t take in more existential anxiety for today, thanks!
by Yannis Stergis, President & CEO, hyphen SA