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ParentsJanuary 4, 2017

Don’t call me Slummy Mummy: Labels for mothers shame them and silence them

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It seems many mothers get smacked with a label no matter how hard they try to avoid them. Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes talks about some of the labels she’s been given and how much she hates them.

The first time I was called a Slummy Mummy I had to look up the term. I figured it was insulting and it turned out to be one of the rare times I was right. Since then I’ve been called a Slummy Mummy more times than I can count. As far as I can tell, a Slummy Mummy is a mum who doesn’t give a shit about anything. A frequent failure. A mostly inept, always slightly pissed, useless mother who can’t control her children.


And apparently that’s me and a bunch of other mums.

Except that it isn’t.

Prior to the Slummy Mummy onslaught there was the Yummy Mummy phenomenon. A mostly creepy nickname given to mums who were committed to still being fuckable despite being apparently unfuckable because they’re parents. You see mothers can’t be sexual (if you think they can be, I dare you to write a blog post about Alexander Skarsgard’s abs and then read the comments) but they have to still look the part after they’ve had a kid. You know, lose the baby weight, put on some active wear, swing your toned ass while you push your buggy.

For obvious reasons I have never been called a Yummy Mummy – I am in fact a person and not a delicious Christmas pudding so this hasn’t bothered me too much. But I have been called a Slummy Mummy, a mumtrepreuneur, and a Mummy blogger.

In case you weren’t aware, a mumtrepreneur is a mother with a business because business is for men and women without children. It’s important to make this clear, so we give mothers who do it a unique moniker so they remember they’re mothers. Who have businesses. I’ve spoken to many businesswomen who loathe the term because it’s hard enough making it in that cut-throat world as a woman, let alone a mother. Why separate mothers out and label them in their work? Where are the dadtrepreneurs? Oh they’re entrepreneurs. The default. When you put it that way, it’s not sexist at all.

Then of course – Mummy bloggers. See there’s a hierarchy in writing and it goes something like this:

Authors – top of the food chain. Essayists – very fancy. Published writers and journalists – second in line. Old White Men columnists who are actually just mediocre bloggers who write things like “I saw a heron soaring high in the dusky sweet September sky, pointed sharp beak a shimmering saffron. It looked at me and I thought about John Key – What will be his legacy?” Poets – probably here. Reviewers and the like fit in the middle. Buzzfeed list writers. Stuff web editors. Romance novelists. The woman I saw at Day on the Green who took a dump on the grass because she couldn’t wait at the portaloos. Mummy Bloggers.

I wonder why that is? I wonder why when women write about parenting they’re mummy bloggers. And when men write about parenting they’re ground-breaking? A mummy blog, no matter how good the writing is or how many readers or “engagement” (that buzzword beloved by media execs) it has, will never win a Canon Award. Because a mum is behind it. And if a mum did it, it’s a hobby.

Her business is a hobby, that’s why she gets a cutesy name for it. Parenting is her job – and if she does it even slightly outside the mould of perfect-martyr parenting, she’s a Slummy Mummy.

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You might wonder what the harm is, in ensuring all mothers are labelled according to their parenting prowess. It’ll be no surprise to you that I see it as harmful to varying degrees, and here’s why:

Separating us to label us divides us

Mothers with disposable income who feel like they’re fucking up being a parent will buy more shit. They’ll spend more time writing comments in shitty parenting sections if they feel attacked and wound-up. Who benefits from this idea that all mothers are fighting with each other? That the Yummy Mummys are on top and the Slummy Mummys are the worst? Of course there will be those that say mums came up with these nicknames and labelled themselves but I find that hard to believe. I find it less hard to believe that women would take on these nicknames – because hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

If we felt connection to each other and not in competition with each other, if we felt confident and empowered – how many industries would keel over almost overnight? How many communities would flourish?

It’s simplifying the complex – and yes, parenting is complex, dipshit

I won’t try to convince those that believe stay at home mums just sit around all day that they’re wrong. I won’t bother with making sure people understand the daily brainpower required to parent. Who cares if they don’t get it?

You know if you’ve been there. You know it’s not black and white, that there are days when you’ve got it all together and there are days when everything falls apart. That there’s few parents who are entirely perfect or entirely useless. We are a mix of both. And that’s OK.

Trying to imply you’re only either great at this gig or shit at it is ridiculous. Parenting is a job that changes day by day, second by second. Every parent has thought at one point or another – I’ve clocked this, I own parenting! Only to be kicked up the arse the next second by teething or bed wetting or tantrums or food aversion.

The only constant in parenting is change. So how on earth do labels work?

Labels silence us and stop us sharing with each other

It’s no surprise that I got a new round of “Slummy Mummy” attacks after posting a photo of my house looking messy. If you show any other side to parenting other than perfection you’re asking for a backlash. Despite an increase in blogs showing the “dirty side of the room” as original “Mummy Blogger” (otherwise actually known as an award-winning and best-selling author and writer) Heather Armstrong calls it – the backlash is still there and it’s still vicious.

Deviation from perfection will be punished. And what does that do for parents who are struggling? Or parents who are trying to measure themselves against a yardstick that isn’t even real? Those who are trying to work out how they can live up to an Instagram post – effortlessly casual and apparently accidental – that actually took the influencer two hours to set up?

Of course there are the usual calls of “just ignore it!” and the ever popular “In my day we didn’t have social media and we just got on with it”. Yeah yeah Ethel. We hear you, times were better when you were just washing your clothes in the river and Moses floated past in a wicker basket.

I really believe that even if we don’t buy into the nonsense, we can’t escape it. We’re like frogs and the water is boiling.

Every week I get dozens of emails from mothers who are struggling against an ideal that is unachievable. And why wouldn’t they? Do anything differently and you might be labelled a Slummy Mummy. When you should be a Yummy Mummy.

Well I’m neither.

I am not a slummy mummy because I do care.

And that’s true of all of the mothers I meet – certainly all of those who pour their heart out to me in emails, struggling against a cascade of criticism.

In the words of one of my first teen crushes “We care a lot”.

I love parenting and I try really hard to be the best parent I can be. There’s literally no correlation between the effort I put in to keeping my children happy, healthy and safe, and how clean my house is. There’s zero connection between how hard I work for them and how I look and what clothes I’m wearing.

Don’t tell me what kind of job I have, whether I have tattoos, whether I drink wine, or Google search “Idris Elba bulge” six times a week has anything to do with how loved my kids are.

It doesn’t.

So don’t call me Slummy Mummy. Don’t call any mum a name designed to shame them or shut them up, separate them or put them in their place. We’ve got a place. It’s right here – loving our kids and doing the best we can with what we have. You don’t get to decide for us what we call that or what it looks like for each of us.

If you must call me something, I will accept: Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s Mummy Movie is Better than Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy Mummy.

Emily Writes is editor of The Spinoff Parents. Her book Rants in the Dark is out February 27. Pre-order it here. Follow her on Facebook here.

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