Victoria Crockford reflects on the way society has changed its view of our collective mothers and each other, and how that impacts all of society.
Driving home at 10pm. It’s the coldest night of the year so far: -16°C by the reckoning of the car thermometer. I’m sitting in the passenger seat hugging my coat to me, the sound of my spilling-over brain drowning out the noise of the heater. I’m thinking about whether my partner went OK with the two kids at bedtime, whether we have enough bread for toast in the morning, whether the baby will need a breastfeed as soon as I get home, and was it OK to have that glass of wine? ‘God, I’m so tired’, the soundtrack of my thoughts, is playing on repeat. So tired, so tired.
As the familiar proud triangle of Coronet Peak suddenly sparkles out of the darkness, I’m distracted. I look at it out the passenger window, outlined by strings of lights. ‘At 10pm?’, I think. Then, I remember: It’s the 70th anniversary of the ski field. No doubt a night filled with the spirit of Bacchus, the snow turning to slush under the feet of the beautiful people, as they worship the ways in which we carve out places of pleasure on the face of the earth. I stare, and I think, ‘What has happened to us?’.
I’m driving home from the first Queenstown Women’s Summit. Incredible speakers, free Pinot Gris, two wonderful companions – a lot to love. One moment stands out: One of the speakers gives thanks to the earth before presenting. There’s stretching, there’s yoga breathing, there’s most definitely a collective cultural cringe that sweeps around the 200-odd women in the audience. We all know it: Pākehā New Zealanders do not deal well with overt displays of emotion (and this is Otago, it’s pretty white), especially not those that are a little bit, well, hippy dippy. My companions both quietly shift in their seats in that way that means someone just wants something to be over. I do too.
But, later, as I look at Coronet, and the glittering lights, I realise that my discomfort is just a symptom of a wider malaise: We have forgotten what it’s like to truly value our mothers.
We used to worship our mothers. We worshipped them as we worshiped life. Our earth goddesses, Papatūānuku, Gaia – they nourished and sheltered us, and were so beautiful we composed songs and chants and dances and sacrificed all in their honour. We loved our mothers, collectively, we loved them. Where has all that love gone?
Now, we tell our mothers that they are having kids too young, that a baby is no way to get out of poverty, that they will have no prospects because they haven’t prioritised being a ‘productive member of the economy’.
Now, we tell our mothers that they are too old to have kids, that their wombs are inhospitable places of risk and selfishness, it’s a shame they put their careers first, what is self-fulfilment but to have children?
Now, we tell our mothers that they are financially valued by society for 18 weeks, because we couldn’t possibly afford more, until there’s an election and we can suddenly afford more. We’re sorry that it’s too late for you, that you have already been pole-axed by post natal depression because you feel suffocatingly under-valued or you’ve had to return to precarious, underpaid work. We’re also sorry that we have cut mental health services and you can’t access help when you need it, but raising kids is the most important job in the world.
Now, we fetishise our mothers. They are a ‘marketer’s dream’. We tell them stories of their ugly, stretched bodies and saggy tits, the clothes, the toys, the buggies, the monitors. That they should sacrifice every inch of their identity and self-worth for their children. That staying home alone all day with a baby is a path to self-fulfilment, not annihilation (you feel annihilated? Try some fresh air and a full night’s sleep). That they can face the world wearing their Mama sweatshirt as the woman who has it all, because a male well-being guru says so.
Now, we tell our mothers that workplaces are doing better, that equal pay is a company priority, that the identities ‘mother’ and ‘employee’ are compatible. It is all much better now, but we do need you to work as though your children do not exist, we need that work done yesterday, because it’s the economy, stupid.
Now, we tell our mothers that we welcome women leaders, equality is so passé, but if we have a female prime minister we need to know if she will be having a baby, because how would that possibly work, and we are her employers and we have rights too, you know?
Now, we have replaced the worship of the luscious, curvy earth with the worship of only what she can do for us. We throw the party for the business of using her up, not for what she provides us. We cringe when someone stands up and declares their thanks for her. Like our mothers, yours, mine, we use her up and only ask at the end: Where did we go wrong? What could we have done differently?
We used to worship our mothers. Where has all that love gone?
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