Some days ago, I noticed a certain activity on my Facebook wall. I usually take anything promoted by Facebook with a pinch of salt, whether it’s their "Free Basics" campaign or the opportunity to keep your life relevant with profile photo filters. It’s a slippery world, especially for the suggestible.
Anyway, this recent activity was women responding to the Facebook motherhood challenge. The challenge was to post a photo that makes you happy to be a mom, and tag other "great" mothers to do the same.
It caused consternation among many women. It was accused of creating some sort of exclusive, smug, photoshopped "moms only" club, and putting undue pressure on mothers to be "great".
|Implication that mums would be offended if they weren’t tagged seems extremely patronising.|
The logic presented by critics was that if you weren’t great, you weren’t tagged, hence discounting your worth as a mom. It was also touted as being completely insensitive to women without children, infertile women, women who had had miscarriages or lost their children, and so on.
And the critics didn’t stop there, but went on to bomb the bejeezus out of motherhood itself. Flic Everett of The Guardian came down heavily on the challenge, accusing the internet of helping to fetishise motherhood, accusing mums of exalting their "glow-worms in padded snowsuits" and being horribly insensitive towards the plight of non-mothers.
She also couldn’t get over how offensive the entire thing was. The sheer violence of her article’s title "Facebook’s motherhood challenge makes me want to punch my computer screen" not only made me want to punch my computer screen, but also pushed me to think about why this challenge raises so many hackles, and why mom-bombing seems to be a favourite pastime of 21st century women.
It surprised me that her article never once mentioned how the internet has revolutionised motherhood in terms of availability of information, instructional and innovative YouTube videos on, for example, how to put a baby to sleep, and various forums for women to discuss issues big and small, from teething to teenage angst.
I’m no "great" mother. I’m learning on the job, armed mainly with a sense of humour and some beer when I can manage it. But I know that moms don’t want a "moms only" club; they want to be accepted as functional humans with aspirations. I wasn’t tagged (maybe because I’m no "great" mother) and that’s fine with me. I didn’t spiral into depression because others didn’t consider me to be tag-worthy.
The implication that mums would be offended if they weren’t tagged seems extremely patronising to me, as if all mums suffer from low self-esteem and constantly need reassurance from external sources. Besides, offence is the luxury of the idle and the super-rich. The rest of us are busy trying to raise our kids right.
I don’t have siblings. So when my news feed is filled with shiny photos of siblings that #LoveLaughLive together on Siblings Day, I don’t start ranting about how marginalised I feel as these photos feed into my lifelong loneliness, image by image. If I was a vegetarian and a group of friends on my feed upload photos of a #SevenMeatsInSevenDays cooking challenge (because they’re proud of their creations), if I don’t approve I’ll just not linger over the photos. I wouldn’t blacklist them or accuse them of lack of empathy.
And don’t get me started on Instagrammed holidays – the unknown European city with shingled roofs, window planters, and gas lamp posts,the brilliant turquoise of sea that you find in South East Asia, the stunning aerial view of Cappadocia from a hot air balloon, the mesmerising blue of Chefchaouen. Should I hate these photos because they fetishise travel and make me feel deprived of the good life? Or should I work hard and save money to travel?
If putting up photos of your children is insensitive, then there should technically be no Facebook, since Facebook invites the most incredible kind of voyeurism since pornography.
One would also have to be very naïve to assume that a so-called happy photo has any abiding bearing on one’s daily life. It’s no secret that motherhood is perhaps the most thankless job (apart from unpaid internships) in the world. You may not realise it when mothers are posting "happy" photos, but the journey is incredibly lonely and alienating.
Moms get dropped out of "fun" things all the time because they can’t keep up with their stay-up-drinking-all-night counterparts whenever they choose. And consequently, they don’t get to join the cool singles club, with photos of absinthe and Devil's Springs Vodka bottles scattered on the floor that glorify the epic night out. So what? Each role comes with its own glories and challenges.
Infertility is commoner than we think. There are assisted reproductive technologies to help people have children. Women who want to be mothers and have difficulty conceiving actually go to seek medical help, not lament when they see other women with kids, especially on social media. As for parents who have lost their children, it’s hard to imagine that their coping mechanisms would be upset by a Facebook challenge.
And yes, motherhood is a challenge. Conception is a challenge. Growing a human being inside your body is a challenge. Pushing that human being out is a challenge. Putting yourself second constantly is a challenge. So if this challenge gives mums reason to put up cute photos of their children, please swallow that bitter pill and move on.
And this business of tagging other "great" mums should be taken at face value simply because how can a third person assess the worth of a mum? Smiling photos don’t mean you’re a great mum. And unless you are beating your children or selling them into slavery, there really is no benchmark. Mums all have their own unique neuroses. We’ve just learnt to hide them well.
Women need to stop dumbing down other women. The backlash to the challenge included women who chose the route of satire, putting up photos of them passed out hugging bottles of wine, or just passed out. Ah sleep, that most elusive of luxuries! So yeah, we mums are jealous and you do have it good. I have the highest respect for satire, and it would have been very funny if much of it wasn’t so vicious.
|Backlash to the challenge included women who chose the route of satire.|
After giving birth, mums seem to have inadvertently walked into a firing range, with a squad perpetually aimed at them. They are constantly picked on for a range of reasons. These blatantly aggressive and reductionist comments are tiring as hell.
I do not advocate that every woman must be a mother. Motherhood is time-consuming and a prolonged and expensive commitment. Women are increasingly becoming politically and economically empowered, and breaking out of the moulds set for them by family and society.
Women in India have been seen primarily as child-bearers for so long that now, when they can flex their muscle in terms of professional worth, many choose the latter.
But it seems that when nobody was watching, some bizarre dichotomy polarised women into two camps – the adventurous travel junkie who has a fantastic career and doesn’t want to be a mother, and the tired, sacrificial mother who seems to have compromised on her career options, ambitions and hobbies. If what women think can be represented by what they share, the articles women are sharing nowadays validate child-free living as the way to live life to the fullest.
I wish more women were speaking up to the contrary, because we get to hear just two exaggerated versions of the motherhood story. More honest conversations need to be had, not ones that only skim the two ends of the pendulum – the eternal happy family, always primed for a Kodak moment, or unaccomplished mothers on the brink of a breakdown with no life to speak of. Because in between these extremes lies one of the real challenges that we as 21st century women must negotiate – how to successfully do both.
And at a time when women are, more than ever before, poised to make choices about whether to have children or not, it’s only right that they get a real picture of things, so they can make informed decisions.
Ironically, it’s retrograde articles that encourage a culture of glorifying or victimising motherhood. Because sharing is acknowledgement, we need more people sharing letters like the one ICICI head Chanda Kochhar wrote to her daughter, highlighting the importance of work-life balance and how beautifully they can complement each other.
My own mother raised me and worked during a time when it was near impossible to imagine doing justice to both. Not only did she have a blossoming career for 38 years, she is an outgoing, independent woman and raised a happy family. Now with more rights and legal mechanisms in place, more women should be acknowledging that balance is possible, that one doesn’t always have to come at the expense of the other.
It’s often said that women are their own worst enemies. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, also one of the best examples of successful career women with children, talks about how women are often made to see each other as adversarial. It is time to change the dialogue in terms of how women need to support and take advice from each other, a synergy based on trust and mutual appreciation instead of suspicion and competition.
So let us not be petty. We are coming to a time where we can set our own limits. Let others not set them for us.