Leunig and Maternal Repudiation
So now Mothers are sows? That’s it Mr Leunig. I’ve taken your Mr Pajama letters from the toilet wall, your reconciliation jibes from the street-facing window, your Mr Curly farm scenes from the most hallowed position on the fridge. You have torn it with this feminist.
When I was flooded with e-mails from rankled feminist comrades after your dejected baby first appeared, alone with his confused and self-depreciating thoughts in the child-care cot, I stuck my neck out. I said, yes, but he’s drawn a new-born here, and maybe he’s having a go at putting brand new babies in big centres. And really, did you put your new-born into care if you could help it?
When I bothered to read the Bettina Arndt’s defence of your ‘savage attacks’ on working mothers I found my self turning the various conflicting arguments over in my mind. I was more than a little taken aback to find Ardnt had included opposing voices at all, given that this is generally a less efficient way to grind the eternally blunt anti-feminist axe. But I did feel the conflict of my experiences as a stay-at-home/work-at-home Mother with my pre-Mothering ideals.
For instance, are Mothers and Fathers interchangeable as parents? Not for me and my kid. Indeed, when she was first on the scene, her Daddy endeavoured to meet her needs to give me a bit of respite. But then, and still mostly now, she not only wanted me, but I needed to meet her needs. It wasn’t about rationally knowing I had a responsibility to her either, it was more like being compelled on a cellular level to hold her when she cried. I got some idea why we don’t hear from the mothers of the stolen generation. It seems to me Mothers need their babies to survive too. The suffering inflicted on those women might be akin to madness, in that it has no sensible register in our language or ways of thinking. Not while some of us can still find ways to sensibly state it was for the best. Their pain, I am guessing, is unspeakable, and so Mr Howard’s real crime is to play with words.
Because nothing, Mr Leunig, articulates the experience of mothering. From Freud, to assimilation policy, to your cartoons mothers and our experiences and our histories and our diversities and the emotional landscapes we daily occupy are simply not present to public discourse. When it comes to the purported collapse of the public and private realms the reality of mothering remains ensconced in the home. We’re only allowed out, it sometimes seems, when we dress up as childless. You may think our duty sacred, most mothers I know have been made to feel their world and experiences are something to be ashamed of. Where was your cartoon showing the mother back at her desk craving for her child, her breasts leaking over her spread sheets? Have you tried to imagine her feelings? Has it occurred to you that not allowing a mother the time with her child that she needs for her own wellbeing might be a contravention of her rights too?
Because I know many such mother’s Mr Leunig, who have not had a choice about leaving their young babies in full-time care. They are not away from their babies because their work has so much meaning to them they selfishly prefer to be away. They are there because of swine – speaking of pigs – who promised to support them and didn’t, who are legislating flexible workplaces out of reach, and who reply to their repeated pleas to go part-time with ‘sorry, that was not their job description’, as though you can have a baby and everything remain unchanged. Well, maybe if you have a wife, which is essentially what we mother’s suffer from – being wives rather than having them. I think you ought to be aware Mr Leunig that you made most of those women feel worse than they already were.
And this was about as mean as right to lifers beleaguering women about to go into abortion clinics with pictures of torn asunder foetuses. As though someone should tell these women, who are too heartless and braindead to figure it out for themselves, that there’s more to having an abortion than enacting a feminist ideal. Well, derr. Being sensate beings too I reckon some women might have had that figured. I reckon those women might have felt just a little torn about the circumstances of their lives – and gee, I wonder if it might not have been their working lives – that made having their child impossible. But what do we know about how they feel? What do we really know about the world of mothers?
Let me tell you a little about being a stay-at-home mother – and of course I should be aware that I’m one of the lucky ones who had a choice. Choice? This is another one of those words that slips unnoticed into the nappy bucket somewhere around the second week of your child’s life. It doesn’t figure, as far as I can tell, in the lives of mothers. Let me tell you about all those virtuous stay-at-home mummies who are actually on happy drugs. About the post-natally depressed mothers who throw their vacuum cleaners into the front-yard and get told that its hormones they’re suffering from.
They suffer not from loneliness and isolation and doing endlessly pointless things all day that no-one acknowledges and that get undone immediately, over and over until your understandings of what is permanent and impermanent, complete and incomplete, chaos and order get irrevocably scrambled. And why do they not suffer from these things? Because at home alone with a baby, no one hears you scream. Not even your baby, because you do it quietly in your head while calmly reading Slinky Malinky. And when you go outside you quickly learn that your reality must not enter into the ‘real’ world, but remain behind closed doors. This is how ‘Mother’ and Worker’ are kept mutually exclusive categories. And how men like you lose any sense of what it might be like to be a mother – invisible at home or disguised at work.