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Byron Shire
May 26, 2024

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: My Motherhood Statement

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Mothers are forces of nature. She understands justice. She understands vulnerability and nurtures it. She’s tireless. Selfless. She builds strength. She protects. She loves.

Every now and then something really pisses me off. I am the queen of letting criticism or negative comments go. I have had people call me fat. Stupid. Feminazi. You name it, I’ve been called it. Over the years I’ve had numerous death threats. More recently when approached by authorities the person said ‘I felt bad so I thought I’d take it out on Mandy’.

Weirdly that made me feel OK. I guess that makes me useful.

For over two decades I have written this column with a singular purpose. To say things that aren’t being said. To make people think. And if I’m pissing people off I’m successful. The day the haters leave is the day I have stopped hitting the mark. They’re my indicator species.

I don’t mind having my ideas shredded. But criticism rarely stays there. It becomes personal. I usually don’t engage. I just let people fight it out with themselves. But I came across this one comment, on a thoughtful post I’d written, that enraged me. The writer accused me of making ‘motherhood statements’. That statement was like acid. I couldn’t let it go.

That expression seems to have slipped past the feminist radar. One writer defended the use of the word, chastising me for not knowing what it meant. Oh, I know what it means. But do you? Sometimes the implied meaning is bigger than the literal meaning.

So why does that term piss me off so much? Let’s start with a google definition of a ‘motherhood statement’: ‘A vague “feel good” platitude, especially one made by a politician, that few people would disagree with.’

I studied semiotics and linguistics at university. Implied meaning and the way language is weaponised against oppressed people is my bag. Language is the vehicle with which we transport our prejudice and social bias to future generations. It’s how we signpost values. ‘Motherhood statement’ is a classic patriarchal hit-and-run.

‘Motherhood statement’ is not a compliment. It’s used to diminish and reduce. It’s pretty well like holding someone down and calling them a girl. Because our gender is so offensive, it’s an insult. It means you are a generalist. You are shallow and ineffective. And weak. Just like mothers?

This tells us how poorly valued the insights, learning and experience of mothers are. It’s probably why being a mother is so fricking hard. When women have kids, it impacts their careers big time. They earn less. Mothers enjoy a 60% drop in earnings compared to fathers in the decade following the birth of the first child. In the gender pay gap we call it ‘the motherhood penalty’. We do more than 20 hours a week of unpaid work more than men.

I googled ‘fatherhood statement’. Oh, guess what. Nothing. Because fatherhood in the patriarchy IS PATRIARCHY! It is taken seriously and not used as an umbrella term to describe inadequate and shallow intellectual practice. Fatherhood is big men in suits who study law and make big hard decisions with their big man brains that we vagina bearers can’t. And motherhood is… stupid and silly, and careful you’ll hurt yourself with that big hard idea. Put it down and let one of the fathers lift it.

And we wonder why politics isn’t safe for women? Why women MPs are photoshopped into midriffs, and aspiring young staffers are left naked and raped on ministers’ couches?

Here is a clue. Nothing has changed. The beast still lives in the corridors of power.

So let me redefine a motherhood statement by starting with how we define mother. Because it seems the current definition of motherhood statement has been made by men. Mothers are forces of nature. She understands justice. She understands vulnerability and nurtures it. She’s tireless. Selfless. She builds strength. She protects. She loves.

Imagine if under that definition, politics was full of people who made those sort of motherhood statements, and empathy and compassion was valued instead of derided.

This country would be a different place.

That is my motherhood statement.

If you want to hear more motherhood statements, from women who dare to wish for a better world, come to the Vagina Conversations at Brunswick Picture House this week. It has sold out, but on writing there were tickets to the extra show on Sunday. Oh, BTW we are raising $ for DV services in the region. We’ve raised over $100k over the years performing this show.


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27 COMMENTS

  1. Wow, I’ve never had a whole column written in reply to one of my little posts. Strangely I don’t take it as a sign that I’ve hit the mark, but I do hope I’ll be given some latitude to respond.

    Let me preface my defence with a little background: I too am a mother, I have been a feminist for as long as I can remember any conscious thought and I have studied linguistics at both undergraduate and post graduate level – including socio-linguistics.
    I have worked for decades in curriculum reform at both school and administrative level for inclusion in the three big areas: language, content and methodology. I’m rather proud of being part of a movement that totally transformed the educational participation and achievement levels of girls – despite much blowback from many.

    While I can readily see the point you’re making about language being used to subliminally repress women and entrench bias, I can’t see that the term “motherhood statement does” that. Those who take it that way, because it contains a usually exclusively female quality, perhaps need to examine closely the lens they are applying.

    This is what it doesn’t mean:
    Any statement that shows empathy and compassion ( because that’s what mothers are like)
    A statement that would typically be made by a mother or woman.

    A motherhood statement is one that no-one would argue with – like “World peace should be our aim”. The reason it is often attributed to politicians and called out in analysis, is that it moves from this generally unquestioned premise to assumptions that arguments following from there are also unassailable.

    Why motherhood? I guess traditionally it’s a concept that is sacrosanct, unassailable, its value beyond question. We all relied on a nurturing mother ( at least in utero) for our very existence. A sperm too (usually) but the reason we don’t say “fatherhood statement” isn’t because of patriarchy – because in this instance we place more value on male opinion – it’s because “fatherhood” just doesn’t hold the same unassailability. The accompanying image and caption illustrates all of this so beautifully.

    Are we meant to be shamed by its hallowed imagery and sentiments? Rebuked into silence? Actually I’ve often railed against attempts to tell me what a woman or “good mother” should be. “Damned Whores and God’s Police” comes to mind.

    “For over two decades I have written this column with a singular purpose. To say things that aren’t being said. To make people think,” you explain. My lament Mandy, was that that’s what it used to be, but, now you’re a politician, it’s become so far from “things that aren’t being said” to too often more a series political talking points with a loaded, unanalysed call-to-arms, ipso facto conclusion. Often one that gels nicely with current Greens pontifications.

    This is the claim you should be addressing here, not defending being a mother, not the societal disadvantage faced by women – which most of us concur about. A very deft sidestepping!

    It’s not “personal” either, it’s just that if you play politics hard you need to expect some scrutiny.

        • I’ve done that so many times they don’t even let me comment on her column any more. She is such a strong woman that they need to give her special shielding from criticism and counter-argument. Standard ‘Girl Boss’ situation.

          • Done what so many times?

            And I thought you got censored often and everywhere on these pages? It may be that you added little to the debate beyond throwing in some personal abuse that proved nothing.

          • Survivorship bias. I shoot gun, the entire spectrum from philosophical to crass. Want to guess what my actual word count on this article is? On all her articles?

          • Perhaps Francis thought the “natural dignity of their sex” emanated from doing/being everything men thought they should do/be. I beg to differ. I’ve seen plenty of women in anything but dignified situations and it had little to do with feminism.

          • I’m a loudmouth and happy with the situation. The fact that such terms (yenta) exist gives all the explanation necessary for why feminism has always existed and is still relevant.

            I was wondering how long it would take for you to enter this little dialogue. Unfortunately, discussions like these are above your pay grade. Don’t make yourself sound ridiculous.

          • When I read your reply, ‘Yenta Statement’ popped into my head. Look up the term ‘cry bully’ and see why you further validated my choice to homeschool. I would not trust you to create a safe environment for my child, despite your good intentions.

          • I’m sure the term “yenta”, pops into your head upon reading many of my replies. It’s the age-old strategy: fling out a derogatory label (in this case a gender based one) when you can’t think of a more intelligent way of articulating your objection.

            And if you feel bullied because you’ve been called out you need to take a good look at yourself.

            I’d also suggest that schools, while still having their problems, are now safer places for girls, and where they’re way more likely to experience success, than prior to the curriculum developments I referred to.

            On the other hand, if you’re worried about kids being taught to think – as opposed to indoctrinated – they’re not particularly safe environments. I respect all choices.

  2. Yes Mandy your Aboriginal people’s Sisters
    Are 18% more likely to be at the hands of
    DV ..it certainly is a issue..it needs to STOP !

    • Middle class White Women are definitely the most oppressed people in the world. Women are valued so much more in every other culture. This was equally true in 1800AD.

  3. Ah the cult like unquestioning sycophancy is right on cue! But I’ll tell you what has slipped through the feminist radar here: if anything represents a patriarchal western construct designed to manipulate women, it would have to be the faux mysticism, the Virgin Mary iconography and totally all-round unrealistic expectations embodied in the view of motherhood presented here in the diatribe and especially the accompanying saccharine sweet photo with its pontifications about what motherhood is.

    How many women’s post natal depression is triggered or exacerbated by their shattered expectations that motherhood would be like a Softly ad? That trudging around, isolated from previous social networks, sleep deprived and dealing with a fractious infant in the middle of the night, some women might entertain the split second thought that they didn’t sufficiently consider their decisions.

    How many women suffer mother guilt most of their lives because they had the audacity to have their own priorities occasionally? Because they dared seek fulfilment outside their sacred, ordained role – like in a career, or the occasional me-time. Who would ever dare suggest that the primary, even exclusive, responsibility for a child’s needs and care rested with a female parent?

    To suggest someone is making a “motherhood statement” is certainly not a compliment for sure, but neither is it an attack on mothers or women. Just the person resorting to the tactic – often in an attempt to seize the moral high ground. To use the tactic to defend the tactic is indeed inventive, like a triple reverse pike with spin! It’s the type of wooly thinking best avoided by political aspirants and voters.

    • “Feminism liberated women from the natural dignity of their sex and turned them into inferior men.” ― Francis Parker Yockey

        • Yes, yes, he was a Communist in his early life. But all those National Socialists and Fascists were, as those ideologies are extensions of Marxism. “Tie me kangaroo down sport” is still a good song.

          • Was it EVER a good song – culturally, musicologically or otherwise. I think not.

            More isms here: communism, socialism, Marxism, fascism, obscurantism. I wonder which came first?

  4. All the lefty woke little people having conniptions over a phrase that is endearing to the wonderful people we call mothers. Don’t you have something meaningful to do?, other than being perpetually offended. So sad.

    • The silly old righty, who can’t resist having his nasty little two bob’s worth in a discussion that’s gone way over ken. So sad, you REALLY should find something else to amuse you.

  5. “For over two decades I have written this column…..”
    and Mandy it’s time to quit.
    Call time on this column…Focus on your political career.
    Your column has become repetitive with bashing the patriarchy your favourite topic.
    We need you to support Greta and save us from global warming.

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