A comment made by Russell Brand in his article in The Guardian on the death of Margaret Thatcher provoked feminist outrage, and cries of “nobody ever says that about male politicians.” Or male anythings, really.
You could never call Margaret Mother by mistake, Brand writes. For a national matriarch she is oddly unmaternal. I always felt a bit sorry for her biological children Mark and Carol, wondering from whom they would get their cuddles. “Thatcher as mother” seemed, to my tiddly mind, anathema.
Of course it’s rare for male achievers to be considered from this perspective, and of course that can be a source of outrage to us women, seeming, as it does, to privilege our mothering abilities above and beyond anything else we can do, and do well. So we read obituaries of female scientists, for example, that begin with a tribute to their role as mothers, implying that no matter what else they might have done, their finest accomplishment was, well, mothering.
This feminist refrain has become so familiar to me over the years it’s become reified. I hear it and think, oh yes, that’s right isn’t it, and move on.
This morning I found myself thinking about my sons. They have done well in their chosen fields. I’m enormously proud of them. I’m delighted when they achieve another goal. I’m proud of how they love their female partners, and I don’t hesitate to tell them if they aren’t being fair. They may not listen, but I tell them anyway.
One son seems quite proud of having been brought up by a feminist. Another claims it probably trashed him. This one bore the brunt, as an adolescent, of me going back to university, and then me and his Dad parting company. I will never forget one screaming, tearful encounter between us when he was having difficulties with his stepmother that were, of course, all my fault. “If you hadn’t gone back to university and got political,” he yelled at me, “none of this would ever have happened and we’d still all be living in the same house!”
In a way, he was quite right.
But what I realised this morning is that while I’m proud of them for just about everything, the thing that really makes me go weak at the knees is watching my sons with their children. As dads, they are, to my mind, amazing. I know they learned a lot from their own Dad, who was an excellent and very loving Dad. But they surpass him, and I’m sure, me.
For example, when the newest baby arrived last week, his dad stripped off his shirt in the delivery room, said he didn’t need them to clean the infant up, and took him in his arms for skin to skin contact while the baby’s mother was temporarily unavailable.
I would make this the first line in anyone’s obit.
Is it demeaning them, for me to think of and treasure these young men first as brilliant, loving Dads, and second as successful young men in all their other roles? If it’s offensive to think of women in that way, surely it must be equally offensive to transfer that thinking to men?
No, I don’t think it is demeaning to honour a man’s dadness. What’s wrong is that we hardly ever do it.
We should acknowledge a man’s role in his family life, just as we do a woman’s. I don’t think it’s sexist and demeaning to honour a woman’s role as mother. We are throwing the baby out with the bath water in demanding that women are not first spoken of in terms of our love for our children and our role as mothers. We need to keep doing that and we need to start speaking in these same terms about men a whole lot more than we do.