GREENS Senator Larissa Waters did something this week it’s probably safe to say no other Australian politician has achieved.
It made headlines around the world and gave her the type of street cred most pollies can only dream of. Yes, Waters got a shout out on Twitter from none other than US hip-hop star Snoop Dogg, which may be the coolest thing to happen in Australian politics since … gosh. Federation?
Waters did not drop-it-like-it’s-hot to get Snoop Dogg’s attention (as far as we know — what she does in her own time is her business). Nope, she did little more than feed her hungry baby. Waters is a Federal politician, and despite all our grumblings, they do work miserably long, antisocial hours. She also happens to have a baby who didn’t seem to give two hoots that mum had a long sitting day in Parliament.
On June 22, Waters was breastfeeding her daughter Alia Joy when she rose in the Senate chamber to put forward a motion on black lung disease. And while there were plenty who applauded Waters for juggling motherhood with her parliamentary duties, she also received criticism on Twitter, much of which was along the tired old lines of “there is a time and a place for such things”. Try telling that to a hungry infant! She also received an anonymous text message calling her the “dumb b… with the big t…”. Charming.
Waters has now joined a long list of women in the public eye who, when it comes to motherhood, suddenly discover that, no matter their other skills, a single misstep in the supposed “correct” way to be a parent and they will face some of the harshest criticism of their lives.
Not from their children, but the peanut gallery of public opinion.
At first glance Waters might not have much in common with the women in new reality TV show Yummy Mummies, but like Waters, in recent weeks they have been slammed for committing that seemingly most outrageous of acts — mothering in public.
Yummy Mummies, a show following four glamorous mothers-to-be as they navigate designer baby gear and arrange seriously fabulous baby showers, is not claiming to be Shakespeare. It’s reality television, not high art. Their promo material promised controversy, and they delivered in spades. A petition to ban the show before it even aired attracted 24,500 signatures. There was a huge social media backlash to a promo clip of one of the show’s stars, Maria DeGeronimo, referring to breastfeeding as “illegal”, and now that the show has aired, a multitude of reviews sniffily slamming it.
But why? How is Yummy Mummies so different from any other so-bad-it’s-good reality television? In truth, it’s not. The biggest thing setting Yummy Mummies apart from the rest of reality fodder on the box is that the women on the show are about to be bestowed with that ultimate sacred label — mother.
It is one thing for a woman to dress head-to-toe in designer labels, covet beauty, fame and money (there is plenty of that on television), but knock her up and suddenly she’s supposed to turn all Earth Mother? These women weren’t exactly making daisy chains and brewing kombucha before their third trimester. They might not come across as the type of people you want to hang out with, but nor do the Kardashians. Why the pearl clutching now? The show is called Yummy Mummies, not Terribly Sensible Women Reproduce.
These women’s crimes aren’t a few ill-considered comments about breast feeding, it’s being pregnant and visible, when we seem to want women to quietly spawn somewhere out of the way and then ping back into size 8, flawless hair-do perfection in a matter of hours. Just in time to post an appropriate social media shot and then go about raising their children in a screen-free, organic food-eating, low-carbon, spotlessly clean home.
Women are supposed to reproduce (remember when senator Bill Heffernan described former PM Julia Gillard as “deliberately barren”? It wasn’t a compliment). But when they do, heaven forbid they talk about it. The Yummy Mummies have been on the end of a massive amount of self-righteous indignation, but in essence, they have done nothing more than commit a similar sin as the terribly sensibly reproducing Waters — mothering in the open.
The Yummy Mummies are aghast at breastfeeding, Waters isn’t. They both copped criticism. Women are in a lose-lose situation when it comes to mothering in the public eye.
If you’re having a baby, you need to love it and feed it and bathe it and keep it safe. Whether you are a Yummy Mummy, a working mum or a barely-keeping-it-together sloth, your kid doesn’t care as long as it’s getting fed, cuddled and changed.
Women are not one giant homogeneous grouping. Women are human, and each will approach motherhood in her own way.
As much as we would like to think the moment a woman gets knocked up it transforms her into an all-knowing, wise, selfless martyr, in reality motherhood doesn’t bestow magic powers.
For all the tut-tutting, the best advice comes from your doctor, midwife and possibly Snoop Dogg — not the peanut gallery.