Community Scoop

The motherhood challenge

photo of Sue McCabeSue McCabe, Chief Executive
National Council of Women of New Zealand

The Motherhood Challenge – nope – that’s not the right title for this column.

The Women’s Challenge? Better but not quite there.

The Gender Challenge aka Our Challenge. Tick.

There’s a facebook campaign called the Motherhood Challenge. Mothers post photos that make them proud to be mums. Many see this as a way to acknowledge their often undervalued role.

Others criticise it. A Guardian columnist said she wanted to punch her computer. “Of course it’s meant to be a bit of fun, but this smug club fetishises motherhood, and creates a new way to measure women and find them wanting.”

The Motherhood Challenge is merely an example of a wider women’s challenge.  Another recent example of this challenge is research enthusiastically shared by working women which says children of mothers in the workforce fare better.  A correlation not cause and effect I would suspect, and an internet search will also show up studies proving the value of a stay at home mother.  I’d like to unscientifically suggest that children of well supported mothers probably do best – paid or unpaid.

The women’s challenge is caused by continual judgement of our situations by news articles, advertising, research, friends, families and colleagues – mothers versus childfree women; stay at home versus working mums; breastfeeding versus bottle feeding etc, etc.

For some of us, this ongoing chatter is merely eye-rolling and ignorable.

But others get worried and defensive – perhaps they’re vulnerable as their lives have been turned upside down by motherhood, or the lack of it, or they face judgement about a career focus. One way to cope is to cling to the supporting research and prepare responses to justify our situations when we’re asked to. In turn this justification can send negative messages to women in different circumstances. It’s a colossal waste of our awesome energy.

Our introspection diverts us from serious gender-related issues –  domestic and sexual  violence, the pay gap, sexism, additional career progression challenges, and weak economic independence. While no expert on men, I suspect our deeply embedded views around gender create many issues for them too.

Here’s a solution to the ongoing, completely pointless debate around who’s doing well at being whatever gender they identify with. Let people be who they want to be and get into whatever hobbies or career pathways they like. Let’s support couples determine what’s right for them – rather than use a gender formula to determine roles based on historical precedence. Let’s catch ourselves when we’re surprised at someone’s appearance, words, actions or life choices because they of their gender.

Then our culture will stop hurting women through being so tough on their choices (in reality – in many cases there hasn’t been choice). It won’t matter whether you’re a working Mum or a stay at home Mum to your child, or think the idea of having children is completely abhorrent!. It’ll matter that the genders are equal so that people can make the choices that fulfil their unique needs and desires.

It’s not just up to women to achieve this cultural shift. It’s not just up to men. It’s for all of us, it’s our ‘Gender Challenge’.

Actually – ‘Gender Challenge’ is still not right given the proven social and economic benefits of gender equality. Let’s call this column the Gender Opportunity.



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