When a new blog post is greeted with an orgy of Facebook “likes” and “shares” it feels a little Grinchy, to say the least, to be the lone dissenting voice. Matt Walsh’s paean of praise to the stay-at-home mother has been hailed as a long overdue recognition of the value of work done by mothers.
I raised the issue on Twitter and was relieved to find a small handful of women who shared my unease. But it was only after rereading Walsh’s post that I was able to put my finger on the problem.
Walsh’s argument is not what it claims to be – a revisionist view of the value of women’s work. Instead it is a restatement of an old paradigm that was employed to oppress women for centuries. The clue lies in his use of terms like “goddess,” “glory and seriousness of motherhood,” “revere” and “deify”. By the end of the post, he comes out of the Petrarchan closet entirely by appealing for women who immerse themselves in the business of raising children to be “put on a pedestal”.
The trouble with pedestals is that they are neither flexible nor comfortable. After a while, they start feeling a little cramped. If you spend enough time on one, it begins to seem more like a prison sentence than a reward. And they’re not half as easy to get off as they are to get on.
A stay-at-home mother who wants to climb off her pedestal and join the working world gets told by people like Matt Walsh that she is far too indispensable and irreplaceable at home. The work she does is so necessary to society that if she were to stop doing it for a few hours a day “the ripples of that tragedy would be felt for generations”. Who wants to be responsible for tearing apart the very fabric of society? It’s much safer to give up your crazy ideas about getting a job and just carry on being the “rock” on which your family is built. It seems churlish to whine about personal fulfilment when “the more time a mother can spend raising her kids, the better”.
Walsh’s repeated use of the word “mother” is especially telling. He is not talking about parents in general here. He doesn’t for a moment suggest that the more time a father can spend raising his kids, the better. Clearly women have a special role picked out for them by destiny that men don’t share. It is only mothers who must bear this immense responsibility of being the “spiritual foundation” of the family and who should ideally spend every waking and sleeping moment with their children.
This is the argument that was used to keep women chained to the stove and the bassinet for centuries. Women who expressed an interest in entering the formal workplace were told that their domestic work was far too important to be abandoned.
The notion that men and women should both take responsibility for the domestic sphere, while both earning money in the workplace, has been a hard-won victory for feminism. Also important was the acknowledgement that children wouldn’t suffer untold trauma if a caregiver took over some of the drudgery of looking after them. These are victories that should not be given up lightly.
Walsh manages to suggest that the lives of working mothers are somehow a compromise or “less than ideal”. He acknowledges that, in some cases, mothers have to work but makes no allowance for women who want to work. He sets up an artificial antagonism between working mothers and stay-at-home mothers and suggests that the latter are the underdogs in the fight. The truth is that it’s working mothers who tend to bear the brunt of society’s judgment.
I have been a stay-at-home mother for the last 13 years. I am pleased to see Matt Walsh and others acknowledge and appreciate what I do but I strongly object to being put on a pedestal, and even more strongly resist being told that the fabric of society will tear apart if I choose to stop doing it.
Image – AFP