On Saturday, 30/0/16, the cover feature of the Guardian Weekend magazine was entitled ‘Attachment Parenting: the best way to raise a child – or maternal masochism?’ https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/30/attachment-parenting-best-way-raise-child-or-maternal-masochism?CMP=twt_gu
It was described as a report by Hadley Freeman about Attachment Parenting and alleged maternal masochism. The article may have presented itself as a report about the rise in popularity of attachment parenting, but it was actually just a highly subjective opinion piece which rehashes tired clichés, unhelpful stereotypes, myths, presumptions and tropes, etc., not just about AP but mothering in general.
I don’t actually see what the point for this article is, apart from criticising, sneering at, judging and dismissing the choices of mothers who practice Attachment Parenting. It is certainly not being written out of concern for children whose parents believe in AP, as it’s pretty hard to argue that a baby is being scarred for life by having someone come to them when they cry in the night, or that they’re not smacked, or that they get carried around in a baby carrier. Instead, it feels like yet another excuse to feed the insatiable public demand to see women criticising other women (I realise that I’m reluctantly doing similar in writing this), confirming all their base prejudices and stereotypes about women being divided, being their own worst enemy, being masochistic, neurotic, and so on. It’s the journalistic version of ‘girl on girl’ fighting for the members of the Left which like to delude themselves they’re not misogynistic or patriarchal.
Why even ask if it is the ‘best way’ to raise children? That choice of words implies that AP mothers think they, and what why do, are superior, that they know and do better. It creates the idea that AP mothers are looking down on any other mother who does things differently. This is simply not true. AP is about choice, about respecting mothers, about breaking down hierarchical concepts. I guess that ‘Attachment Parenting: a selection of parenting practices that some women (and men) choose and others don’t – it’s all cool’ would not have made it to publication, never mind been made the lead article. Talking sensibly and practically about women’s lives without upholding stereotypes about divisions between women? That would never do.
The inference in this, and other articles like it, is that they are judging and offending other mothers purely by dint of their parenting style choices. I don’t get how someone having different choices to you that don’t involve you whatsoever can be any kind of personal attack; I have plenty of friends whose mothering choices are very different from my own and it never occurs to any of us to see them as some sort of division or implied judgement on each other. In real life, mothers know that mothering is hard and that we’re all just trying to get on with doing the best we can in the ways that work best for us and our families. I also don’t understand how anyone can think that the lot of all mothers can be ameliorated by attacking one set of mothers, but that’s clearly never important when it comes to the ever-popular theme of ‘let’s attack mothers for something in order to pretend to ourselves that we’re doing something about the problems mothers face’. Presenting mothers who practice AP as masochistic yet oppressive of other women by doing so, just feeds into all sorts of offensive patriarchal notions. Far from the rightful critique of posh, deluded, holier-than-thou throwbacks that it thinks it is, it is actually ‘punching down’, when one understands that the majority of mothers who practice the things we might call AP are nearly always SAHMs, which means that they are part of a class of women whose unpaid labour makes all other labour possible by being exploited to the tune of over £1TRILLION a year, as well as those mothers who practice these things through necessity and culture. Furthermore, if Freeman is genuinely against divisions between mothers and not want wanting mothers to be made to feel bad by other mothers, then she would never have even considered writing this article – because it exists solely to do exactly what she purports to want to combat. Articles like this are ten a penny – always going on about ‘smug’ AP mothers making others feel bad, whilst not seeing the irony in there only ever being articles which exist to make AP mothers feel bad. Because you never see articles in papers like the Guardian where women who DON’T do any of the things that AP mothers do being written about like this, or at all. That’s because it’s not fair or right to do so – just as it’s not fair or right to do to AP mothers either.
Many mothers (and fathers and other involved adults) practice certain or even all aspects of AP without realising that there is a name for the various things they believe are right and the ways they parent. Breastfeeding on demand (if breastfeeding is possible and the mother wants to do it), sleeping with baby/child in the same bed or same room, baby-led weaning (letting baby have a go at feeding themself; gumming on a piece of soft pear, for example), carrying one’s child in a sling or carrier, not using harsh punitive methods, going to a child when it cries… these are the things meant by AP, and there is no pressure on those who practice it to do everything that falls under the umbrella term of AP. Articles like this never fully explain what AP involves because when people see that it’s just pretty common sense, ordinary stuff that loads of parents do as a matter of course, they’re not going to fall for the idea that it’s neurotic, unattainable, airy-fairy middle-class hokum, or get involved in the knee-jerk blaming of one set of mothers for somehow upsetting other mothers they’ve probably not even met through their personal parenting choices which have zero bearing on the lives of other mothers. This is why these articles usually focus far too much in the topic of breastfeeding, which has become a dog whistle term to alert readers to the fact that they’re being given a legitimised excuse to indulge in misogyny and ignorance about the female body. It also feeds into the patriarchal trope that women are enemies to each other, by promoting the idea to women that if other women do something differently to you then they want you to know they think they’re superior to you. Men, of course, are never trained to think this about other men being different.
Focusing on the mothers who know that this collection of things comes under the umbrella term ‘Attachment parenting’ to sneer at, to criticise, to treat like they’re pathetic, self-debasing weirdos whose choices adversely affect other mothers somehow, is incredibly snobby and dismissive towards the huge numbers of parents who do these things just because it’s what works for them and because it’s how they were brought up, and is especially so towards those women for whom these things are a cultural norm, or an economic necessity (for example, my son slept in the same room as us right next to the bed because we lived in a tiny flat for the first 2 and a half years of his life and there was nowhere else to put him even if we had wanted him to have his own room). The article suggested that AP is elitist because poor women in low-paid employment can’t do it, but this just shows an almost deliberate misunderstanding of how most women mother and live their lives; in fact, the article talks as though it’s only white, fairly well-off, middle-class women living in metropolitan areas in the UK who are doing any mothering – or, rather, who are doing any mothering that matters, and who need rescuing from the supposedly demeaning horrors of looking after the children they chose to birth. If mothering like this is ‘masochistic’, then that is denigrating the mothering practices of the majority of cultures worldwide and throughout most of history. The only worrying thing about Attachment Parenting is that the parenting aspects that it recommends have become so rare or denigrated in our society that they need to be given a title at all.
Note also that no-one ever writes about how negatively dads who practice AP affect anyone. They’re not described as smug, or masochistic or making sacrifices. They don’t have their motivations scrutinised by others to try to prove some sort of inadequacy, anxiety, neuroses or low self-esteem. If anyone turns their attention to them at all, it’s either to praise them but more likely just to sneer at them for being ’emasculated’, hen-pecked, under the thumb, effeminate and so on – the usual way of dismissing men doing anything positive that’s not part of a masculine value system by the supposed greatest insult of all, that they are like women or don’t possess or control a woman ‘properly’.
There is a lot of internalised misogyny in this article, and ones like it. What comes across is a very real fear of being an actual, ordinary woman, and that supposedly most dreary of women, a mum, combined with a feeling of having been betrayed by doing everything that’s supposed to save you from such a fate. Neoliberalism, particularly 3rd wave feminism, offers a small number of women the illusion that, if they play by the boys rules, then they can be a ‘cool girl’ – the classic “not like those other girls” trope. They think this will also extend to mother, and, for a very few women, already very privileged, and requiring what is actual masochism, this may be possible to some extent. But this is not the experience for most women and playing at being “not like those other girls” never helped anyone but the boys.
Motherhood is where you go to give birth to the truth about being female in a patriarchy. When your body, life, mothering work, doesn’t fit any of the rules of what makes you acceptable in a patriarchal, capitalist society, you see through the lies you’ve been fed pretty fucking quickly. Women invested in neoliberal feminism who become mothers still end up as the “cis drudges” they’ve been taught to fear, loathes, reject and laugh at. So they look at other mothers for an escape route, but because they’ve been taught so successfully to think so negatively of mothers and mothering, and that the “drudge” factor is both innate and a choice, not a necessity of patriarchy, when they see women going deeper into motherhood (such as SAHMs, mothers practicing AP, etc.), they think they are agreeing with and choosing to be all the shit things that patriarchy says they are, and that these women don’t know better, are being masochistic, and need saving.
They don’t understand that they’ve got it all wrong because we’ve never been permitted the language or ways of viewing mothers and mothering to understand that these things are done as a form of quiet rebellion against society and family being specifically configured to make mothers drudges and to ensure inequality and exploitation of their labour. They don’t understand that these choices are a rejection and a going-deeper into what society says is taboo, bad and worthless in a woman, because where there is such extreme fear, stereotyping, policing and inequality, there is a truth about being a woman in that way being hidden from women. They don’t understand that it is an attempt to proactively make change and space for themselves to nurture in ways that are only about mother and child, to be free of objectification and hierarchy and so much more, in a society which makes no space for mothering, refuses recognition for mothering, and which promotes everything that is opposite of the maternal body and of maternal work as right, valuable and real.
In the article, Freeman talks to people who call AP anti-intellectual, unfeminist and conservative and presents these as truths without any interrogation. I don’t understand the motivation of any woman to take on face value being told that something makes women stupid and unsisterly. The lightest examination of these claims proves them to be untrue. For a start, to find out about attachment theory, you have to do a lot of research and understand a lot of scientific knowledge that is being constantly updated. Also, there are studies which show that the women most likely to practice attachment parenting/gentle parenting/parenting styles along those lines, are left-wing post-grads who identify as radical feminist or radical-leaning. This describes me and I practice gentle parenting myself, and I know that my reasons for this mirror virtually every other mother doing the same who I’ve come across (gentle parenting is the term more commonly used in the UK nowadays). The article presents interest in AP as some sort of neurotic drive to be perfect, to be in control, to create perfect children, as some sort of masochism, a rejection of feminism, and so on. Leaving aside the contradiction of calling a parenting style controlling when it is centred around rejecting controlling methods such as controlled crying, timed nursing, punishments like time-outs, etc., the bigger problem with this is the irony is that this is a wholly patriarchal way of viewing mothering – the very same patriarchal way that AP mothers seek to reject and redress. The initial and most intrinsic motivation to practice gentle parenting is a deep-seated discomfort at the hierarchy, punitive approach and Othering that is inherent in traditional/mainstream parenting; things which reflect not only the hierarchical structures of patriarchy and capitalism, but the iniquitous hierarchical structures created to uphold them – of misogyny, racism, disablism, and so on. As feminists, it does not sit right with us to control vulnerable others, to dominate, to enforce a hierarchy. As feminists we know that one can be assertive, strong and balanced without hierarchy and that, in fact, those things are actually impossible within a hierarchy, for depending on a hierarchy is the opposite of strength, balance, maturity or fairness.
People react to AP by presuming it means letting children take control, have no boundaries, and so on. Often, the language used is very similar to the language used to justify not giving women rights, not giving people of colour rights, of not giving the LGBT community rights. The resistance stems from the same model: that it is right and innate for one group to control and punish a group with less rights and independence (the difference being, of course, that children are dependent because they are children, whereas oppressed groups are made so deliberately by the state). The justification and normalisation for hierarchy starts within the home, in the family structure: father at the head, mother under him (literally and figuratively), children their chattel to own and control. Incidentally, AP, like being a SAHM, is often seen as being a throwback reaction, yet both involve deprioritising men and masculine value systems (which I’ll talk more about later).
There seems to be a cultural fear of having relationships that aren’t based on power, control and subordination. It is entirely possible to raise a child with boundaries, to say no, to teach them good habits, manners, respect for others, and so on, without dominating them or being punitive. In fact, it is the easier way to do so, in my opinion. My personal parenting difficulties lie in not always knowing how to react to my son having a tantrum and other trying behaviour because I have no inner resources to help me formulate how to respond, because I was shouted at, smacked and sent to my room for the same behaviour as a child, as I’m sure was similar to the experiences of many people reading this. This did not help me control my behaviour or feel good about myself and the world, but more importantly, it created nothing for me to build skills from to manage any sort of problem or conflict as an adult.
AP-style mothering is often treated in very much the same way as radical feminism – a fearful, rejecting knee jerk reaction which relies heavily on invoking the stereotypes we are patriarchally trained to feel scared, guilty or repulsed to have applied to us. It’s a reaction to a state of mind within women which involves genuine structural analysis, dedication to living in ways that reject hegemony, rejection of stereotypes, the demand, and action required, for carving out space for women and seeking liberation from unfair and unbalanced societal structures. This is not, of course, to say that one must practice AP to be any kind of feminist, just that it appeals to many feminists for these reasons. Mothers who follow AP/gentle parenting ideals are also nearly always very anti-gender stereotypes, and put a lot of effort into rejecting genderised expectations of behaviour, dress, or play. Bizarrely, this also often gets criticised as somehow being unfair to the children.
As I’ve written and spoken about many times, through speaking to many mothers not just socially but as part of my activism for AMW, the one thing that I hear the most, over and over again, is that becoming a mother is what made them turn to feminism; some for the first time, but for most, it was the catalyst for deepening their commitment to, understanding of, and acting upon their existing feminism. Furthermore, it seems that the majority experience tends to be a move towards, or deeper investment in, radical feminism (nothing like another human being coming out of your body to clarify the nature of structural oppression!).
Becoming a mother made me and others ever more feminist because by wanting to be with our offspring, to not follow the path that prioritises work, men, and more, we have experienced for ourselves that the idea that women have gained social and economic parity with men is at best, utterly conditional on doing nothing that disrupts men’s lives and entitlements, and in reality, that it is illusory. What is more, that same drive towards feminism also fuels, for the majority of those women, a drive towards gentle/attachment parenting. We make the choice to have the social norms of hierarchy, control, the rejection of matriarchal tropes, end with us.
The aspect I found most offensive and problematic about the article was the repeated use of the word ‘masochistic’. If I can get across one point about the application of the term masochistic to women, it is this: pay close attention to what is being called masochistic, because it is a sign that some women are rocking the boat and it’s threatening the status quo. Patriarchy can only exist by using gender to force women to be masochistic and for this to be utterly normalised and promoted as what’s natural, right, good and desirable for women to be. The way we think, the way we act, the way we dress, the way we interact with others, what we are expected to accept from men, from employment, from the law, from society, from culture, from everything and everyone – all of it, masochistic. Patriarchy can only exist if women tolerate and excuse oppression, exploitation, inequality, degradation and danger. We are told that following the rules – of being masochistic – will protect us. Thus, anything that doesn’t conform risks punishment. It is THESE actions by women which then get called masochistic; what people don’t realise is that they’re only masochistic in the sense that to do so risks punishment. Capitalism also requires a form of masochism, and it is precisely when women, as mothers, remove their labour from patriarchy and capitalism, that we see their lives, work and beliefs portrayed as strange, dangerous, harmful, especially to themselves – masochistic – and that we witness panic and concern that these women need saving from themselves. In actual fact, the panic is because these women ARE saving themselves.
So why do people continue to use the words ‘masochistic’ and ‘sacrifice’ about mothering? Sometimes it feels very immature, like women are outraged that mothering work isn’t all wafting around, back in your pre-pregnancy jeans after a week, carrying an angelic baby dressed entirely in white who never cries, possets, or shoots hot turmeric-coloured liquid shit 8 feet across a room when you open his or her nappy. After all, we are fed the patriarchal myth that it should be wondrous and all-fulfilling and so on. Well, newsflash: motherhood is work. It’s hard work. We don’t say it’s masochism to do any other kind of work (unless you’re in the BDSM industry), do we? We don’t say that childminders, nursery nurses, teachers, paediatric healthcare professionals, or even DADS are masochistic for looking after children, do we? So why do why so readily use and accept that term about mothers looking after their own children? One of my neighbours is a childminder who only looks after a small number of children (inc. school age), because her USP is to replicate a close family environment. I have a dear friend with 4 children (3 school age) who is a stay at home mum. Using the ‘sacrifice’ argument, is my friend some sort of masochist, making wholly unnecessary sacrifices to guilt-trip other women, but my neighbour is a hardworking, worthy individual who is making an important contribution to family and wider society?! This cannot make sense or be acceptable to anyone, surely? I also fail to see how being a mothering is masochistic but being in paid employment to be told what to do by another adult for less pay and promotions than men is not.
The idea that really basic stuff like going to your baby when it cries is presented as some huge sacrifice that’s unnecessarily demeaning to a mother is also worrying, not only because there is something very wrong with convincing mothers that being caring towards your offspring debases you, but because the inference seems to follow that one should not put lots of effort in. In no other work role are people told that it’s a bad thing if they put lots of effort and research into what they do. And if any job requires lots of effort, it’s mothering! You are keeping human beings alive, healthy, happy and well-balanced, human beings who, for the first few years at the very least, are supremely vulnerable and entirely dependent on you. Of course it’s hard work, of course it’s a lot of effort, of course it sucks everything out of you. And responding to that adequately, regardless of however you choose to parent, is made hard and thankless not by mothering itself but by our society which does not respect it, does not make space for it, which presents everything diametrically different and opposed to nurturing and childbearing as what has value, worth, coolness and so on, which demands that women are (and only value themselves for being) things that serve men, that are also diametrically opposed to mothering. The criticism of AP here and elsewhere always comes across as a fear-based reaction to something akin to the big reveal at the end of The Wizard of Oz, namely that it reveals just how much our society is set up to hate, blame, judge, and exploit, and to make mothering a deliberate form of drudgery and suffering – and that this can be rejected, worked against, combatted, etc., but that it will take a lot of personal inspection, work, change and accepting very difficult things about the world and the new role you’ve just taken in it. These articles act, however unintentionally, to scare women into metaphorically closing the curtain on the workings of Oz again, or to never even trying to touch the curtain.
Turning again to the use of the word ‘masochistic’, I find the word problematic for many reasons, not least because the origins of the word are sexual, and dubiously so at that. When spending time with one’s own children in a way that gives them more attention than others is described as masochistic, I find this quite disturbing – it’s as though giving attention and the sharing of the female body (through breastfeeding, kangaroo care, etc.) are a waste, even a perversion of the status quo, if they are not being provided to a man (or men). There’s a profound sense that to do so is to step away from the rules that we are taught keep women safe and that this somehow endangers other women. Freeman even mentions a male ‘marital therapist’, Andrew G Marshall (whose book, ”I love you but you always put me last’ sounds like several hundred pages of whiny mantears and his own mother issues) who states that AP is problematic because it causes mothers to put their children before their male partner. God forbid that a woman not put her man first, eh? One of the essential factors for me in finding a man to have children with was that it would never even occur to him that he should have more or even equal attention from me than any children we would have (reader, I shacked up with him). When founder of Attachment Parenting UK, Michelle McHale, explains to Freeman that AP causes mothers to come to a “crystallisation of their values” (a nice way of saying “realise that most men are pathetic, entitled, sexist manbabies who won’t pull their weight, treat me like a hired help and their mother combined, then pester me for sex, think they’re the only one doing any worthwhile, make minimal changes to their lives when the baby comes along, and sulk when they’re not the centre of attention”), Marshall counters that it’s because women are scared they won’t be a good enough mother or have the “humility to compromise” with their menfolk. Excuse me for a moment while I retrieve my eyeballs from the back of the sofa after they rolled clean out of my skull at that.
It’s funny, isn’t it, how people see SAHMs as retro throwbacks, yet they, the group most likely to practice AP, are the ones who are also seen as problematic because this makes them the least likely to pander to men and put their needs first?! Frankly, I think that the gentle parenting approach is a great test for straight women to find out if their partner is actually a decent man, or an entitled, immature, self-centred sexist who think his partner should do all the housework and childcare and yet still give him all her attention plus regular sex. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I know a lot of feminist mothers who have chosen to leave their partners and either turn to celibacy or relationships with other women instead. Spoiler alert: any problems and break-ups are not to do with the women not prioritising men over their babies.
As for applying a sexual term like masochism to the caring-for of children, that is also highly offensive and disturbing. It links something good, natural and necessary to sexually perverse servitude. This not only upholds the essential patriarchal trope that women are innately masochistic but it links and makes inseparable the female workspace mothering to sexual servitude to men. Being a mother has got nothing to do with men or sex; dragging masochism into how we view mothering seeks to submerge them as one perverse whole.
Freeman made her name as a fashion and beauty journalist – two areas which force women to be masochistic and make sacrifices (by performing femininity) like no other aspect of society! Hell, one of the reasons why there so much misogyny towards mothers is to do with their appearance (not a coincidence that so-called ironically ugly jeans are called ‘mum jeans’), because mothers, especially of babies and small children, simply have less time, motivation, money and general fucks to give about what men think, to perform femininity and objectification in terms of grooming, clothing, cosmetics, weight control, etc. If Freeman is concerned about women being masochistic, why is she not writing articles about the far greater problem of the fashion and beauty industries?
Fashion and beauty make women believe that their only worth lies in looking like an always-sexually-available-and-desirable-young-girl, wearing clothes that restrict them, put them in danger, cause physical problems (such as high heels), disguise the real shapes of actual adult females, demanding that they starve their bodies, make their bodies as hairless as a child’s, feel like they are repulsive if they don’t have genitals that look like a little girl’s (hello, paedophile culture), make women feel like they are grotesque if they get wrinkles or a double chin or grey hair or cellulite – but it’s carrying your baby in a wrap and having them sleep next to you that’s the offensive problem?! Having a breast enlargement to look like a porn star isn’t masochistic – but waking up to breastfeed your baby in the night is? We have tipped over, in our neoliberal society, into treating the reality of women’s lives and bodies as artifice, as offensive, as weird, as something to avoid or look down on, whilst exalting gender stereotypes, sexual objectification, porn culture, and masculine tropes of what is worthy and ‘real’, especially about work, as innate truth, power and agency.
Continuing to unpick the idea of masochism, we must look at why it is only mothers being with their children that gets described as masochism and sacrifice. Some people infer this because mothering involves dealing with endless (or seemingly so) bodily fluids, dirt, mess, and the like. But if dealing with dirt and bodies is masochistic, what other jobs should this apply to? Are undertakers masochistic? Care home workers? Cleaners? Sewage workers? Do we see a bin man and think he’s being masochistic to want to work with dirty material and that he is emptying bins purely to try to guilt-trip other men for not doing the exact same job as him, the way he does it? When men work with shit and piss and bodies, it’s honest, honourable, hands-on hard work (this paragraph is brought to you by the letter H). When women do it, it’s apparently the opposite. There are so many underlying issues going on here – such as the patriarchal insistence that women must not be seen to be working, to be getting their hands dirty – literally, that we must not be seen to be practical, busy, sensible, adult, and without appearing attractive, young and sexually available to men.
Patriarchy cannot allow women to be seen to be real human beings doing hard work, that is not for men, not looking or being sexual, etc. It is the greatest threat it knows to every gender stereotype it uses to normalise and enforce its hierarchy. It is even more important for patriarchy and capitalism that mothering is never seen as work, seeing as every economy on the planet is designed to only be able to work through the exploitation of female unpaid caring and domestic work.
Patriarchy says women should serve men – when we do something for our children, this takes away from that, so women are trained to see doing anything for their children as bad, selfish, indulgent, almost unnatural, even.
We have a very problematic situation in our society now where saying anything positively about any aspect of pregnancy and motherhood will be jumped upon by other woman as judging them, telling them what they should do, and do on. We have the disturbing and frankly bizarre scenario now that any positivity expressed about breastfeeding, for example, however vague or general or couched with numerous explanations and apologies about the view or experience being expressed being entirely personal, is seen as unfeministly dictating what other mothers should do, judging them, guilt-tripping them, trying to impose hippy claptrap and cod-science upon others, and so on. You cannot try to support the idea of women breastfeeding anymore without subjecting oneself to howls of fury that you are attacking others, being smug, etc.
What is this demand that other women deny any positivity about any aspect of mothering to manage the feelings of other women? It quells the panicky feelings of overwhelm that arise from the deep knowing that even though you want to be a mum, living under patriarchy means that motherhood will just mean yet another huge bundle of ways in which you will be oppressed, be treated and judged iniquitously, be controlled, have your say and space in the “real world” of men and patriarchal values diminished ever further. But what it doesn’t do, and can’t do, is stop them, because the wrong people are being blamed.
It feels like women want mothers to just be wholly negative, rejecting and critical about mothering in a sort of “don’t let the men hear you saying (you breastfeed a 2-year-old and it’s lovely/you actually like doing crafts/you prefer being at home with your baby than working in the office/whatever), otherwise they’ll use that to say, ‘see? We told you that all women want to be mothers and it should be the enjoyment in life you need or get’ ” way. But that’s just being in denial about the truth – patriarchy doesn’t require women to enjoy motherhood, patriarchy just requires women to do mothering. Women’s enjoyment doesn’t even factor into it. Patriarchy not only doesn’t care less about whether we enjoy it or not, it actively desires, requires and shapes society to ensure that it is used against us as oppression, to demean us.
And while women in-fight and accuse each other and blame other women for everything negative they feel or experience about motherhood, all the focus is off the real problem: patriarchy. Men. While mothers blame other women for their problems, men get off scot-free. They don’t have to do anything, they don’t have to change. Nothing has to change – people see the blaming and fighting and pronounce that women just innately fight each other and treat other women like enemies, declare that there are all these divisions between us, strengthen the lie of the ‘Mummy Wars’, and feed every stereotype about women and mothers that are then used to justify not making change or ameliorating things. When we blame and attack each other, there is no analysis of the truth.
What breaks my hearts especially about this is that it feeds the misogynist myth that mothering is somehow innately demeaning, dehumanising, masochistic, etc., and that women do it because they are innately masochistic, brainless, servile, docile, only fit for drudgery, etc. It makes invisible the truth that patriarchy seeks to make motherhood those things deliberately to oppress us, and makes the lies the apparent truth. And when the truth is obscured, oppression cannot be seen and claimed to be both innate and chosen.
The masochism that all women need to free themselves and each other from is the creating and upholding of divisions between women; of resisting and rejecting sisterhood from fear of not following ‘the rules’ to uphold patriarchy we think we will be punished for rebelling against, and of the policing of other women when they do so, of caring what men think about us and want from us. Patriarchy allows us so little space and expression that the urge to make ourselves and other women to conform and perform as a homogenous mass is both comforting and feels necessary. What we need is to accept the amazing differences between women and see that these make us wonderful and powerful, not enemies. When patriarchy doesn’t know which way to turn when women, in all their difference, resist, that is when we will stand any chance at liberation. – EP
This article offended a great many women, and there have been several other responses saying similar things to me. I would highly recommend these three – firstly, this excellent letter from AMW member Dr Karem Roitman to the Guardian, which really tackles the ideas that AP is privileged and anti-feminist: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/aug/01/undue-attachment-to-parenting-gurus and these fantastic article from Sophie Christophy and Lulastic, which explain why AP is feminist brilliantly: https://sophiechristophy.wordpress.com/2016/07/30/attachment-parenting-anti-intellectual-its-a-social-justice-movement