Since this post was published, Andrea Leadsom has dramatically dropped out of the Tory party leadership contest. We?d still love your thoughts on the continuing threat of the Mummy Wars. Read on!
The two-woman contest for leadership of the Tory party and Prime Minister ? between the childfree Theresa May and mother of three Andrea Leadsom ? provides a unique opportunity to reignite a phenomenon from the Noughties: the ?Mummy Wars?. We need to resist that temptation.
The Mommy Wars in the UK
For those who don?t remember, the term ?Mommy Wars? started in America in the last decade ? and was adroitly explored in Leslie Morgan Steiner?s 2007 book on the topic. The UK?s ?Mummy Wars? emphasized the same differences and tensions between working and staying at home. They drew a hard line between women?s various lifestyles, turning these into defined identities that served as a comment on other people?s choices.
If you worked full-time, if you used a nanny, if you stayed at home with your children ? in the heady atmosphere of the Mummy Wars these were all templates: ?If you don?t parent like me, you?re doing it wrong,? was the assumption.
The appeal of the Mummy Wars
It?s easy to see why the Mummy Wars waged so passionately then. We look at our own lives and what we?ve learned from either having children or not and apply that to others. It?s natural to think that the way we organise our lives is the best solution. It is, at least for us. When the opportunity to shout about our choices in the public arena, buoyed by headlines of the latest political row, presents itself, it?s hard to resist.
What it meant for individual women
How many times did I have to tread lightly when mentioning my full-time job and my childcare arrangements, just like others were careful when mentioning the decision to breastfeed longterm or bottlefeed or any of the thousands of other choices we make as parents? Someone might get offended, someone might feel judged?and often they did.
Thankfully, that era faded away. Women got more comfortable with their own style of parenting and everyone became more skeptical of an idealised version of ?Mother?, either as Working Superwoman or Domestic Gaia.
Will we reignite the Mummy Wars?
Put two high-powered political women in the news, women who have made different domestic choices, and it suddenly seems that the Mummy Wars could be back in force.
Consider not just Member of Parliament and Prime Ministerial candidate Andrea Leadsom?s ill-conceived comparison between her status as mother-of-three and her rival Secretary of State Theresa May?s lack of children. (Leadsom has apologised for the comments, calling them ?completely the opposite of what [she] said and believe[s]?.) One hopes that when Leadsom spoke in divisive terms about being a parent, it was in a moment of naïveté and zeal in trying to differentiate herself.
Yet the dispiriting way that other MPs on both sides have piled on after Leadsom?s comments, via news outlets and in social media, demonstrate that they think Mummy War II is a great sequel.
We need to let them know they are wrong.
Let?s put a stop to the Mummy Wars
Individually we can all do our part. We can be confident in our own choices and support other women?s choices, even if they don?t match ours.
We can have sensible conversations about the two women vying to be our next prime minister and not get caught up in this most superficial of identity politics. (Do you need to be a parent to care about the future of your country? Sorry, is that a question?)
We need to let other MPs know that we don?t want to hear them stoking the fires of outrage when there are much weightier issues at stake. Wouldn?t we rather be debating the candidates? post-Referendum strategies than considering their respective fertility? We should be poring over their platforms, not parenting status.
Most of all, we need to quit defining and judging women on the basis of this one area of their life ? whether or not they have children,whether they chose breast or bottle, whether they stay at home or go back to work.
To wage a war you have to have two opposing sides.
Let?s decide right now we?re all on the side of letting mothers, parents, and women in general make decisions in their personal lives without those decisions being a way to triumph over other women or cast aspersions on others? life choices.
About Jennifer Howze
Jennifer Howze is the Creative Director and co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about family travel at Jenography.net, tweets at @JHowze and Instagrams at @JHowze. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel, CNN.com, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.