I’m reading Naomi Stadlen’s What Mothers Do – especially when it looks like nothing and I recommend it to anyone. Particularly if you’ve ever cared for a baby. The relief of reading that just possibly you’re not wasting your life, and that “I haven’t really done anything today” might just mean “I can’t explain what I’ve been doing.”

But, obviously, I read it with gender glasses on, because that’s what I do with everything in the world. Okay, the author says she refers to the generic baby as “he” to distinguish it from the generic mother “she”. But the two pieces of information she gives about the babies of the mothers she quotes are the baby’s age, and their sex. They are referred to in the anonymised quotes as “G” or “B” according to sex.

The thing is, I would find it distracting not to know the sex of the baby someone’s talking about. Even though, as the mother of a girl and a boy, I empathise (or not) with what they’re saying with respect to both my children, or either of them (and in that case, mostly because of the child’s birth-order place), it’s information I feel I need in order to be able to move on with the content of the text.

Frustratingly, this was more or less the topic of the PhD I abandoned after having Firstborn. The more I raise kids, the more I’m aware of it. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to do something that doesn’t look like nothing and finish that.

Anyway. Stadlen’s book is one of those you just want to quote every line of. I won’t. But it’s great, so far, though a little inclined to the: “Ooh, traditional societies! We must learn from the savages!” thing.

Quibble 2: the book only acknowledges the existence of single mothers and mothers with a male partner. I have books like this, which strike me as true as a mother who is pretty much like most others, and books which affirm my identity as a lesbian and feminist mother, with pride in both those identities. But to be sad, to suffer from post-natal depression, to struggle with motherhood, to feel isolated and failing – these are not things that lesbian mothers do. Or not in books, anyway. We can’t admit that what we wanted might be hard; sometimes too hard. We can’t ever say “take these children away!” because we fear, more rationally than most, that someone might.

So there you go. I’m a feminist, queer mother. I have PND. I sometimes fervently wish I could throw my children out of the window and run away. I love my kids. I’m probably as decent a mother as the average straight woman. But it’s hard to admit that I’m not better, because we’re like any oppressed group: you’ve got to be twice as good to be seen as half as worthy.

Also, the lesbian mother books? Are boring, mostly.


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