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March 10, 2008 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Women’s Column

RIP Katherine Rich MP. Damn you for going quietly.

Motherhood reeks of the inexplicable. There’s an aura of ‘something else’ which transcends the bloody, biological act of giving birth, and pregnancy has acquired a mysticism which binds mother and baby together in a blanket of unconditional love and expected maternal sacrifice. With fond memories of morning sickness in their eyes, women vomit up phrases about the incompleteness of their life before children and the sense of being part of a greater whatever that motherhood bestows upon them. Jesus. Cut the umbilical cord and cut the crap.

In the patriarchal world that we live in (yes, we do, and let’s not try to argue otherwise), it is seen as only natural that maternal instincts and the life of her child will override any woman’s self-interest. She is expected to, with a sepulchral smile on her face, cut off her own head at the altar of What It Means To Be A Good Mother (preferably with a nice, sharp kitchen knife).

The latest political lamb to the slaughter, National MP Katherine Rich, will die and go to no-daycare heaven at the next election. What bothers me is not that she sighed and admitted that she could not do it all, but that she went so damned quietly. A woman with strong feminist beliefs, I expected her, at the very least, to table a dirty diaper in the House and launch into a tirade disputing the existence of that elusive species, the stay-at-home father. Here was an opportunity to engage the country in a dialogue about motherhood, ladder climbing and the impact that women’s biology has on those issues in modern New Zealand society. Instead, she left us all with the impression that she had suffered quietly for years, commuting long distances and foregoing time with her bubs in order to, you know, actually represent some people. The awfulness of a looming Cabinet position appeared to be the final straw.

Helen Clark provides us with a nice contrast. Childless and powerful, she has never had any parasitic tots latched on to her nipples, slowly bleeding the ambitious life force from her (if you will excuse that graphic image). She may have laboured for her party, but that’s about it.

The solution? Let’s go wild and look to our radical feminist sisters for some answers. They say that woman’s biology is the fundamental source of her oppression. They advocate shunning biological distinctions, growing babies ex utero and squaring the responsibility for their upbringing firmly on the sturdy shoulders of a collective society. No longer shackled by our biology, sexual distinctions would simply melt away and we would live in an androgynous utopia. Woah mama.

Both these women’s lives show us this: women (still, and actually) can’t have it all. Oh yes, we may be able to choose now, but it’s conditional or at the expense of something else. Sure, men make trade-offs too, but they forego things from the lofty position of a social group that has had to concede equality, not fight for it. The ability to choose isn’t and shouldn’t be enough. We want it all, and we want it now.


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