Monday, 12 April 2010

French Philosophers and imaginary 'Alpha Mummies'

Today I was hulking my germ-ridden body (third cold of the season) around our local library when I saw a mother I recognised. After a while she said to me,

“Don’t I know you from somewhere?”

I agreed but admitted that I couldn’t place her.

“Wasn’t it at the ‘Nappy Natter’?” she said.

The Nappy Natter was a very casual group of mothers who used reusable nappies. When I was on maternity leave I occasionally took my son to the group. I first went there when I was pregnant for advice about reusable nappies and afterwards just for socialising. I used washable nappies without much fuss for the first 6-9 months. Then I went back to work.

“They are having a party soon” she informed me. “You should come.”

“Ah” I said, unsure of myself.

“I have to admit that since I went back to work I have been using disposables so I’d probably feel a bit uncomfortable.” I said. She didn’t give any reaction and I went on to further validate my life choices with stacks of information it was unnecessary for her to know. I realised that this monologue was entirely for my benefit and not hers.

Then when I got home I accidentally came across this article on the net via Sharon Fried Jones’ blog.

Question: “Is motherhood a form of oppression?”

Here’s a taster for you:

“You wanted to be the perfect mother, so you gave up work, shopping, sex and all the other things you loved to breastfeed, make purées and wash nappies. But it’s proving to be an exhausting, strife-ridden, painful experience.

Here’s an answer. Give the baby a bottle and have a drink and a smoke, too, if it takes your fancy. Then turn to industrial baby food, disposable nappies and a childcare arrangement that allows you to get your life back.

That, at least, is the view of Elisabeth Badinter, a French philosopher who has shaken her fellow feminists with a frontal assault on the breastfeeding, pumpkin-peeling, earth motherhood ideologists who she believes are a threat to women’s liberation.”

I couldn’t help but be utterly intrigued Badinter’s arguments. Suddenly it was clear to me that as a ‘modern’ (if a little irreverent) mother, the feminist and the environmentalist within me were totally at odds with one another.

Ever since I read this post about ‘Alpha Mummies’ by BareNakedMummy, I have been thinking about the ever growing list of criteria that as mothers we are encouraged to aspire to.

BareNakedMummy’s blog post was referring to this article from the Guardian. Here is a quote about ‘Proper Mums’

“These are the mums who give every impression of never having once missed a baby clinic, failed to fill in a homework diary, or fished a dirty school uniform from the bottom of the laundry basket and given it a quick once over with a damp cloth. At my youngest son's nursery, they bound past me with unfathomable energy for 8.30am, all tinted moisturiser and Cath Kidston wellies, carrying snack boxes I imagine to be filled with locally sourced organic fruit, freshly peeled, sliced and diced like a hotel breakfast buffet. Meanwhile, I stand in yesterday's mascara brandishing a flaccid cheese string.”

Who exactly are these ‘Alpha Mummies?'; because if they exist I certainly can’t find them on the Net. No one out there is proclaiming themselves to be Alpha Mummies and if you are, stand up and be counted.

Notice the words ‘impression’ and ‘imagine’ in the Guardian article above. These women don’t exist at all. They are just us on a different day. Somedays I can leave the house with a full face of make up with both my son and I wearing clean, stylish clothes, return my library books before they are due back and have tonight’s dinner in the slow cooker while I am out. It happens once in a blue moon, but it does happen. At most other times I am bedraggled, bad-haired, bad tempered, late and disorganised wearing yesterday’s mascara beneath my eyes. It’s at those times that I look at other women and imagine their harmonious, ultra-organised, possibly even glamorous, domestic lives.

In an ideal world I would love a spotless house, my child in stainless clothes, with an organic seasonal dinner on the table after family French lessons, but I just can’t be arsed to make it happen. I suspect that other women can’t be arsed either. Until it’s proven to me otherwise, I don’t believe in ‘Alpha Mummies’. They are a figment of our imaginations; the result of the assumptions we make about other women and the pressure we put ourselves under.

I’ve slowly come to realise that motherhood, like most things in women’s lives, divides us and sets us against one another. The fat against the thin, brains verses beauty, the breastfeeders against the bottle feeders, the shavers verses the waxers, yummy mummies against slummy mummies. I think it’s time we got a little radical. If we stopped criticising ourselves then we wouldn’t be criticising each other. After all, do men?


  1. Good post! Have you read "I was a really good mom before I had kids"? It's a brief, fun book in the same vein. Basically, if we'd stop judging each other and being insecure, we could all get one with our lives and actually be happy for a change!

  2. Hurrah! To the battlements! Let's stop the madness right now. Totally with you Troutie - fantastic post.

  3. Brilliant post, i'm with you 100% on this one, no-one, outside of American sitcoms, is really like that, it's all in our imaginations, in our guilt at our own 'failings' and 'inadequacies'.

    Bravo. super post!

  4. I've written quite a bit on this subject.
    Here's the link to :
    Hope you do find time to read it, there is also a link form that post on E. Badinter, just to say it's not all that it seems.
    Personally I think mothers should be left to get on with it and enjoy their children rather than having to worry about whatever old trout wants to dictate to us.

  5. I think too often we let ourselves get bogged down by individual details like cloth vs. disposable; breast vs. bottle and don't look at the whole act of parenting. Yes, we might be fishing a dirty uniform from the laundry, especially if the night before our child had stomach flu and we decided comforthing him was better than doing the laundry! Aplha Mummies I guess would be the ones that in every little instant make all the "right" choices. But when we admit that there are many "right" choices for parenting we're all Alpha Mummies (at least for a while). Wrote a column in a similar vein a little while back

  6. I have to agree.

    But you forgot one - "alpha mommies" have also lost all the baby weight within 2 weeks and are fitting back into their skinny jeans - though their big breastfeeding boobs are probably a tight squeeze for their half shirts.

    I swear I still think they're lurking out there...

  7. Thanks for all your comments. Although I do not appear to be the most attentive blogger I do read all my comments and check out as many blogs as I can.

  8. What a fantastic post... perfect. Many thanks for reminding me I am not alone!

  9. Good post! I like the theory about the "good enough mother" - quite liberating. And I think as long as we all try a bit (I did breastfeeding, but not reusable nappies) we're doing okay. We can't do it all.

  10. I love the notion that an Alpha Mummy is just us on a good day. Once in a blue moon I pitch up to nursery on my way to or from a business meeting looking all slick. Mostly I look dreadful and don't care. you may have a point...!

  11. you summed it up, perfect! thanks for reminding us that it's ok to be human x