On the Great Maternal Explosion (from inside the mind of a DV worker)

This week I made a quick comment on a piece by Helen Razer, and in her typically fearless and respectful way she has asked me to elaborate. Ok. Deep breath. Here goes. I will try to put my thoughts to paper.

Firstly to say, Ms Razer is something of an idol of mine and I have great respect for her, and my initial comment was a gut reaction and not intended to troll or start a big debate. Nonetheless, I believe in stepping up to the plate, despite fearing I won’t be able to write my thoughts clearly and I may well regret attempting to.

Secondly to say that I come from a perspective of feminist understanding of domestic violence and I work in DV, where mothers are often undermined by their violent and controlling partners and not believed by authorities when reporting DV and child abuse. So, as my partner reminds me, I may be hypersensitive to how women are portrayed in the media. I offer this piece as an insight into the “hypersensitivity” that may arise from seeing women managing DV on a daily basis.

While I accept that Razer’s piece, on the surface, appears to be “the story of Helen Razer, Courtney Love, Mrs Razer and Frances Bean”, and just a “funny true story”, to me when I read it I can’t help but think that it perpetuates the stereotype of the interfering mother (or mother in law). It begins by saying that the media often notes the perils for children online and how parents can protect them, but doesn’t offer much advice for how to manage your parents online. But then it only gives examples of mothers’ bumbling forays into social media (no fathers), and even the comments mainly focus on mothers.

In relation to the article about Ispy software supposedly assisting parents to protect children online, I would think parents would get a better outcome if they were to rely on open, honest and respectful conversation with their children, but this doesn’t change that the threat online is real. Only this week a girl of 13 went missing with a man of 36 years old that she met online. She was later found safe but a sexual assault team were called in to assist her.

One might not blame Courtney Love for being protective of her only child, Frances Bean. I did not have the privilege of seeing Nirvana live (I was 14 when Kurt Cobain killed himself and I lived in a rural part of Australia). But some years later I did have the good fortune of seeing Hole perform at the Enmore Theatre, and Courtney Love was phenomenal. I read the whole Vanity Fair article mentioned in Razer’s piece and I was interested to find that besides the “financial claims” against Dave Grohl that Razer mentions, the article details many other aspects of Love’s life which I feel are relevant when discussing Love’s apparent instability. Love comes across as extremely traumatised and from memory I think it is written somewhere that she suffered abuse as a child, not to mention working in the sex industry, having her newborn child removed by child protection services, suffering the suicide of her beloved and then being blamed for his death. Her claims of “fraud” after Cobain’s death don’t come across as that unlikely to me in this day and age of financial and sexual exploitation of other famous women such as Anna Nicole Smith, and her inability to explain her theory in a linear fashion as required by the criminal justice system makes perfect sense from a standpoint of trauma. The vitriol against her after Cobain’s suicide smacks of good old-fashioned misogyny to me, and with hindsight, after realising the misogyny of Cobain’s lyrics, I’m rather glad I saw his equally talented spouse perform rather than him.

Razer’s piece several times speaks of the “language of Mother”, thereby suggesting that all mothers are concerned with criticising their adult children (or adult daughters) and obsessed with the production of offspring from said adult daughters. I am reminded of other caricatures of mothers such as Monica Gellar’s mother on Friends.

The formidable Ms Razer then goes on to say that she put in place “Maternal Controls” (again, only referring to mothers, not parents) on her social media to manage what her mother can and cannot see. Firstly to say that I was appalled by the About.com article referenced here, which I feel serves to further enforce stereotypes of mothers as interfering, almost childlike beings incapable of reasoned and informed debate. The idea that a mother needs to be shielded from items on social media that “might upset her” seems to further infantilise her. This seems in direct contrast to the way the piece mocked the real concerns of parents for their children online.

This reminds me of a similar online debate I have been struggling with, namely that between the scary religious anti-choicers such as MTR and the apparently rather cavalier defenders of girls’ sexuality such as Catherine Deveny and Clementine Ford. This is for another blog post, but suffice to say that although I side mostly with Deveny and Ford, the level of objectification and violence against women and children (and in this I include pornography) in our society cannot be denied. Can we find a middle ground that respects women and girls’ rights and sexuality but doesn’t discount this misogyny?

Lastly, Razer’s piece speaks of the “great maternal explosion”, the precise definition of which I am not yet clear. The overall feeling I get from this piece is that, although this week on social media there have been calls for calm in (am I really going to write it?) the “mummy wars” and rolled eyes in response to Bettina Arndt’s latest mindless offering, older women’s views and protective mothers are fair game. There’s already enough of this in the world without one of our sharpest female writers (and a women’s website) contributing to it.


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