Motherhood and the ‘bad apple’ advertising pie

By Hannah Kowszun
13 Jan 2010

Recently, free online opinion-makers took on the might of paid-for advertising campaigns, and won. A nationwide campaign intended to demonstrate the power of outdoor advertising has had to pull their existing posters, after users of the Mumsnet website and many other bloggers, myself included, complained.

The poster reads: “Career Women Make Bad Mothers”. The response from women across the internet has been: ‘how dare they?’

This statement is designed to draw attention and it has certainly done that. It also invites people seeing it as they walk past to agree or disagree. We can do neither.

Supposedly intending to start debate, whoever wrote this does not appear to understand what the debate should be.

The debate that we should be having is one that explores the responsibility of motherhood: how one can become a good mother, what children need to develop and grow into the kind of people a thriving society needs. The debate is what makes a bad mother, not how we may identify bad mothers without knowing any more than their external choices.

Suggesting that career women make bad mothers with a one-way medium which incites controversy rather than invites debate is wholly irresponsible. And so we find ourselves debating the medium itself, risking a subliminal message to the public at large that it is still not right for women to pursue careers.

After the second World War, in which women played vital roles filling the jobs once done by men fighting overseas, the public were reminded that women’s real skill lay in home-making and that women with a career would not be able to find a husband.

It seems that fifty years down the line it is still acceptable to think this way. Posters proclaiming either “Housewives Make Bad Mothers” or “Career Men Make Bad Fathers” would not have the same impact: there would perhaps be a real debate rather than shameless attention-grabbing.

Society needs to give women, whatever choice they make, all the support it can, because ultimately what we need are good mothers, not women crippled by insecurity or glass ceilings.

Twenty-seven years ago my mother was shouted at by a woman in a shop who thought it disgusting that she had gone back to work, rather than commit to looking after me. As she says herself it was not the easy option, but it was the right one for her and for me. She is still working and has gone far in her chosen career, still making time to give me the love and support both I and my brother need. She may not be maternal but she is a brilliant mother.

The next few posters lined up will invite us to debate:

* 1966. It won’t happen this year.

* Educashun isn’t working.

Neither as emotive as the one that has caused so much attention.

One article reporting on this story suggested that the former “will risk outraging football fans, rubbing salt in the wounds over England's World Cup hopes”. For football fans, this will invite real debate, which brings in players’ form, the latest manager, club versus country performance.

Ultimately we (if we are English – the other nations in Britain may have a different view!) will either win the World Cup or we won’t. A woman with a career and a child will never be so easy to pigeon-hole.

The dig at education is tragic for the mirror it holds up to life. The widespread endorsement of poor spelling by tools like texting and Twitter, as well as the prevalence of highly intelligent students with dyslexia, means that education cannot be boiled down to an ability to spell. Debatable? Yes. Offensive? Perhaps. I suppose we will have to wait for that verdict.

Meanwhile career women are among us and some of them are mothers, that part of the debate is over. The rest is a whole new issue.

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(c) Hannah Kowszun works in the voluntary sector. She studied theology at the University of Cambridge and edits the 'Faith in Practice' section of Third Way, the Christian social and cultural comment magazine. Her blog is at: http://commutertheology.wordpress.com/

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