Mommy Wars: Brexit edition

Arm wrestling

Why are women so vicious to each other when it comes to parenting?

Why do some mothers feel invalidated when they find someone who raised her children differently?

Why do some mothers imagine that because they give birth they are now experts on anything having to do with children no matter how tenuous the connection?

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Politics is a contact sport, but there’s no match for the viciousness of the Mommy Wars.[/pullquote]

These are the Mommy Wars.

I grapple with these questions every day as I write about the ways in which women — generally Western, white women of privileged status — torment each other over childbirth, breastfeeding and parenting small children.

Most mothers grapple with these questions every day on websites and message boards, at playgrounds, and at work. It’s hardly a secret within the professions that women often find that those who are least supportive of their efforts to combine mothering and work are other women.

It’s hardly surprising then that no sooner do we have the historic occurrence of two women vying with each other to become Prime Minister than the ugly specter of the Mommy Wars takes center stage.

Witness the Mommy Wars, Brexit edition:

In the wake of the successful vote for Britain’s exit from the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron resigned to be replaced by the leader of the Conservative Party. Two women were vying for the leadership, Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom.

They say that politics is a contact sport, but there’s no match for the viciousness of the Mommy Wars. In a breathtaking display of pure cruelty, Leadsom was quoted in The Times of London as claiming that rival Theresa May’s infertility disqualified her from leading the UK.

As explained by Business Insider:

The Times newspaper ran a piece on Saturday where it quoted Leadsom saying May must be “really sad” about not being able to have children.

“I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake,” she said in the article, which was published as a front-page lead and headlined “Being a mother gives me edge on May — Leadsom.”

That’s why British government officials with children relentlessly opposed sending their sons to the slaughter on the Somme in World War I. And that’s why American government officials with children relentlessly opposed sending their sons to fight and die in the jungles of Vietnam. And that’s why Islamic jihadists never send their sons to blow themselves up as suicide bombers. It’s because, like Andrea Leadsom, they have a stake in their children’s future.

Wait, what? British officials with children sent them to their deaths? American officials with children sent them to their deaths? Islamic jihadists send their children to their deaths.

Obviously, having children does not make someone a better ruler or government official than not having them. So what did Andrea Leadsom think she was accomplishing with her faux “sadness” over May’s infertility and her loathsome insistence that it rendered May less competent?

She was competing with her opponent the way that many women compete with other women — on mothering itself.

When the story was published, Leadsom denied it, claiming it was “the exact opposite of what she said,” insisting:

I want to be crystal clear that everyone has an equal stake in our society, and in the future of our country. That is what I believe and it is what I have always believed.

It is the political equivalent of the gaslighting that so many women experience when they call out those who vilify their mothering choices. It’s shockingly similar to the standard natural childbirth claim of “Just because you had a C-section and didn’t really give birth doesn’t mean I’m judging you” and “Just because you didn’t love your child enough to persevere with exclusive breastfeeding doesn’t mean I think I’m a better mother than you are.”

But Sylvester had taped the interview.

It included this quote on how being a mother makes her more qualified than her opponent:

“So it really keeps you focused on ‘what are you really saying?’. Because what it means is you don’t want a downturn but ‘never mind, let’s look ahead to the ten years’, hence it will all be fine. My children will be starting their lives in that next ten years so I have a real stake in the next year, the next two.”

Fortunately, Leadsom has paid the price for trying to instigate the mother of all Mommy Wars. She has withdrawn from the political race and apologized to Theresa May.

When asked if she had apologised to the home secretary for the comments, Leadsom said she had, but declined to say if it was in person. “I’ve already said to Theresa how very sorry I am for any hurt I have caused and how that article said completely the opposite of what I said and believe,” she said.

And in typical Mommy Wars fashion, she believes that she is the victim, though she brought this on herself:

Leadsom, who told the Telegraph she was pressed into making the comparison, said after the story was made public she had felt “under attack, under enormous pressure … It has been shattering.”

Imagine that! Viciously using May’s infertility to imply she was unqualified to be Prime Minister has been “shattering” for Leadsom.

Let’s be honest here. Leadsom was not shattered by being accurately portrayed as using May’s infertility against her. She’s shattered because she’s been held to account for it.

If only we could similarly hold to account the many other women enthusiastically engaging in the Mommy Wars — those who condemn others for mothering choices that are none of their business and have no bearing on whether women are good mothers or good employees.