Motherhood as revolution

Growing up, I understood motherhood as a burden. In those days, to be an only child was unusual; most of the families I knew had two, three, four children. Noisy families, with multiple television sets, blue swimming pools, cello lessons, riding lessons, barking dogs.

Many of these mothers were married to ghosts – the invisible fathers of that generation, appearing only at night, and even then, only for an hour or so in terms of dedicated consciousness. Both moneyed and comfortable, these women raised their children alone: emotionally unsupported, and turning to each other in their exhaustion and frustration.

The suburb in which I was raised was a place of secrets. The secrets of alcoholic mothers, of mothers who were beaten by their husbands, of mothers who smoked themselves into ICU, of mothers frozen by the discovery that their husbands had made passes at their daughters, of mothers flagrantly betrayed by their fathers of their children. One came home to find her husband of 30 years in bed with his secretary and divorced him, only to die soon afterwards; one was institutionalised on hearing that her husband of 25 years had impregnated a young girl; another found her sexual health forever impacted by her husband’s yen for prostitutes.

Some of these mothers committed suicide, leaving long, long shadows over the lives of their children; some doped themselves with pills, not knowing how to process the rage and grief; many of them divorced and grew old silently, their restraint matched only by their bitterness.

Their daughters learned to understand motherhood as synonymous with restriction and unhappiness. The solution, we told ourselves, was work. Arbeit macht frei. We would never, ever allow ourselves to be so vulnerable. We would enclose ourselves in glass. We would be like men: sexually free, emotionally unencumbered, economically autonomous. If we had children, they would be participants in our lives rather than the axis.

En masse, we accepted the bar as masculine.

It was only after having a child that I realised that the bar is what we make it. Everything I was taught to understand as true was only true within the narrowest of historical contexts.

Motherhood, I discovered, is not a series of menial tasks, but a revolution.

From today, Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love is available online and in bookshops throughout Australia and New Zealand (news for overseas readers soon).

My essay about motherhood is published in the May issue of Vogue, out today.

The extra tickets to the launch of Mama on April 23 have almost sold out. For the very last ones, please click here. If you can’t make it, I’d love to see you at one of the events below:

April 24 – Dymocks CBD (click here)

May 30 – Readings (Hawthorn) (click here)

May 6 – 10am, Lennox Head Library (click here)
June 2 – 10am, Ballina Library (click here)
June 5 – 5pm, Noah’s Arc Bookstore (click here)

Please share this post with any parents you feel would benefit x


On holes

The other day, I watched an Australian primetime advertisement for tampons. This ad was designed to create a furore. Controversy is always lucrative for the ad agency in question, which is why the most effective means of countering such dross is to:

a) Complain to the advertising standards bureau in your country (in Australia, the ASB);
b) Email your local MP and ask what they propose to do about the ad in question;
c) Write to the company’s board of directors;
d) Encourage all those you know to do the same; and
e) Don’t mention the product’s name on social media.

But back to the advertisement.

In it, the genitals of adolescent girls were described as “holes”. Consider this: we are living in an era when it is not only acceptable to discuss the genitals of teenage girls during primetime, but to describe them in the language of pornographers – that is, as an assortment of “holes”.

The creative director responsible is, of course, a woman.

Solicitors have long assigned female counsel to the most notorious rapists, sex and child abusers, if only to engineer an impression of innocence. As a child, a female barrister I know was sexually molested by a neighbour. As an adult, she defended a paedophile she privately believed to be guilty. Why? Because the win would strengthen her legal reputation, and it did. Convinced by this woman’s performance, the jury allowed the paedophile to walk free.

A male barrister told me a similar story. A female solicitor he knew asked him to represent her client, a man accused of a number of brutal rapes. The evidence was incontrovertible: skin fragments under the fingernails, DNA, the works. Inspired, the female solicitor proposed they argue that the police planted the evidence. It was at this point that my friend pulled out.

I asked another barrister how these women could live with themselves. “Easily,” he said. “You have to understand that it’s academic – it’s all about the LAW. People don’t come into it.”

The advertising industry is no different. It’s all about the AD – the buzz, the outrage, viral marketing. The creative director in question justified her actions by making them all about warmth, honesty, truth. The impact of the ad’s language on children, adults, and the culture at large was irrelevant, as was the denigration of women inherent in the term. That there may be a relationship between the understanding of female genitalia as a series of “holes” and the indiscriminate desire to fill them with any object at hand – nature, after all, abhors a vacuum – was of no interest. It was, she insisted, all about “keeping it real” and “breaking taboos”.

Her palaver reminded only of the standard Nazi practice of rebranding obscenities.

Stealing the property of Jewish people was reframed as “voluntary surrender”. Denying Jewish children an education was made possible under the “Law Against the Overcrowding of German Schools”. The murder of mental hospital inmates was allowed under the “Law for Granting of Special Help”. And the defamation of female sexual organs is now permissable when the words “real” and “comforting” are used to justify it by a woman.

You know what? I am really, really tired of the cultural ratification of pornography. I am really, really tired of girls and women being promoted – and here I quote Melinda Tankard Reist in Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love – as “sexual service stations” for boys and men. And I am really, really tired of the normalisation of pornographic terminology.

For the record, stupid creative director, the receptive, sensitive, miraculous and infinitely beautiful female genital is not an inert cavity or void. This is what a hole looks like:


I don’t know about you, but my sex looks nothing like that.


Earth mothers vs. sluts

This morning I received a message from a retired prostitute in her early twenties with whom I’d once had a few genuinely interesting exchanges. “Fuck off you asshole,” she wrote, apropos of nothing. “Im sick of your shit in my feed. Long live sex workers. Long live women positive veiws [sic] and not your scathing women hating world. Your prose are [sic] far too purple.” There was a lot more which has since been deleted – references to my being an “Earth Mother” and to my censure of “sluts” (her words).

My husband wanted to take a chair to her head, but I found the vehemence of her response fascinating. Why? Because she was so very, very nice to me when I wrote about women, pornography and pop culture, but the minute I started writing openly about motherhood and domesticity, she flipped out. Unsubscribing wasn’t sufficient; I was suddenly an asshole with woman-negative views, overwhelming her feed with shit.

Clearly, my cupcakes got to her.

The fact that I have always had a cupcake fetish and doted on my daughter was irrelevant; what mattered was my openness about these shameful things. According to the current feminist doctrine, it is more acceptable to be filmed being punched in the stomach during group sex than it is to profess a desire to serve your child. To this woman, my public celebration of baking and passion for my daughter dismissed me as an “Earth Mother” (that ridiculous, contemptible thing). Combined, these factors changed the tenor of my disdain for Sasha Grey’s conscious participation in paedophiliac fantasy scenarios. The seriousness of my views was called into question. Overnight, I metamorphosed from a critic of pornography into a finger-waggling oppressor of “sluts”. (“Vade retro satana! I wave my frilly apron at you!”)

To this woman’s mind, my love of cupcakes and disdain for Sasha Grey had somehow become interdependent, like a dilation and curettage or Victor & Rolf. (It’s a slippery slope – one cupcake, and whap! You’re in a teal pashmina at a P&C meeting, campaigning for the criminalisation of midriff tops.) Her equation went something like this:

Cupcakes + motherhood + anti-porn activism = scathing woman-hater

All of this intrigued me, if only because of the ideology behind it. My question: since when did masturbating over Sasha Grey become the hallmark of the One True Feminism?

For the record:

Mothers are not the enemy of feminism.
Cupcakes are not the enemy of feminism.
Children are not the enemy of feminism.
The open celebration of motherhood is not anti-feminist.
The open celebration of baking is not anti-feminist.
The open celebration of children is not anti-feminist.

Let me tell you what anti-feminism looks like.

Anti-feminism is promoting a toxic and emotionally mutilated moron like Sasha Grey as a role model.
Anti-feminism is embracing the commodification of human beings.
Anti-feminism is ignoring the poverty, sickness and desperate anguish of most prostitutes to feed into a half-baked First World notion of feminist status.
Anti-feminism is reducing womanhood to the sum of toddler-grade exhibitionistic nonsense about genitalia. (Go explain the concept of sex-positivism to the hundreds of thousands of prostituted children in the world, why don’t you. I’m sure it will make them feel empowered.)
Anti-feminism is disregarding the critically important role of mothers in the community.
Anti-feminism is distorting the open devotion of a mother for her children as trivial.
Anti-feminism is disregarding women who choose to serve the children they love.

Feminism is more than seeking equal rights to men – it is about redefining rights for the nurturance of women, not reflexively buying into destructive patriarchal archetypes and “owning” them.

As to whether or not my prose “are” purple: c’est la vie, c’est la guerre, c’est la pomme de terre.


Best chocolate cookie recipe in the known universe


- 1.25 cups all-purpose wholemeal flour
- 0.25 cup ground almond or hazelnut meal
- 0.5 cup cocoa
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 0.25 teaspoon baking powder
- 0.25 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 0.5 to 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 to 2 large eggs
- a wooden ruler

To make c. 40 cookies:

Set oven to 195 degrees celsius.

Line two cookie sheets with baking paper.

Blend flour, meal, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar.

Knead in butter and egg until the dough is dark, slightly sticky and the chocolatey fragrance makes you want to scream with pleasure. If the dough is a little dry, add more butter.

Roll into tiny balls, set out in rows of four, and neatly splodge with your thumb, like so:


Bake for ten minutes or until done. These cookies burn very easily, so do keep an eye on them.

Use the ruler to whack those who attempt to filch the cookies before they have cooled (this will keep you busy for at least fifteen minutes).

Enjoy very slowly, preferably with your eyes closed and your feet up.



I work too hard. I wish I could take more time out but at this juncture, I can’t. Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love is published next month. Steve Biddulph will be launching it on April 23, and I’ll be speaking and signing at Sydney CBD Dymocks from 12:30pm to 1:30pm the following day. Then I’ll be speaking at Lennox Head Library on May 6 at 10am, at Readings at Hawthorn in Melbourne on May 30 at 12:30pm (bookings essential), and at Ballina Library on June 2 at 10am. Possibly Brisbane, too. I’m also working on another book, writing essays for Vogue and Elle, and homeschooling my lovely child. I love it all, but do the math. It’s nuts. I regularly call my husband by the cat’s name, look like an uprooted bramble bush and haven’t had a good night’s sleep since 2004. But you know what?




That’s what.


Women Who Run with the Tides

Surrounded by her egregiously vulgar shoe collection, former Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins yesterday shuddered to a unrepentantly consumerist climax.


Today, Michelle Shearer – filmmaker, surfer, MamaBake founder, loving mama – wore these shoes to the premiere of her first documentary, Women Who Run With the Tides.


Michelle is a woman defined by love. Women Who Run With the Tides is all about love.


Rapturously shot, it challenges toxic stereotypes of older women.


Michelle once said: “I paddled out fairly soon after the birth of my first child and felt pretty wobbly after residing in the safety of the post-baby cocoon for a few weeks and then being out in the wilds of the ocean … I was jittery leaving my newborn daughter on the beach (with my husband) and found it hard to curb my anxiety about being that far away from her (even though it was just from the beach to the lineup). Marg and Sally [two of the women in the film] soothed me and called me into waves. They encouraged me and told me how normal it is to feel that way and that my little daughter would be just fine. The impression that left on me never left me. I guess when anyone is kind and caring it makes an impression.”


Women Who Run With the Tides is informed by kindness. The audience was floored.


There were cries of “Bravo!”, whoops, three sustained rounds of applause. Called up onstage with the other filmmakers, Michelle looked as if she wanted the ground to swallow her.


Uncomfortable with the attention, she left that stage as soon as she could.


Layne Beachley, there with her husband, Kirk Pengilly of INXS, spoke about the beauty and impact of Michelle’s film. “You’re a surfer, right?” she asked, laughing.


Earlier, Beachley had posed for a photograph with Michelle, who died a little, confronted by one of her great heroines. Afterwards, she could barely speak.


Michelle’s friends had met up beforehand to celebrate her great success.


The atmosphere was one of happiness.


Michelle Shearer doesn’t need forty thousand pairs of shoes to feel important. When you watch her film (below), you’ll understand why.

‘Women Who Run With the Tides’ A Film by Michelle Shearer from Steve Shearer on Vimeo.


Working mothers + stay-at-home mothers: an invitation


There’s no place for a debate between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers. The debate we should be having is with the architects of a culture that makes calm and attentive parenthood close to impossible.

Our culture is now one of masculine triumphalism, in which traditionally feminine expressions – empathy, sweetness, volubility, warmth – are seen as impediments to a woman’s professional trajectory in many sectors. The market is awash with literature warning women of the perils of their femininity in the workplace. “Stop apologizing!” Lois Frankel cautions in Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. In How to Say It For Women, Phyllis Mindell scolds women for “prefacing sentences with I think or I feel,” making it clear that subjectivity – transhistorically, the feminine slant – is considered an attribute of losers.

However specious, objectivity, a masculine conceit, must be feigned.

Accordingly, a number of women I know stifled their sensitivity and maternal instincts to compete in male-dominated spheres, eroding – and, often, destroying – the most important relationships of their lives. Talented women are now presented with only one model of fulfilment: career success and its concomitant remuneration.

The bar is masculine, and women must adopt traditionally masculine characteristics – cultivated insensitivity, goal-orientated thinking, the prioritizing of the material – to compete.

Anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger concurs, believing that women have, en masse, rejected the traditionally feminine acceptance of ever-shifting priorities in favour of the male idea that power resides in “keeping utter, utter control of one’s whole life” – control of our bodies, control of our emotions. And yet the female body is generally unresponsive to attempts at control. When not hijacked by chemicals, our rhythms are governed by forces ranging from the affective to the lunar: emotional stress has as much of an impact on our ability to bear a child as any biological factor, which is why holistic fertility practitioners report successes where Western treatments fail. Physiologically, we are informed by mystery, and therein lies our potency. Our sensitivity to forces outside the self is a gift.

So why are we still conditioned to understand sensitivity as weakness, and why do we continue to accept this conditioning? Other questions:

- Since when did ratification from a dispassionate boss trump the nurturance of human life?
- When did motherhood come to be understood as a series of “thankless tasks”?
- Why are breastfeeding numbers around the world dropping?
- How have we come to understand babies as “blobs”?
- Why are so many mothers of young children bored, angry and unhappy?
- How can we heal rifts with our children?
- Why do so many of us feel that we don’t really know our own children?
- What is behind the tsunami of behavioural disorders?
- How is intimacy in marriage possible after childbirth?
- Why is our culture so sexualised, and how is it affecting our children?
- What roles do fathers have in making a serene experience of motherhood?
- How can separated fathers improve their children’s chances of emotionally connecting without fear in later life?
- Why are so many children committing suicide?
- Is attachment parenting possible for single working mothers?
- How can working mothers better connect with their children?

Critically: what are we doing to mothers, and how will this impact on our own future?

These questions were the matrix of Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love.

If you’re in Sydney, come hear me talking with Steve Biddulph, one of the world’s bestselling parenting authors, about Mama, motherhood and attachment parenting. We’ll be speaking at Mosman Library on April 23 at 7pm to 9pm, and there will be wine and yummy food. Bookings are essential, and can be made through Pages & Pages Bookshop in Mosman.

I’ll be speaking at Readings in Hawthorn in Melbourne on May 30 at 12pm. Bookings are essential here, too, and the cost of tickets is redeemable against the cost of the book.

And, if you’re on the North Coast or in the Tweed Heads/Gold Coast area, do join me at Lennox Head Library on May 6 at 10am. As the revolutionary Michelle Shearer of MamaBake will be introducing me, the morning should be a lot of fun.

Do tell all the mothers – and fathers, and grandparents – you know to come, because there will be a lot of questions, conversation and fascinating debate.

Other events will be announced in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.

The new year unfolds // homeschooling


We resumed homeschooling yesterday. The shift was significantly less odious than returning to school, but still a jolt. Monkey was extremely peeved about having her pleasure-reading schedule interrupted (“WHY do I have to do MATHS again??!”), and not exactly cooperative as a result. After another complicated start, today was easier. We drafted a chronology of the English language, Monkey wrote her Venetian penpal a letter in Italian (“Ti piace Cluedo?”), and then she drew a female faun (above) before launching into reams of equations.

“I wish I could just draw all day,” she sighed.