In the children’s cartoon film, “The Little Mermaid”, the evil sea witch Ursula is plotting to trap Princess Ariel, in order to manipulate her father the king into giving up his power to her, Ursula. Ariel falls in love with a human, which is forbidden, and Ursula sees an excellent solution to her plans. “Oh, it’s too easy!” she cackles. As someone who is in her fourth year of writing Notes from the Underground, sometimes one feels just like Ursula. Sometimes it really is just too easy, and Great Leader is really opening the floodgates here. A recent interview he gave was a classic, priceless gift to many friends, fans and foes alike: how mothers are the most important people in children’s lives, especially “good mothers”. The clip one saw had another playing alongside it: one of Great Leader’s first wife. It’s a particularly interesting visual, especially given Great Leader is currently married to someone else, who is also a mother. Perhaps she is not a “good mother”? Because it seems only men are deciding who wins this special medal while at the same time conveniently absolving themselves of all paternal culpability.

The rhetoric of “mothers are the ultimate supreme grand influencers of all humanity and must be revered and idolized” is annoying, exhausting, sentimental, limiting and patently, completely and entirely untrue. It is true that mothers, by and large, are the central figures of their children’s lives—but how much of that is because they are, willy nilly, the only parental figures in those children’s lives? More often than not, this Mother Angel narrative is trotted out by men, who use it to escape responsibility when it comes to the daily, grueling and boring hard work of raising children. It’s the mothers who are packing school lunches, telling the kids to wear their shoes, to do their homework, to finish their dinner, to stop hitting each other. The mothers are the ones being woken up in the middle of the night when someone has a nightmare or a stomachache, despite the father being asleep right there too—kids don’t want Abba. They want Ammi, because Ammi is the one does the emotional labour. Ammi knows which child can’t have Panadol because they hate the taste. Ammi is the one who knows the best friends, who remembers the birthdays, who knows the teachers. Even kids know this, and instead of realizing this as a reason for fathers to double down and interact meaningfully and consistently with their children, many men prefer the cop-out of sexism.

But it’s a woman’s duty, you say. It’s a woman’s job to do this. Well, who decided that? Patriarchy, that’s who. Male or female, the presence of functional reproductive organs does not imply one’s only purpose in life is to use them. And what gives Great Leader any authority to make judgements on the virtues of motherhood, particularly in the context of feminism? Is he a mother? Is he a feminist? It seems one would have to say no to both. It is a common way to dismiss feminism and its extremely valid concerns by calling it a tool of the West, thereby irrelevant to us, and again you’ll often find men doing the dismissing. Many feminists of colour have their differences with the western canon, but none of them will agree with foolish misinterpretations such as Great Leader’s, that feminism has damaged motherhood somehow. Of course, one can see what terrifies about the idea that women should have agency, and that biology does not dictate maternal instinct or desire to use said biology and procreate. As a feminist mother I will make sure my daughters and son are afforded equal opportunities to school, healthcare, nutrition and love. A feminist mother is less prone to tolerate toxic behavior from others, such as violence or not being allowed to work. Feminism has educated women and men alike about the importance of prenatal care for pregnant women, for example. More girls are in school now because of feminism. Because of feminism there are legal protections for women, many of them mothers, who suffer violence and assault. Feminism has given working mothers maternity leave and daycare and has highlighted the constant labour, paid and unpaid, that all mothers put into raising families.

To the Great Leader, this is degradation of motherhood. What he obviously doesn’t recognize—and perhaps this is why his marriages don’t last—is that confining women to one definition of worthiness is the actual degradation. What he also seems be throwing out with the bathwater is the revolutionary idea that children have mothers and fathers for a reason. Fathers do not exist only to claim children as heirs or as walking banks that pay for everything. Fathers are just as responsible for the raising of their children as their mothers are, and out there in the world exist fathers who are present for their children. There are fathers who put in the emotional work and are an essential part of their children’s lives as parents, not figureheads. Children are not only shaped by their mothers, but also, enormously, by their fathers—by their presence and absence, both. It’s lucky for Great Leader that his sons are being raised primarily by a strong, independent and probably quite feminist mother. Leaves him free to judge all the rest, because it seems that now being a father is woman’s work too.

 

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com