A Mother’s Fierceness

I was recently interviewed for The Sydney Morning Herald and the resulting piece, A Mother’s Fierceness, ended up being published in ‘as told to’ style yesterday, without the interviewer’s questions included. (It was not actually an article I wrote, as some perceived it to be.) The topic appeared to hit a nerve with many parents. In the interview I spoke about the common stereotype that women become soft when they have children, and my belief that motherhood often has the direct opposite effect. Here is an excerpt:

‘I have a fresh fierceness, for lack of a better word. I am fiercely protective of my family and also the world we live in. For me, there is a new level of engagement with the world, in part because I care deeply about what I will leave for my daughter when I pass on. I have always cared about social issues and world events, but never more than now.

I remember one headline when my seventh novel was published soon after I became a parent. It was: “Moss softens as new mum”. I wondered about the basis for that headline. How, exactly, had I softened? At the time, I was hosting a crime show about psychopaths and criminal gangs, and I was writing the violent crime novel that would become Assassin. It seems like a curious automatic reflex for many people to describe women as ‘softer’ the moment they are mothers, as if childbirth and having a vulnerable little person to protect does not self-evidently have the direct opposite effect.’

Read the rest at The Sydney Morning Herald online.

Personally, I believe we conflate maternal love with softness, and we conflate the feminine – including motherhood – with weakness. This dismissal of women’s strength puzzles me, as it ignores the fierce protectiveness of mothers and the many examples we have of extraordinarily strong women – mothers and non-mothers.

What do you think? If you are a parent, how did the experience change you?

* UPDATE: I have received this response online:  ‘Soft is stronger than hard. Soft is flexible. Hard is brittle. Soft is not weak. Soft is not derogatory.’ – Niki Pidd.

I love this response and the idea of ‘soft’ being a compliment. Unfortunately, common usage and dictionary definitions of ‘soft’, when applied to a person and not an object, are not so admiring. Here are some of the reasons the term, when applied to women and mothers, grates on me:

adjective

- (of a person) weak and lacking couragesoft southerners

 informal foolish; sillyhe must be going soft in the head

- sympathetic, lenient, or compassionate, especially to a degree perceived as excessive; not strict or sufficiently strict: the government is not becoming soft on crime

adverb

-  informal in a weak or foolish way: don’t talk soft

Definitions from the Oxford dictionary.

3 Comments

  1. My personal experience as a dad, husband and human being is that nothing is so admirable as a mother’s strength. It is not the kind of strength that a man will use to control another, it is the wonderful power of strength with forethought and love. The strength that stands firm against threats, that sacrifices for the benefit of those that are loved. I don’t think of that as Soft or Hard, I see it as everything that can be positive about power. This is why I believe the world needs more leaders who are women, to counterbalance the overuse of controlling strength by many of our Male leaders. Where are the Ghandi’s of the world? They have been raising the next generation and ensuring that there is one.
    A gentle hand is not a sign of softness, but a warning sign of the strength to smack down anyone who would threaten the coming generation.

  2. Dianne

    Thank you for your article and yes I agree there is nothing stronger than a mother’s love; a gentleness. I am totally with Christopher’s above comment as well and can go on and on about this subject and how we’ve allowed this misconception throughout our modern times. Lao Tzu says it so eloquently -
    “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

  3. Michelle

    I can relate greatly to the new-found ferocity that arises when we are protecting something we love. I’m apparently going through what my friends call “baby fever”, whereby almost everything I do is calculated on whether or not it’s going to benefit the child I’m desperately waiting for. Similarly, are seeing it as feminine, as my giving up on my life or career, but I’m feeling the opposite. I feel like now I know I can work harder, I know I can do better, because it’s not just me I’m living for. I’ve become more certain of my paths, more active in my passions, and far stronger-willed (in order to counter the ever posed “But you’re so young, how could you want a child?”)
    So maybe we ‘soften’ in order to just be more tolerant of the world around us, but I know I’ve never felt stronger than I do with the image of my little one in my head.

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