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.