I've just completed a module on a Psychology Degree at Open University. I had to write a thesis on how the media constructs meaning as to what a working mother is. As a journalist I was viewing and analysing newspapers and magazines I regularly write for so it was interesting to evaluate essentially a 'voice' which is at least some of the time, my own - albeit heavily edited by the editor.
I was working with three other women to discuss the tools the papers used to create meaning and the debate became heated not because we each agreed with what the papers were saying or took sides with what the papers were saying but recognised that what was being written about was nothing to do with the reality of being a mother, let alone a working or non working mother.
The tools media - thats broadsheet, tabloid, regardless of politics use - is the same. They use guilt rhetoric - some admittedly more than others. The Daily Mail, aimed predominantly at a female market used emotive rhetoric to create a sense of working mothers abandoning their children in the home when they could have been baking cakes Mary Berry style, although 'statistics' showed that when they weren't working and at home, they spent very little extra 'quality' time with their children. 'Statistics' and 'quality' came up a lot in these articles, written by professional single men or professional women who made a profession out of writing about parenting. The Guardian used a working woman, mother who organises seminars for working mothers to get back into the work place, but predominately high powered ones. The Telegraph focused on statistics and how George Osborne was trying to get working mothers back into the work place. There was also another piece using scientific evidence about how damaging working mothers could be on their children although this wasn't conclusive in any way as there was also conflicting evidence. The Telegraph talked at you, the Guardian talked to you and the Daily Mail talked about you. None of the articles were constructive in their argument because there was no constructive argument - it was for both the broadsheets and tabloids - sensationalist and irrelevant.
Experts were used a lot to suggest value in what they said, as an authority that knows more about your behaviour and values as a mother than you do. Re read that sentence. Someone is telling you they know more about your situation than you do. And lots of government bodies and think tanks were included, quantifying and evaluating that 15% of mothers wanted this and 10% of mothers wanted that.
Then there was the 'them' and 'us' scenario, as though working mothers were against non working mothers and 'we' (whoever category the media put you in) were dismissive of the other life choice other mothers had decided. Were we? There were non working mothers and working mothers amongst the group - although we all decided that actually it was irrelevant if we were in an office or not, because we all worked in very different ways - none of which were compartmentalized/described accurately in the articles despite the presence of experts/statistics and that this 'them' and 'us' scenario didn't actually exist en masse. In fact a lot of the way the media compartmentalised mothers was considered irrelevant. There are so many more 'compartments' or rather there are none at all. we are individual its just like the media like the politicians has to put us in boxes even if you don't fit into any of the boxes.
And lastly, the media uses ideologies about the perfect mum. Which we decided not only doesn't exist but has never existed and is not aspired to. The cross between a Mary Berry cook, with her happy family, and the celebrity culture of being there always for your children and being torn between being there for your children but also there for your self, your career, your future. And oh, yes being there for your husband.
And the husband and dad had no impact on the children according to the experts, although the statistics proved he did, and that if he was absent then the child suffered, which was the mothers fault. But the bar was set so low for the dad that he scored a team point just by getting out of bed, not beating up the wife and playing with the child occasionally.
I was left with the distinct impression the media knows nothing about mothers and reflects an impression of them that is totally unrealistic, irrelevant and irritating. Mothers, all of which work, have far too much to do and get on with than worry about if they not doing enough or doing too much or concentrating on one area than the other. They do not, and should not worry about what anyone else is doing, because when they focus on their own child and no one else's they get it right. The media we decided don't create a social conscious, they attempt to nurture guilt, an image of a mother which is totally unrealistic and has a voice that has no place in parenting.
So next time you read in a newspaper or magazine telling you, as a mother, what you are like, how you should feel, what you should do, and which 'box' you fit into to, realise that its not you. Even if it says it is. And has experts and statistics and politicians to prove it. Not that I know what I'm talking about of course. Although I did get an A.