Vanessa Olorenshaw speaking on MAHM Panel at Feminism in London October 2015

Posted in: MAHM Blog






Thank you Mel and MAHM for inviting me to speak on this panel, I am very grateful for the opportunity to use my voice today.

For those of you who don’t know who I am, I am a mother, feminist, an activist, a writer, a reader, a thinker and a wiper of noses and arses. Voluntary work too.

BUT, to the political class, I am a waste of space, a throwback to a time of economic dependency and a symbol of the powerless woman, entombed in the private sphere doing the shit work of house, home and children.


This led me to writing a pamphlet called the POLITICS OF MOTHERING. I wrote it for the very simple reason that as a woman who is a mother, who wants to be the one doing the primary care of my children – the breastfeeding, the day to day nurture – I AND MANY OTHERS LIKE ME am treated by mainstream society, and dare I say it parts of feminism, as wasting my talent, letting the side down, being a drain, not contributing to society or productivity, NOT fulfilling my POTENTIAL, not BEING A GOOD ROLE MODEL and more.


We are heading towards a situation in which those mothers for whom being a mother is important and significant are being BETRAYED, that the status of MOTHER is being ERASED, starting with the language we use – PARENTING and ending with the POLICIES we implement.

The POWER of women in their ability to grow a person, birth a person and breastfeed that person, has been so DOWNGRADED that we cannot see value in anything unless there is a pound sign on it. SAD PLACE TO BE. NEOLIBERALISM is truly sucking the life out of our wellbeing – and we are forgetting the importance of family, care and time.

So, I write about mothers and politics on my blog and on Huff Post, and I am a founding member and now AGITATOR of the WOMEN’S EQUALITY PARTY. I was on their policy working group where I tried, along with MHN and GWS both of which represent significant numbers of mothers, to encourage them not simply to be the WOMEN EMPLOYEES EQUALITY PARTY, to no avail.


I am a feminist. This is where I get all radical.

My feminism is borne out of the desire to see women being liberated from oppression, from chains to male created and centred economics, from being confined in private, nuclear boxes in which they are deprived of the village women need and flourish in, if only our society valued it. Which – it doesn’t.

I am interested in feminist economics and the work of academics and writers who are trying, in our neoliberal, capitalist society, to raise the very notion that WHAT women do when what they are DOING is mothering is work. It is valuable work.

What I find fascinating is the ethic of care. We are all dependent on other people at some point in our lives. Even those who are proud of their independence are likely to be depending on somebody else for food, clothes, cleaning or childcare. And this all informs my feminism and the fire in my belly to write and speak on this issue.


I read books about women, written by women, because as feminist I see women’s voices erased from history, wherever you look.

I am interested in evolutionary theory and the ANTHOPOLOGISTS history of the human race, MAMMALS when that history is the history of women and children. I want to see how the female of our species traditionally mothered out children – we did not do it alone, we had help, we had a tribe, a village. We most likely breastfed, to our and our children’s normal needs, and we held our babies close. We may have been working in production of food, or in making clothes or in the fields, but our babies were never far away, our tribes of trusted sisters, mothers, nieces and older daughters all ensured we had support.

That, since industrialisation has basically disappeared. We are now expected to compete in cold economic world which has no time, place or patience for maternal love, or the needs of children.


Equality for women is deemed to be “get the men doing half”. And I believe that fathers who take on more nurturing roles and who perform their duties as parents rather than as providers who disappear for the majority of the week, are a good thing for women, the children and for themselves.

However, this is inappropriately bastardised into women want and need liberating from motherhood. After all, how often have you heard the phase “burden of motherhood” or “mother penalty”?

Whereas, if we talk about liberation, justice, fairness and humanity, we could be striding towards reshaping our society, our values and our demands to ensure that human values, human needs and human desires are accommodated AND PRIORITISED within our society. WOMENS LIBERATION NOT FROM MOTHERHOOD BUT FROM PATRIARCHY

And that must include the desire of many women to mother their children, to take time out of the workforce for a short time to raise their children, and to have support for doing so.


If we talk about fairness, we would make sure that any woman re-entering the workforce after time out would not be penalised by the system If we want to reduce woman’s economic dependency on a man, we would NEVER take away child benefit from any woman – it was won by women for women it is our birth right and one of the first major feminist victories. A fact forgotten.

If we wanted to make sure a woman did not become vulnerable to a man whether it be through financial, emotional physical or sexual abuse, we would never tolerate her being deprived of an income or stipend or a safety net in her OWN RIGHT. But we do.

We do so in tax, in allowances, in the welfare state.

We did not recognise her place as a person of value, doing work of importance.

Because we are busy looking at the boardroom.

We are busy looking at quotes for leadership.

We are told to lean in, when, as Nancy Fraser says, to lean in inevitably means leaning on someone else to INEVITBLEY LOW PID WOMEN do the stuff at home, or the raising of the children.

We forget that women’s rights are human rights, we forget that women’s rights must include mother’s rights. BELL HOOKS AINT I A WOMAN.

I wrote recently that a feminism which ignores mothers who mother – rather than combine with labour force participation – is a feminism which has bought at ticket to great show, but has left after the compere. Well, to me, this panel, at Fem in London, represents, at last, and thank you to the organisers for platforming this, the main event, the headline act.


Writers such as Barbara Katz Ruthann and others – talk about the fact that capitalism, technology and patriarchy are at the root of the oppression and poverty of women who are mothers. And amen to that.

We are more than a payee code. Our bodies perform something amazing, our hearts fuel the souls of our children, for the rest of their lives.

Patriarchy has enlisted too many women, too, to try to shake off the mother issue, to denounce it as unimportant, and patriarchy continues to assault the rights of mothers in the removal of children whether permanently or into childcare.

The prevailing discourse seeks to elevate EYFS to superior to the care a loving and good enough mother can provide.


The oppression of mother is the oppression of women.

Now you can either take the view that being a mother is something which will and should inevitably mean deprivation for a woman from status, participation in public life, financial security and authority; OR you can decide to do something to change this fate for something experienced by the vast majority of women in their lives. Respect the fact that women want control over their own lives, and how they live it, they want financial respect and support for their families.

We have reproductive freedom, to varying degrees around the world. We are not harnessed to 10 children every 2 years, with little or no escape or breadth of wider experience or education.

This very fact that we have a short window in our lives in which children are dependent, combined with the fact that women spend millions in western countries trying to get pregnant through IVF and other fertility procedures, must suggest something about the yearning and value of becoming a mother to many women.

We are expected to show up and conform. But what will things look like in the future for women who actually want to be with their children more. We do exist. I don’t want a future where my daughter and her children cannot have the freedom to taste loving maternal nurture.

Money can’t buy that.


Affordable childcare has its place. Those women who want to be out of the home have my support, and the support of wider society in 21 set century

However what is a crime, what is misogyny at its highest, is the forcing of women to part with their children against their wishes, so that they can get out there and DO SOMETHING OF VALUE. What is sexism is a system which has no flexibility in allowing for maternal care.


I wrote a while ago that as women we can rock the boat but we cannot build a new one.

Feminism must discover the mother, come home, give her a hug, and get out there to demand that our system listen up when mummy is speaking. Because right now, mothers are silenced, we are persona non grata, and we are neglected by left, right, neoliberal politics, liberal feminism, WEP, trade unions and society generally.

This has to change. I and other women in the field of maternal feminism are seeking to build a new boat and we are CALLING you on board.  IN the words of wise women. The time is NOW.

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