This Mother’s Day, as you were probably celebrating the wonderful female identified person(s) who raised you and/or brought you into the world, the Iona Institute saw fit to post this. What a lovely blast from the recent, pre-May 22nd past! Right at the top of the article is one of those delightful posters the Iona people put up during their campaign against human rights in the run up the marriage referendum. There’s the Virgin Mary and child, minus the biblical get-up, and the self-aware pink-for-a-girl, blue-for-a-boy text. Hmm, I wonder what David Quinn is trying to say? Could it be that men and women are different species, ergo children need exactly one mother and exactly one father. Well look who’s still hopelessly out-of-date! Yes, Catholic Church, I’m looking at you. But no, don’t take my word for it, or the word of 62% of Irish people(1), let me take you through it step-by-step.
Men and women aren’t different species. But boys have penises and girls have vaginas, you say. That I’ll grant you, but there’s a little bit more to people than their sexual organs, isn’t there? Yes, there are other observable differences between men and women, including behavioural differences which seem to define men and women into two distinct and (stereo)typical categories. But haven’t you noticed that we’ve paired back a lot of that nonsense in the past hundred years? In Ireland today, women have vastly more opportunities than their grandmothers did. Many more women are educated to higher levels and many work outside the home in every sort of area. Of course, we haven’t reached full equality between the sexes yet, but the trend is generally going in that direction, don’t you think? Thus I put it to you that those differences you observe aren’t set in stone as we once thought (and you still think), but are the product of social conditioning and controls that are slowly being driven out. Therefore, men and women are not nearly as different as you might think. Crucially, both sexes are human beings and have equal capacities for love.
Children don’t need exactly one mother and exactly one father. If women and men aren’t so different, why would they? Well for Mr Quinn, everything is black and white. Mothers are either unique and essential to child-rearing or indistinguishable from fathers. However, many things which are neither identical nor crucial influence children like whether they take up a musical instrument or join a sports team. Either or both could be good but you wouldn’t say that a child who didn’t do one of them was deprived. So here’s the grey bit, parenting isn’t necessarily gender-neutral. Yes childhood is a precious and influential time and children’s rights as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are important. Children have a right to love and care but not to a weekly cello lesson. And that’s the point about parental gender. It might be a little bit different if your parent(s) or guardian(s) are men, women or both but lots of things about your caregivers also make slight differences to your experience like their age, income, cultural background etc. Insofar as your relationship with a parental figure is a bond between human beings of course their identify, including their gender identity could influence that. However, if we accept that men and women aren’t so different and that both have the essential capacity for love and caring, then it’s obvious that all a child needs is a loving parent or parents of either gender.
Why celebrate Mother’s Day? I never thought I’d say this, but I can agree with David Quinn in one respect, Mother’s day is out-dated. It’s a relic from a past time when mother and housekeeper were the only acceptable roles for women. Emily Allen in the Telegraph writes (2):
“The day has long been associated with mothers, and family... it was custom for people to return home to their ‘mother’ church on Laetare Sunday – the middle of Lent... The day often turned into a family reunion and a chance for children working away from home...spend time with their mothers.”
Of course, if you had been raised almost exclusively by one parent, spending day-in, day-out in their care, learning from them and bonding almost exclusively with them, you would have a closer relationship with that parent. And since the vast majority of people had this closer relationship with mothers rather than fathers, of course we as a culture have mythologized motherhood and given it the “special value” that Quinn argues we are now denying. In fact, what has this “special value” is parenthood. The gender-neutral “loving parent” whom Quinn derides is the person with the power to care for and nurture a person through the most influential phase of their development, childhood. And yeh, that’s pretty amazing. It deserves to be celebrated. Should we scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in favour of one joint day? We could, but there’s no compelling reason to do that. It’s just another traditional holiday that we might set up a bit differently if we were doing it today but does no harm in its present state. Never mind the strong pull of tradition! So let’s ignore Mr Quinn and continue to celebrate our treasured, hypocritical day in peace.
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