Mark’s Categorical Stupidity Explains Why Left Feminists Don’t Like Latham

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I have it on very good authority that Mark Latham had a particularly hard time giving birth to his last child. When I say ‘authority’ I reckon mine’s about as good as his on depressive mothers.

This entails speaking, taking his cue, directly out of my bottom. Latham knows a few things about those as well. During his stellar but somewhat aborted political career he discoursed on kissing them, licking them and most famously choreographing them.

However, when it comes to passing children, clots and afterbirths, Mr Latham found himself lacking the appropriate channels. You see, he was labouring under the misapprehension that parenting is something women and men do.

In fact women do this other thing called mothering. Parenting is when the work of caring for children is shared to the point of effacing any distinction between the gendered roles of mother and father. Parenting sadly remains a utopian ideal.

Now all ‘parents’ know it’s important to make the distinction between their children, whom they love unconditionally, and their children’s behaviour, which sometimes makes them swear, shriek things only their own mothers have been known to say, and on probably one or two occasions, throw things.

A similar distinction was made about mothering decades ago by Adrienne Rich in her magisterial Of Woman Born: Motherhood is both an experience and an institution. It’s the institution (I’m old enough to just call it Patriarchy) that distorts the experience of mothering, leaving an as yet unstatisticated majority (I suspect) of us mothers chemically enhanced.

It isn’t our luminous-eyed, miraculous, hilarious, curious, infuriating, perfect, sweet, soft, scented children that ‘push’ us onto anti-depressants. They and their velvety rose-petal ear-lobes and their plump Angel feet and their little piping song are our reprieve and solace. It is unsupported, isolated mothering that literally drives us bonkers.

You can see my method here. I’m making distinctions. And they are hardly hair-fine. What Latham did was indulge in categorical thinking, blunt and broad, and as I will show, he rather boxed himself in. I‘ll leave it to the next generation of accomplished, nimble-minded and sharp-witted feminists to eviscerate Latham on his three lines of attack. Suffice to say:

‘People like’ us ‘have children in the first place’ in good faith that there will be adequate supports, like affordable childcare, so after the 1-5 years of intensive, and yes preferred mothering, we can forge a staged path back to the work in which we’ve invested usually over 10 years of training, not to mention onerous HECS debt, etc etc.

We expected to find the balance Latham has found, of still contributing to the world, of a genuine partnership with the people whose love inspired us to mother, only we don’t have a parliamentary pension to buy us the time to garden and cook gourmet meals.

Shall I even dignify the accusation that we ‘don’t like children’ with a response? Get F*cked Latham. I’d say that about covers it.

Ditto for ‘popping pills as an easy way out’, except this is beyond a stupid assertion; it is dangerous.

Now Latham isn’t the last Labor leader whose brilliance for a brief shining moment carried the hopes and aspirations of ‘people like us’, but whose erratic narcissistic machismo soon raised questions about their mental health. Mental health, we ought to know from veterans (if not former male Labor leaders), is not a personal failing, rather it arises from systemic failure.

Let’s return to Latham’s give away phrase ‘people like them’, for his supercillious outburst depends entirely on contriving a category of women – inner-city left feminists on anti-depressants. I’m that type!

Now that we’re all clear about who we really are, duly defined yet again by a man, we surely deserve our own acronym. ICLFOAD is rather unwieldy, but luckily when it comes to women we can always fall back on that covers-all-bases, Bitch. What’s to stop us embellishing that, with Crap Mother Bitch – CMB.

I have elsewhere – she says with lofty intent – written about types, typologies and typecasting. This work includes sentences such as; ‘Typecasting is a pervasive logic and an entrenched cultural habit, one with fractal-like hooks that can slip under our skin and into the very morphology of identity’.

I describe typologies as ‘conjoined descriptive orders’ in which the ‘networked categories’ of types are ‘nested’.

Unable to restrain myself I venture into the ‘Foucauldian archaeology of classification’ and the ‘transferral of categories across knowledge registers’.

I calm myself down a little by acknowledging that from Galen to Myers-Briggs, the precedents for typecasting confirm, if we were still in any doubt, that perception itself ‘is essentially a process of classification’ (Hinton 2000, 31).

Now, if I talked to my children like that, a mandatory report would prolly be in order. But since we are among grown-ups, I do think it’s important to note the ‘asymmetry’ (sorry, I can’t help myself) that goes with typecasting.

Generally it’s the ‘dominant’ who bundle minorities into categories, and they are usually denigrating, sometimes fatal.

Recalling here Latham’s invocation of parenting as one of life’s great responsibilities, let’s stand that against a line from Rich; ‘Those who speak largely of the human condition are usually those most exempt from its oppressions – whether of sex, race, or servitude.’

So when white male heterosexual blah blah you know the type, create taxonomies of social kinds, they usually do so to put us down. Until minorities identified them as white male heterosexual blah blah, they were ‘unmarked’. As we can see with Latham, they remain so unto themselves.

I can’t resist returning the favour by coining a category of my own. We’ve all met FalalaFathers haven’t we? They sally forth at BBQs, limpid-eyed on the oceanic plenitude of ‘parenting’, while their bleary-eyed ‘partners’, the one’s actually doing it, smile weakly at their sides.

Now Latham, we must concede, doesn’t quite fit the type. We have to credit him with doing the hard yards, and doubtless being a superlative Father. But with uncharacteristic self-reflection, even he knows he is the exception, a man reveling in the daily minutiae of kids, exciting the jealousy of other wage-slave Dads.

Deferring to nested categories we can say Latham is in the 2 per cent of fulltime primary care fathers, because he’s also in the probably even smaller percentage of Australian families who can survive on one wage.

If there is one systemic failure that ‘pushes’ Australian mothers onto anti-depressants it is this: Housing prices mean we can no longer live on one wage, and workplaces remain too inflexible to accommodate carers. Latham does not know how right he is when he tells us like we didn’t know, it is indeed a privilege, Sir, to look after our children.

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Liz Conor

Liz Conor is a columnist at New Matilda and an ARC Future Fellow at La Trobe University. She is the author of Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women, [UWAP, 2016] and The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s [Indiana University Press, 2004]. She is editor of Aboriginal History and has published widely in academic and mainstream press on gender, race and representation.

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