Picture credit: Oleg Breslavtsev/Getty
Artillery Row

A mum’s place is in the Irish constitution

Ireland’s constitution is rare in protecting mothers, so why change this?

It might be Ryan Gosling who’s up for the Oscar this weekend, but it was America Ferrera who won hearts and minds across the country for her performance in Barbie. Her iconic monologue — prefaced, “it’s literally impossible to be a woman!” — proved relatable to the experience of females across the globe. 

You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people.

The embattled words resonated. Women took to the internet to testify to their own struggles with the impossible balance of the feminine and the feminist; embodying social strengths and ideals while balancing success both at home and at work. Sure, Barbie is “everything”. But do we all have to be it all, all the time? Isn’t that exhausting? 

As depicted in the opening scene of the pink summer blockbuster, the original Barbie franchise was birthed alongside the sexual revolution. The doll sparked aspirations in young girls to be more than “just” housewives. Barbie wasn’t a baby doll for them to “mother”’; she was a miniature “boss babe” who could be anything her owner might imagine, from an airline pilot to president of the United States, just depending on her clothes. 

In a world of plastic fantastic, she can be anything. Except one thing. 

A mum. 

In fact, in Greta Gerwig’s Barbieland, “Midge” — the only ever Barbie to be married and pregnant — is the outcast — discontinued by Mattel, we’re told, because she’s “just too weird.” Why would Barbie be a mum when she could literally be anything else? 

Barbie might ascribe to that view. But real human females aren’t made of plastic. We’re human, and we’re different. Few of us survive on the thrills of career alone. When “Stereotypical Barbie” (Margot Robbie) decides at the film’s conclusion to become incarnate, a cinematic montage reveals what she truly desires. Not a seat on the Supreme Court — not a  cartoon romance with a Ken doll — but the deep, meaningful and life-giving ties of a family. The joys and the struggles and the laughs and the tears of raising a child and helping them navigate through life. 

Human Barbie craves what hundreds of generations of women have found meaning and fulfilment in before. Motherhood. 

The “boss babe” cultural narrative of the past 50 years has culturally diminished the value of mums, praising women who slave at their desks to pry open the doors of boardrooms, and dismissing those who would rather stay home to raise their children as “backwards” and “lazy”. 

It works for the girls who want to be CEOs. But lots of women have jobs, not careers, and would much rather find a balance where they can be committing time and effort to raising the next generation of citizens.  

In fact, few of us actually enjoy the glamorous life of a responsibility-free Barbie. The “boss babe” model simply means we’re expected to achieve miracles in the home and the office, all at once, relying on an invisible, undefined, magical dose of girl power. 

With exceedingly limited financial support and social recognition for their work in the home, many women feel overlooked and undervalued. A recent study estimated the monetary value of home-and-child-care — based on the costs of staffing the everyday jobs of a full-time parent, including cooking, cleaning and bringing children to various activities — to be worth €54,590 per year. It’s a figure that 90 per cent of people surveyed underestimated. Women in the study were far more likely to accurately guess the value of the work.  

For the most part, womens’ role as “mum” is unnoticed, though essential, labour.  

The Irish Constitution upends this norm of the modern West. Where most countries have forgotten to value women in all their unique capacities, the Irish were phenomenally progressive in attributing social recognition and legal protection to the caregiving roles that a majority of women have at least some hand in. Article 41.2 of the Constitution reads as follows: 

… the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. 

The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.

These are progressive provisions that many British women would give their right arm for. Decades of so-called UK “maternity policy” has been geared towards getting us back in the workplace as soon as possible after birth. An unforgiving family-unfriendly tax system puts pressure on both parents to work every hour available, outsourcing childcare.  

More than a third of UK working mums with children under four would prefer to stay at home full time; and in Ireland, it’s two-thirds. The Brits ultimately fail to provide women the choice to focus on motherhood at a crucial point in their life and that of their baby’s. The Irish do protect this choice; at least in theory. They should advance this in practice. 

Yet on International Womens’ Day, the Irish people will take to the polls to decide whether to delete Article 41.2 of the constitution. The language would then be replaced with a gender-neutral alternative, obliging the State more vaguely to support care within the home and the community. It might seem like a small tweak. And certainly, there are some men who play a significant role as stay-at-home Dads. But the male and female experiences in the workplace, home, and society-at-large are different. The pressures placed on a mother are unique, and in the vast majority of cases, its she, having birthed the child in an experience that no man can replicate, who then navigates the delicate balance of work-versus-family. Womanhood should not be erased from the Constitution. 

Ireland has made radical changes to their law and society in recent years based on support for a woman’s alleged “right to choose”. Why will they now remove support for women’s choice to be a full-time mum? 

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