WHEN is a terrorist not a terrorist?
Apparently when his mammy says he's not. Such is the power of mum-led narrative that, when we talk about Gary McKinnon, who this week dodged extradition to the US by the skin of his teeth, we talk about a hapless UFO hunter while glossing over the smaller details. Such as America's claim he hacked into 97 US military and NASA computers between 2001 and 2002, closed down the US Army's Military District of Washington network of 2000 computers, and deleted weapons logs that stopped the supply of munitions to the US Navy's Atlantic Fleet shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
While looking for UFOs, his mum admits, he also helpfully pointed out flaws in US security systems by leaving instructive messages: "Your security is crap" and "US foreign policy is akin to Government-sponsored terrorism these days," but they were just "throwaway remarks," she clarified.
Whether he did or he didn't is not for the likes of me to decide but it's telling that campaigning by a woman with no more claim to authority than the title "mother" has skewed the debate so fully. Think modern mother, think battalion of Cath Kidston-kitted battleaxes, baking and knitting and opining on matters they view through a reductive prism of self-bestowed privilege...why? Because they feel reinforced by childbirth and infused with authority absorbed from reigning over their wee ones. The ones who start sentences with: "As a mother..." I'm looking at you, Mumsnet.
Politicians need to play to the female vote so they latch onto the most easily homogenised whole and defer to it as a means of being "in touch" with women. The Tories quiver before mothers, reminded of their childhood nanny, fashioned from well-padded iron. Mumsnet, the parenting website, cemented the deal in 2010 when it became a party political battleground with Labour and the Tories both advertising on the site. It has countless times been canvassed for opinion, backed or lambasted government decisions and why? Because it's made up of mums.
Don't get me wrong, I love mothers. I have a fine one myself. But when did "mother" become shorthand for "expert on domestic and foreign policy, morality powerhouse and top boss"? Being a mum is important; it is not a qualification.
Louise Mensch, ex-MP and feminism's embarrassing auntie, played the mum trump card to fabulous, smug effect. Remember her grandstanding at a select committee hearing because she had to leave to pick up her kids? And, in the end, quitting politics for the sake of her children. Motherhood is the political equivalent of the perfect murder; it's unarguable, it's unimpeachable. "I'm doing it for my children," the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card.
I am all for making female voices audible, particularly at a time when the sexism debate has resurfaced and should be held, but women who have reproduced are not the only women worth listening to. Accepting the mother trump card sends out the message that only women who are mothers care or can care.
Frankly, I'd rather have a barren but clear-eyed cynic on my side. Let's face it: mother does not always know best.
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