Dear Kandy, Courtney, Charlotte, Benjamin, Ben, Eleonora, Grace, Hazel, Kimberly, Otto, Clarrisa, Debbie, Keltie, Anna, Cameron, Delea, Ellen, Helen, Jenny, Laun, Lucy, Mandy, Mary, Rachel, Rebecca, Ruth, Sherona, Tina, Toyah, Claire, Genine, Georgie, Heidi, Kate, Li, Michelle, Noemi, Rebecca, Rhiannon, Sarah, Victoria, Becca, Ray, Ruby, Sara Marie, Viccy, Suzy, Jenna, Rosie, Leonie, Cariad, Cristina, Faith, Hilary, Lily, Liz, Lizzy, Lydia, Sam, Ruth, Sarah, Rebecca and everyone one else too,
There is something that I have noticed happens increasingly in both professional and commercial contexts: “Dear Matilda,…..” begins the email, letter, text which is trying to sell me something, persuade me to join a cause, or tell me that my story has not been short listed. The script that follows is the same script that is being sent to thousands if not millions of others. It is not in truth addressed to me but by using my name as an opener it makes it sound as if it is personal, as if someone, somewhere cares about me enough to write. Sometimes the cause is a good one but nonetheless it bothers me, this co-opting of a personal tone for professional ends, because it seems hypocritical – the personal gets such a bad name, until it is useful. It makes me think of the wolf, dressed up as grandma – looking sweet, ready to pounce. So I thought I would try to do this differently, to be transparent about writing the same words to all of you. I intend to write you individual replies but it is going to take me a long time because there are many of you – 65 in total –and I don’t want to leave you waiting months. Anyway there are some things I want to say to all of you. Here they are……
Firstly a huge thank you. It has been extraordinary to receive and read your applications for the role of producer for Mothers Who Make. It has been moving and startling. You made me laugh, cry, feel outrage, passion and amazement. Above all it has been incredibly humbling, again. I say ‘again’ because this has been the story of Mothers Who Make all along. I set out to do something small, low impact, straightforward – start a local group for some creative mothers, raise some funds, recruit a producer – and the response each time was such that the process became profound and far-reaching. I never expected so many applications. I never expected so many people to want the role or to understand the initiative with such depth or to engage with such generosity and commitment.
Not all of you are mothers. I was impressed by the men who applied and by the women who are not mothers but who have the vision to support this mother-centred movement. Most of you however are mothers, and there was one thing that struck me about you - the same thing that often hits home when I am sitting in a Mothers Who Make meeting. It is simply this: how much you are doing. Often the mothers in a meeting are apologetic for how little they are currently making and then as they talk further it transpires that they are engaged in epic endeavours - training for a marathon was one example from the last meeting, but it is a good one because marathon-running is such a symbol of heroic effort and so many of us have figurative marathons to run. The phrase a ‘mother producer’ is a tautology. Mothers are producers – we produce milk, meals, clothes, wet wipes, stories, songs, comfort. We produce people. It is a staggering feat. But on top of that, on the basis of your applications, I know that you are also producing plays, dances, books, companies, websites, records, workshops, exhibitions, venues, networks, art galleries and more – there is a stunning breadth of skills, experience and abilities amongst you. I would, seriously, love to hire you all.
However, at present I can only pay for 1 producer so there are 64 of you who will be disappointed. In a professional context what I am currently writing is referred to as a ‘rejection letter.’ It strikes me now as a strange phrase since it sounds intensely personal, ‘rejection’ being the word used when an offer of love is turned down, when a suitor is jilted or spurned. You have, many of you, made me an offer of love and the very last thing that I want or need to do is to reject it. Quite the opposite. Since I am in the business of re-inventing how business might be done, what I am writing to you now is a letter of invitation, not rejection. I am not trying to dismiss any disappointment you may feel in not getting the role of MWM producer. This is not a booby prize (though why the word ‘booby’ has come to connote a poor comfort instead of a rich result is in itself revealing!). I am entirely serious in my invitation to you. In many ways the role of producer is a small one – 5.5 months. The role which I am inviting you to take on is far more vital and longer term than that. Let me explain…
I have been thinking about the ‘Me Too’ campaign. A common ‘me too’ narrative is this: a man in a position of power has been unprofessional, has ‘got personal’ in an undesirable way. Until recently this was acceptable. People turned a blind eye. The ‘Me Too’ campaign is the process of un-blinding us all. But there is another kind of blindness still at work. When a woman is labelled as unprofessional, as having ‘got personal,’ a likely narrative is this: she has become emotional, or she has become a mother. In other words she has introduced an element of care into a less-than-caring context. MWM aims to begin to foreground and give credence to this form of ‘me too’ narrative and to ask what what it would be like if ‘getting personal’ in this way could be reframed as positive, rather than it also being deemed as undesirable or even offensive. My invitation to you is to engage with me in this research.
As I explained in my ‘unoffical job ad’ letter, I never intended to found a national network. It has been powered entirely by you – people-power. We now have a tiny injection of funds. The money will not last long and while I hope we will use it well to achieve a great deal it is not the thing that will make MWM grow. You will. Your stories. Your engagement. Your valuing of your mothering and your making and of each other. You are the ones who will be the producers of MWM, along with everything else that you are already, incredibly, producing.
I am inspired by La Leche League, the international organisation, that supports women through the many challenges of breastfeeding. It is run by volunteers, by women who care enough to show up and help another woman learn to breastfeed. It began with a small group of women at a picnic. Two of them were breastfeeding and the others expressed an interest and said how they were sad they had failed to breastfeed their children. Now it is huge. In the last year alone over 25000 women have been supported by it across the world, via meetings, helplines, online enquiries and more. Maybe MWM will one day have a reach this grand, or maybe not, but either way I believe passionately in the power of the impetus that lies behind both LLL and MWM.
So here are some things you can do – both practical and then less tangible. Some of you, I know, are doing them already. If you are a mother you can attend a MWM meeting. You can start a MWM hub near you. Whomever you are you can tell others about the movement. Many of you have said that you are good at all the things I am not so good at, like social media. You can use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – all of this, to spread the word.
And then here is the less tangible, yet even more extraordinary thing that you can do. You can be unprofessional, by which I mean you can care with pride. Value your care for your children, for your making, for each other, for anyone. Sweeping statement coming up…..I really believe that if anything is going to save the world it will be this: an incremental yet momentous shift in valuing long-term care over short-term gain.
I read a stunning blog this morning by a mother who is also a climate scientist. It was about the sea, about how she takes her son to the beach on the train and how she knows that in doing even this much she is participating in a system that is warming our oceans, how this will impact on her son and how terrifying this is. The sea is on my mind. My daughter is on my lap, breastfeeding. It is another Saturday in another coffee shop, as it was when I wrote to you before with my ‘unofficial job ad.’ I may not be inviting you to be my producer, but frankly that is a drop in the ocean. I am inviting you, collectively, to be the ocean - a sea of change. We need it.