I’ve been asked recently why we have created this exhibition. Why do these stories matter?
It’s such a lot of work, what is it that keeps me and my mum going, working late into the night to make it all happen in return for a tiny (but admittedly very welcome!) grant from the Arts Council?
Here’s my answer - or at least, one of them! It’s also my answer to why I didn’t participate in the #twittersilence (a protest against twitter’s lack of ability to deal with abuse towards women) and went with #inspiringwomen instead.
For all the lip service paid to the 'family' agenda by politicians, mums' voices are ignored. With immediate income the only measurable evidence of our worth to society, we remain invisible. We are 'encouraged' towards paid work, whether we want it or not, to survive - as tax credits are 'rebranded' and quietly removed, vital early years support systems eroded, and an evidenced need for additional midwives ignored.
We are labeled "a family nation" when they need our vote, and branded as unworthy of society's support when they don't: "single mums", "young mums", "stay at home mums", and the quickly dismissed voices of "hobbyist mommy bloggers": our complex lives reduced to an easy sound-bite. Short term party politics offers no incentive to make a change that lasts a childhood.
Mumsnet is consulted by government - does that impact change, or is it just another PR story? Mums who have suffered great pain and loss become inspiring voices for important campaigns, but sadly they are in the minority - their tragedies sell papers. Celebrity mums are only seen, mostly in bikinis, to assess how quickly they achieved or failed to achieve immediate post-baby weight loss. Another way to make us invisible, smaller, lesser, too distracted by our 'failing' bodies to act.
What of the rest of us? Doing nothing exceptional. Apart from creating a whole human being, maybe more than one. Bringing them up, teaching them, investing in our global future at its deepest damaged roots. Facing loss, facing pain, facing joy, facing change. Loving with a heart the size of a house. Every day. We create people, people! There are few things more amazing than that everyday miracle.
But as we read bedtime stories to our children before we work into the night, we are not heard. As we push our buggies through town struggling to balance our waning budgets, stressed children and economy shopping, we are not seen.
I appreciate the lie-in and the flowers and the home-made cards, but Mothers' Day does not give me a voice. (Yet somehow it's enough to recharge a maternal love so strong that I will continue in the face of any difficulty for another year, ignored and unheard…)
I know that many other groups are equally voiceless in society: dads, women who are not mothers, and many more. Mothers are just my undervalued area of expertise.
Is it that we are so busy loving our children and doing our best in spite of it all that we don't have time to protest? Or that we have been unappreciated and ignored for so long that we don't believe we deserve to be heard?
Even more bizarrely, from where I sit at story of mum, I can see that mum bloggers are quietly changing the world. They are running social media campaigns for charities and transforming big business’s approach to marketing. Crafters are turning craftivist. Mothers are finding our voices online, being heard by each other. The brave and the confident are nurturing community through building virtual 'family' with love and compassion.
It's a tiny drop of perfect poo in the giant nappy mountain of all the mums whose voices are not being heard, but great things grow from manure.
That's the why. Story of Mum: Mums making an exhibition of ourselves is our attempt to create a communal loudhailer, to share our stories so that others can understand our point of view, so that we can all understand each other.
We are celebrating all that mothers do. The miracles, the mess, the challenges and the joy. Our diversity and strength. Our vulnerability and wisdom.
We're telling our stories in paper chains, in photographs and poetry, in precious parts of our identity pinned to a washing line. For the past two years, we have been gathering everyday mums’ stories online, and now we’re taking them on the road. Into galleries and public spaces.
We welcome any mum with a story to share. Our virtual tour is gathering more stories, connecting mums worldwide, bloggers and non-bloggers alike.
Together, mums are stepping out of the computer to be seen and heard.
And as for the politicians? Well we all know that yelling doesn’t work with children. But maybe we can tell them a story.
This month our story is our bodies. Join us to create a shared Ode to Mum-Bodies.
Or come and see us at our next exhibition stop at The Exchange in Penzance, Cornwall from 12 September to 10 October. More info here.