Mother’s Day is a hard day for so many women, but it’s time we threw out the old definition

The journalist leaned towards me over the cafe table, compassion in her eyes, a dagger on her tongue.

“You don’t have children,” she smiled, tilting her head sympathetically, “so when you hear someone like Cate Blanchett say that you really can’t understand what love is until you have a child of your own, how does that make you feel?”

All the long walk to this interview about the new ABC TV Breakfast program I had been asked to anchor, I had fretted about being asked this question.

I knew it was coming. It seemed you simply can’t sit down with a childless woman over 40 and not ask her why she had none. What had gone wrong? Did she not want them? Had she been trying? Did she regret not having a family?

And then — the one blow all those little slashes had been leading to: could you even feel like a real woman without a child of your own?

I knew it was coming. I just didn’t expect it in the form of Queen Cate.

What if I had gone through cancer and chemo? What if I’d miscarried – once or over and over? What if I didn’t want children? What if I was fostering, happy in the understanding that the child would return to functioning parents? What if it was all none of her damn business?

There were of course a dozen answers I could have given this soft-eyed sadist but none I could offer honestly or with conviction.

I was in what felt like year 75 of a never-ending war against infertility, and I was losing. Her needling went to the heart of the longing I nursed. I couldn’t answer her for fear of the pain that would pour out.

The assumption in her question was breathtaking. I should have been furious. Instead, I stumbled some sort of answer and dragged myself home — hollowed-out, chastened. Childless.

Closing the door behind me at home, my step-son Tim asked me how the interview went and I told him about the deathless question.

He blinked at me: “Why didn’t you just say you had us?”

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday, and while it’s always important to recall that this day has become just another calculated retail opportunity, that doesn’t soften its capacity to sting.

It is a hard day for so many women. Women without children who wanted or lost children; women without their mothers; women who care for children but aren’t admitted into the pantheon of motherhood, which is now realised in the impossibly perfect Instagram ideal of beautiful cherubs heaped around happy mums.

The construction of that perfect female ideal had even got to me. Tim was right. I had been lucky enough to have the three wonderful children of my husband in my life for years before our son came along, and yet somehow those precious relationships were never enough to silence the questions I had been fending off from others for all that time: why don’t you have children of your own. As if they were the only kind who mattered.

The right to claim these young people as my own children never really felt like one I had the privilege to make. Until Tim’s beautiful question allowed me to see that I could.

I know women who mother with their every phone call, card, or message to the child of someone they love, with their every visit, every special trip to the cinema, every shoulder they offer to someone to cry on, every wise bit of hard-learned advice they share.

There are a thousand ways to mother, a thousand kinds of mother and they don’t all look like the ones in your Facebook feed.

So — to all the women who provide love and care and support for children: the aunts and the best friends, the neighbours and the kindergarten teachers, the co-workers and the carers, those with, without or around children, tomorrow is a day for you too.

You are all the mothers of the kids of the world. Happy Mother’s Day.

Speaking of those glossy images of perfect motherlove, this weekend we take you into the wild world of the influencers – in all its paid-for glory; we spend some time reflecting on 100 days of Joe Biden (it sure is a lot quieter around here these days) and don’t ditch that vinyl collection! You know there is gold in there …

Have a safe and happy weekend and while I figure out a way to use this column sometime soon as a vehicle to discuss the quite extraordinary television experience that is Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen — DC Comics meets searing race politics — allow me to hook you in you with the music.

Trent Reznor, the founder of the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, is now a celebrated and much-awarded composer for film and TV scores and he has created his own alternate musical universe for the series. Here’s the dark doorway into this place – don’t look back.

Virginia Trioli is presenter on Mornings on ABC Radio Melbourne and the former co-host of ABC News Breakfast.

Thank you for dropping in to My Local Pages and checking this post on “News in the City of Melbourne titled “Mother’s Day is a hard day for so many women, but it’s time we threw out the old definition”. This news release was presented by MyLocalPages as part of our current events and news aggregator services.

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Facebook friends are fun. Real ‘friendship’ has a stronger definition.

I have 194 friends, according to Facebook. That’s not many, by Facebook standards. In the United States, users have an average of 338, according to the most recent statistics, and the platform caps the number at 5,000. Few of my online friends are friends in real life, though, which dovetails with the research of evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar. Whether a person has 50 Facebook friends or 5,000, Dr. Dunbar has found that “only 15 [count] as actual friends and only five as close friends.” Today you can “friend” people with the touch of a key, even if you’ve never met in person.

Etymologically speaking, friendship is much more intense. Friend is an Old English word, derived ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European root pri-, meaning “to love.” In OE, friend (someone you love) was the opposite of fiend (an enemy, someone you hate).

Many friend words arose from the importance of shared meals. Companion, first used in the 14th century, is literally “a person with whom you eat bread,” as it comes from the Latin com (with) plus panis (bread). Mate, another 14th-century term, originally referred to a person sitting next to you at dinner, sharing the main course, meat. Now mate is used more generally to mean “friend” (especially in British slang) or “one of a pair” (e.g., the bird’s mate brings food).

Shared lodging also gave rise to several words. In the 17th century, university students who lived together on campus were called chums, short for “chamberfellows” – what we’d call roommates. While roommate does not imply anything about how the space-sharers get along, chums are close friends, though the word itself now has an old-fashioned ring to it. Analogously, soldiers who bunked in the same tent were comrades, from the Latin camera (“chamber”).

Bedfellow marked perhaps the closest kind of friendship. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, beds were scarce, and most people slept next to someone else out of necessity. Because of the intimacy of lying next to someone in the dark, bedfellows often became what we’d call “best friends” today. “Bedfellow” was even a socially recognized category, akin to “partner.” One family recorded a visit from “my Lord of St John’s bedfellow,” and the Countess of Oxford complained that a social climber had wormed his way into her son’s affections: “John Hunt has impudently presumed to be his bedfellow.”

The history of these words draws a picture of friendship as loving and intense, conducted elbow-to-elbow and face-to-face – pretty much the opposite of what happens on Facebook. While social networks can be valuable tools for communicating with people we love but rarely get to see, I’d still rather visit with a couple of my chums.

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LGBTQI conversion therapy bill to be put before ACT Legislative Assembly amid concerns conversion definition is ‘too broad’

The ACT will tomorrow seek to pass a bill that would ban any practices or therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual or gender identity.

It is welcome news to people like James Collier, who suffered decades of conversion practices, including at the hands of a church group in Canberra, before making the decision to transition to a male body two years ago.

“This is genuinely going to save lives,” said the 52-year-old, who was told his discomfort with the female body he was born with resulted from a bout with polio as a toddler.

“It was explained that these wrong feelings were because I was broken and damaged by the polio and the polio had damaged my nerves and that’s why my body felt like it was an alien creature,” Mr Collier said.

“You get taught to hate all the most authentic things about you and that is genuinely soul destroying.

Conversion therapy is based on the theory that a person’s gender or sexual identity can be changed or suppressed through practices ranging from psychiatric treatments such as electro-convulsion therapy, to counselling therapies, to spiritual intervention.

Under the ACT’s proposed Sexuality and Gender Identity Conversion Practices Bill, conversion practices used on protected persons — such as children — could attract up to a 12-month jail term or a fine of $24,000.

It also provides for civil penalties, giving the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal the power to issue orders against people complained about, and order redress and compensation.

The bill defines sexuality or gender identity conversion practices as “a treatment or other practice … the purported purpose of which is to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity”.

Under the bill, practices related to supporting a person who is undergoing or considering a gender transition are not banned.

The ACT will seek to pass a bill to ban any practices or therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual or gender identity.(Flickr: Charlie Nguyen)

Mr Collier said the bill was crucial to stop reorientation practices happening underground and in some religious communities.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said his Government had been “consulting with a range of stakeholder groups, both survivors of conversion practices and a wide variety of religious organisations — many of whom have expressed support for the legislation”.

But concerns that the Government’s definition of conversion therapy is too broad have been raised by several groups, including the ACT Law Society and the Association of Christian Schools.

School warns bill could ‘criminalise parents and teachers’

Canberra’s Trinity Christian School last week sent an “urgent and important” letter home to parents saying the bill was too “broad” and, if passed, would threaten their education model and “potentially criminalise parents and teachers fulfilling that guiding role”.

It encouraged parents to contact their Legislative Assembly members to call for a public inquiry.

Trinity Christian School letter to parents
Trinity Christian School sent this letter home to parents ahead of the bill being put to parliament.(Facebook)

The Australian Association of Christian Schools (AACS), which represents Trinity Christian School and Brindabella Christian College and is working with four other faith-based schools in Canberra including the Islamic School on this issue, provided advice on the letter.

The AACS’s director of public policy, Mark Spencer, said it did not support “the kind of coercive gay-conversion that people talk about”, and that the letter was sent to parents because the AACS was concerned “about the vague and imprecise nature of the definition of what constitutes sexuality and gender conversion practices”.

“It’s not clear in the legislation and the legal advice makes that abundantly clear,” Mr Spencer said.

“[We] also want to make sure parents can continue to talk to their children about issues such as this.

“This bill has the potential to criminalise parents and teachers across Canberra, if they are going about the normal processes of parenting and teaching.”

AACS is calling for specific amendments to the bill, including limiting the definition of sexuality and conversion practices to health providers, similar to legislation passed recently in Queensland.

It also wants specific exclusions for professional counsellors, members of a religious community, and family and friends who are providing advice to anyone with questions about their sexuality or gender identity.

Mark Spencer looks at the camera
Mark Spencer from The Australian Association of Christian Schools has called for amendments to the bill.(ABC News: Claire Moodie)

Conversion therapy definition ‘too broad for criminal conduct’

The ACT Law Society said that some of AACS’s concerns could theoretically be possible under proposed legislation.

“They’ve constructed a definition that potentially includes practices that could be otherwise regarded as schooling or education,” criminal law committee chair Michael Kukulies-Smith said of the proposed bill.

The ACT Law Society said they strongly supported the policy intent of the bill, but also raised concerns about what they described as a “too broad and vague” definition of sexuality or gender identity conversion practice to be a proper basis for the proposed criminal offence.

Mr Kukulies-Smith said the fact that the exceptions to the definition listed were “twice the length and amount to 50 or 60 per cent of probably what would be covered by the definition, that just does not seem like good law”.

A suited man talks at a podium into a microphone.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr says the legislation will not be “watered down”.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

If the Government pushes ahead with imposing criminal penalties for conversion therapies, the Law Society suggested the offence should be limited to situations that involved coercion, and suggested conversion practices could be controlled through regulation.

In the ACT, individuals working with protected persons must be the holders of a Working With Vulnerable People Card. The Law Society suggested an alternative to creating a criminal offence could be the revocation, or ineligibility, for people who carry out conversion therapy for this accreditation.

Mr Kukulies-Smith said this would be an effective deterrent preferable to the imposition of a further criminal offence; it would also be a preventative measure.

“The criminal law is a blunt instrument when it comes to modifying behaviours. Not every legislative initiative needs to be supported by an offence provision,” he said.

Barr says legislation would not be ‘watered down’

Alistair Coe in a suit outside the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Opposition Leader Alistair Coe says the issue was debated in other jurisdictions “for many months”.(ABC News: Dave Sciasci)

Opposition Leader Alistair Coe accused the Government of “ramming” the legislation ahead of the upcoming election.

“In other jurisdictions, including Queensland, they sent this issue to a parliament inquiry that looked at it for many months,” he said, adding that the Canberra Liberals would propose amendments tomorrow to make sure the legislation did not “criminalise parents for having reasonable conversations with their children”.

Mr Barr denied the use of “conversion therapy” in the bill was too broad, but said he would consider adding examples to the legislation to clarify the community’s right to religious freedom and expression under section 14 of the Human Rights Act.

Mr Barr said the element of coercion was already “well encapsulated” within the legislation and would be even clearer with the addition of the amendment.

“I also need to be clear that it is not watering down the legislation,” he said.

“There have been some very practical suggestions put forward that we will be undertaking, and that is to add some further examples in the legislation and the explanatory statement.

“There is no place for them in a modern society.”

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How one woman got the Merriam-Webster dictionary to change the definition of racism

Merriam-Webster has agreed to change the definition of racism in its dictionaries at the urging of a US woman who felt the current definition wasn’t up to scratch. 

Currently, Merriam-Webster defines racism as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”.

But recent university graduate Kennedy Mitchum, 22, said she has often found herself in heated arguments about racial inequality where people will pull out a dictionary as “proof” that they are not racist.

“I kept having to tell them that definition is not representative of what is actually happening in the world,” she told CNN.

“The way that racism occurs in real life is not just prejudice, it’s the systemic racism that is happening for a lot of black Americans.”

Ms Mitchum wrote to Merriam-Webster last week and was surprised to hear back the next day from editor Alex Chambers, who agreed to update their definition.

“This revision would not have been made without your persistence in contacting us about this problem,” Mr Chambers wrote to Ms Mitchum.

“We sincerely thank you for repeatedly writing in and apologise for the harm and offence we have caused in failing to address this issue sooner.”

Recent university graduate Kennedy Mitchum.


Merriam-Webster said it is now drafting and updated definition that will go into further detail about racial discrimination and bias in time for the dictionary’s next edition.

Ms Mitchum said she appreciated Merriam-Webster agreeing to update its definition and hoped it would lead to more production conversations and race and prejudice.

“I was super happy, because I really felt like that was a step in a good direction for a lot of positive change for a lot of different positive conversations that can really help change the world and helps change how people view things,” she said.

Merriam-Webster describes itself as “America’s leading and most-trusted provider of language information” with more than 40 million website visitors each month. 

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