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motherism

noun [uncountable]

prejudice or lack of respect towards women who stay at home to look after their children and do not go out to work

motherist

adjective noun [countable]

'Motherism: A prejudice which leads stay-at-home mothers to be viewed as stupid, lazy and unattractive … He came out this week in defence of the stay-at-home mother, telling a conference that motherism should be tackled in the same vein as racism is.'

Mother & Child 28th October 2013

'Do stay-at-home mothers upset you? You may be a motherist …'

The Guardian 21st October 2013

As a mum myself, and therefore on the basis of some degree of personal experience, I can confidently agree with the assertion that stay-at-home-mothers are all-too often viewed rather disparagingly by the professional community. And now it seems that there's a way of pin-pointing this phenomenon. If, unwittingly or otherwise, you tend to think of full-time mums as a bit 'second class' in their approach to working life, then you're apparently guilty of motherism.

this entrenched lack of respect, now dubbed motherism, can mean that relative to their professional counterparts full-time mums are held in lower esteem and regarded as less interesting individuals who've taken a downwards step both socially and intellectually because they've elected to stay at home

In autumn of 2013, issues surrounding maternal childcare hit the spotlight when a leading child development expert asserted that a combination of political and economic agendas had led to a growing prejudice against stay-at-home mums. Such derogatory attitudes often suggest that full-time mothers are unintelligent, unattractive and just plain lazy because they're not in formal employment. This entrenched lack of respect, now dubbed motherism, can mean that relative to their professional counterparts full-time mums are held in lower esteem and regarded as less interesting individuals who've taken a downwards step both socially and intellectually because they've elected to stay at home. This motherist attitude has moreover been exacerbated by the financial circumstances of average families, who are finding it increasingly difficult to survive on one income and so need both parents to work. This trend, coupled with a political agenda which champions paid work as a boost to the economy, has, it's claimed, engendered a growing negativity towards those mothers who do by contrast look after their kids full-time.

Background – motherism

The use of motherism as a description of prejudice against stay-at-home mothers is attributed to Dr Aric Sigman, a biologist and psychologist renowned for his commentary on parenting issues and the merits of traditional values. Following the derivational pattern of racism, sexism, etc, there's also some evidence for use of motherist as both an adjective to describe such attitudes and a countable noun for people who perpetuate them.

Sigman's use of motherism/motherist is not the first appearance of these terms however. Historically, there's evidence for use of motherist as a generic reference to principles or individuals that advocate motherhood (following the pattern of feminist, womanist, etc). These different incarnations of motherist serve as a clear example of the two opposing meanings of the suffixes -ism and -ist – on the one hand they may indicate ideological support (feminism/feminist) but on the other they can also denote prejudice (racism/racist). These suffixes continue to be productive in both senses and new examples pop up relatively regularly – examples from the last few years include rawism/rawist, advocating the principle of only eating raw, uncooked foods, and singlism/singlist, describing prejudice towards people who are unmarried or don't have a partner.

There's another new -ism which has hit the headlines recently but, unlike motherism, it adopts the sense of advocacy rather than prejudice. Based on use of the word austerity in relation to solving economic problems, austerianism is an economic theory that advocates slashing government spending and cutting deficits during a time of economic weakness or recession. Its supporters can be described as austerians.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

Last week …

Read last week's BuzzWord. Phubbing.

This article was first published on 17th December 2013.

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