Tara with baby Sapphira, born in February 2011.
The only thing that motherhood has softened is my curves.
I have a fresh fierceness, for lack of a better word. I am fiercely protective of my family.
I'm also fiercely protective of the world we live in. For me, there is a new level of engagement with the world, in part because I care deeply about what I will leave for my daughter when I pass on. I have always cared about social issues and world events, but never more than now.
Tara Moss taps into her far-from-soft side as an author and mother. Photo: Gavin O'Neil
I remember one headline when my seventh novel was published, soon after I became a parent. It was: "Moss softens as new mum". I wondered about the basis for that headline. How, exactly, had I softened? At the time, I was hosting a crime show about psychopaths and criminal gangs, and I was writing the violent crime novel that would become Assassin. It seems like a curious automatic reflex for many people to describe women as ‘softer’ the moment they're mothers, as if childbirth and having a vulnerable little person to protect doesn't self-evidently have the direct opposite effect.
I think we confuse maternal love with softness, and we confuse the feminine (including motherhood) with weakness, and the masculine with strength. 'Man up' and 'grow some balls' are common phrases, as is 'don’t be such a girl'. We are still regarded by some as the ‘weaker’ sex.
Honestly, I’m not sure why we ignore the distinctly strong and protective aspects of women and mothers. It seems illogical, as we have so many examples of strong women who are both feminine and tough.
Male protectiveness is well understood, particularly in jokes about a father’s traditional protectiveness of his daughters. I imagine fatherhood is different for every man, as motherhood is different for every woman - and I'm reticent to make broad generalisations about gender, because I believe that's been part of the problem - but aren't all parents protective of their children?
Women should absolutely celebrate their strengths, vigorously and often. More news stories, novels, films - even statues – that celebrate female achievement and strength would be a good thing, because according to every statistic we have across mainstream media and the arts, there is a disproportionately low representation of, and celebration of, women. We can and should change that.
I wish I’d known, when I was younger, that there are so many wonderful mentors and inspirational women we don’t hear about. Inspiring women are everywhere, but I shouldn’t expect to find them on popular celebrity magazine covers. I’ve learned to look further afield.
The role models our culture celebrates and the messages we give young people and young girls do matter. Plenty of studies have shown this. But ultimately, the real people in women’s lives are the ones who are most likely to influence them. Mothers, friends, teachers - these are the people who have most shaped me, and I am grateful for every one of them.
This article first appeared on smh.com.au.