Mummy, where’s your gene gone?
Here we go again. Following on from ‘mummy wars’ involving everything from stay-at-home mothers versus working mothers, breast versus bottle, cloth nappies versus disposables, attachment mothers to cry-it-out mothers, we have a new way to divide women when it comes to motherhood.
Following a recent study, scientists at Rockefeller University in New York say they may have found a single gene which may be responsible for motivating mothers to protect, feed and raise their young.
The ‘mummy gene’, no less.
By suppressing the gene in question in some female mice, researchers found that the mice spent less time licking, nurturing and caring for their little mice babies.
Now, I’m no scientist and I’m not an expert in genetics, but I’m slightly suspicious of this ‘finding’.
Not least because it immediately gets reported like this:
“Rory Delaney is a three-year-old who has not been out of diapers that long, but she already knows something about changing them.
“Her sister, Saorise, is a five-year-old kindergarten student who already knows what she wants to be when she grows up, a mom.
“Now, researchers…say the inclination that both Rory and Saorise feel at such a young age to nurture and feed their baby dolls and play with items like strollers could be something they were born with, and something that will definitely impact their futures.”
Aside from being confused as to what kind of mother gets her three-year-old daughter to change nappies (does she contract her out to daycare centres or what?), my immediate response is, so? My three-year-old knows something about doing a cracking Liam Gallagher impression, but I’m not convinced he’s going to grow up to be a swaggering Mancunian with a bad attitude and a dodgy haircut.
Speaking as somebody who never as a child so much as picked up a doll unless it was to ‘experiment’ with it by decapitating it, or throwing it out the bathroom window (y’know, to test gravity), and who could count on the fingers of one hand the amount of times I’d even touched a baby before some ignorant midwife plonked one of my own in my arms (terrified? you have no idea), I feel it’s only right I should warn my kids that they were a terrible mistake.
A crime against nature, no less.
It seems harsh, so I probably won’t bother. They’ll find out soon enough they’ve been short-changed in the mother department. It’s genetic, see?
Reporting aside, I’m still suspicious.
Scientists have so far found it exceedingly difficult to isolate a single gene to explain something as nebulous as ‘behaviour’, invariably finding such things are governed by complex interactions between several different genes. ‘Finding’ one gene to explain whether or not a woman has children, or adequately cares for them when she does, just seems… unlikely.
More importantly, the possession or otherwise of a single gene is largely meaningless in itself in terms of how you’ll behave. As the great Cordelia Fine explains in her book, “Delusions of Gender”:
“When it comes to genes, you get what you get. But gene activity is another story: genes switch on and off depending on what else is going on.
“Our environment, our behaviour, even our thinking, can all change what genes are expressed.”
Which means that mice – not known for thinking like humans at the best of times – artificially manipulated in a controlled environment, may not tell us much at all about how a single gene expresses itself in women.
You know, those actual, human women who may express a desire to have children or not because of a thousand different reasons, and who may find the care of those children satisfying or soul-destroying depending on an equally varied number of reasons.
Despite this completely obvious fact, we get this from the study’s leader, Ana Ribeiro:
“Our studies certainly show that the type of receptor, or the total lack thereof, alters the ability to be a ‘good’ mother,” Ribeiro said.
So somebody’s finally managed to define what a ‘good’ mother is? I missed the memo it seems. I don’t know about other mothers, but I for one don’t spend any time at all licking my children. Clearly mice mums are one up on me already.
Told you I was missing the gene.
Far from telling us who the ‘good’ mothers are, the study only really tells us that any ‘evidence’ that seeks to divide women, that seeks to reduce us to our ‘biology’, is still considered ‘news’.
And from where I’m sitting, that isn’t news at all.