Put down the pitchfork

I wasn’t going to write about it. It seemed everyone else had written about it. I made a passing comment on Twitter and my mentions became unmentionable. Inevitably the suggestion that I don’t love my children popped up, by a mother of five no less…

I thought – that serves me right for talking about it. Even in the most gentle way. I’d simply said I wanted to hug the mother of the little boy who fell in the gorilla pit. I’ve thought about her often since the event. I am scared for her. I’m scared for her physical safety. And I’m scared for her mental health.

Often I find myself feeling overwhelmed by the few horrible comments I get on Twitter or in my inbox or here in these comments. The ones that say “I feel sorry for her kids” because I made a comment they didn’t agree with. It’s the easiest insult because it hurts the most.

But what would it feel like to be the subject of memes where they use racial slurs against you and say you should be shot? What would it be like to have other mothers screaming that your child should be taken away? What would it be like to hear there is a fucking petition to try to get all of your children removed from your care? To read over and over and over again that you’re a piece of shit. That you’re neglectful scum. That a gorilla is a better parent than you?

What would it feel like to have your entire life as a mother erased in an instant? Every kiss goodnight, every lunchbox prepared, every game of peek-a-boo, every blanket tucked in, every cuddle, every hand pressed to a fevered forehead? All gone.

When would all of those horrible, hate-filled voices become your own? As you recover from the most traumatic and terrifying thing you’ve ever been through? As you try to parent through this?

I wouldn’t be able to cope. No way.

And I’ve looked at all of this – this hatred and hysteria – and I’ve felt a deep fear.

If you think you could never be that mum you’re wrong.

Any misstep you ever have as a parent, any moment as a mother, any time you are less than perfect – you’re at risk.

If someone sees you, if something happens – you could face what this mum is facing now.

Because this is the society we are living in. The braying mob is waiting. They need women to tear apart and mothers are great for this.

Because we fuck up. We all do. Show me a mother who hasn’t ever fucked up. Show me a human being who has never fucked up.

And they’re ready to catch us and begin the punishment.

This isn’t about a gorilla. It’s about the need for a mother to be publicly and seriously punished for not being perfect.

And race absolutely does come into it. This will be a far harsher attack because this little boy’s mother is a woman of colour.

And every time we say “that would never happen to me” we’re putting another stone on the pile. Ready for it to be flung at her. To cause as much damage as possible.

When you say “that would never happen to me” you’re really saying:

Dear god, I hope that never happens to me.

When you say “I have five kids and I never turned my back on them once” you’re really saying:

I have to imagine that this isn’t something that could have happened to me.

Because of course you do. It isn’t as fun to tear another human being apart if at the back of your mind you know that it could have been you.

This is the same reason why women disbelieve other women when they talk about rape. If you believe it doesn’t happen often or at all, that it’s an anomaly – this violence against women – you believe that it won’t happen to you.

We think we can magic up a world where we are safe. Where our children are safe. A fair world. A just world. A world where there’s no way people will talk about us and say that we are neglectful and we deserve to have our children taken from us.

If we judge others. We might not be judged.

If the crowd is busy hanging this woman. They won’t see my inattention or my imperfection or my failures and attempts and fuck ups.

But they will. It’s luck of the draw.

And if it happens to you – they won’t care that you were one of them the month before when someone else was being punished.

You won’t be one of them then.


And what does this do to us a society? When our default isn’t support for mothers and care and empathy and compassion? When we don’t ever even attempt to understand the nature of children? When our default is hatred and seething madness? When people are frothing with excitement when a mother fucks up?

It was hard enough when as a parent you were concerned about what age you should start solids, whether your child was getting enough sleep, if they were reaching milestones…

It was even harder when you had to deal with everyone having an opinion on everything and that was difficult when it was people you knew.

Then it became people you didn’t know who for some unknown reason really cared about whether you breastfeed or bottle feed your baby and what type of car seat you have and is that a jolly jumper?!? And then there was how you get them to sleep – the only thing you can be sure of there is that you’re doing it wrong.

THAT was bad enough.

And now you add infamy and weeks of public flagellation and death threats and petitions.

What impact does this have on mothers?

We’re trying to build villages and they’re being burned down.

What can we do?


It’s that simple.

When you start to say that would never be me consider if that’s really true.


Cuddle your baby. Finish the washing. Go back to work. Call a friend.

Don’t contribute to this hate and don’t contribute to this culture.

We probably can’t end this mum-shaming and this hatred of women. But we can at least not participate in it. We can at least extend a hand to those who are being destroyed and say:

It could have been me and that scares me – but I won’t join in and I want you to be OK.

We are not different you and I. Don’t let fear divide us.

16 Comments on “Put down the pitchfork

  1. Thank you so much. The reaction this tragic story has generated has been troubling on a number of levels. Firstly, as you say, the horrific judgement of the mother which is totally uncalled for, especially by anyone who has had or looked after kids and knows how quickly they can escape even when you are watching them. Second, I may be wrong but I have not seen much reflection about what a difficult situation the zoo staff must have been in – no matter what you think of zoos, most people who work with animals care a lot for them and I don’t know but I imagine this must have been so hard for them – and also the storm of judgement afterwards too. And third, what happened was really awful but the sudden worldwide concern for a single gorilla in the face of apparent apathy and inaction about rapidly shrinking numbers of many kinds of primates… it’s just so sad and frustrating.

  2. My 1st thought was how poorly was the gorilla enclosure fenced if a 3 year old could climb over and over that fast.
    My swimming pool has to have better fencing.

  3. Well said! Leave the poor woman alone. I’ll never forget the time I was in Myer and looked away from my toddler for – I swear – all of 2 seconds to reach a high shelf item, only to turn back to look at him and he was gone. It was the most terrifying 5 minutes of my life before I heard him giggling under a display table that was covered in a tablecloth. Apparently, we were playing hide and seek!! I had very quickly gone from semi concerned to banshee screaming mum, to OMG he’s gone! And I am a very attentive mum who only had one to look after in a virtually deserted store. It happens!!

  4. I was terrified when one of my girls disappeared at the library. I raced over to the main desk and asked them to broadcast an announcement. “Oh no, we couldn’t do that.” Why not, I cried. “Because she might not be safe if we did that.”

    Fuck! I pointed to the major road outside the door and nearly screamed. She’s my child! Put the message out!!!

    And then we found her. She has disappeared in an instant. But she was safe.

    I feel so much for this mother.

  5. I felt exactly the same way and felt for the poor mum. No mother would want their child to fall, regardless of where it is. And no mum would wish for this particular incident to happen to their worst enemy. Well said.

  6. I’m really glad you wrote this. It’s exactly how I feel. Thank you.

  7. I love this. Yes yes yes!!! It could have been anyone of us, where is the support, too much mudslinging goes on when we aren’t that clean ourselves. I know it’s fear but it breaks my heart. I’m a mum of 4 and my youngest can disappear in a heartbeat he finds it a game and I find it terrifying. So I know. my 2yr old daughter has run away from me while I was sleep deprived pushing my newborn in the pram and I’m just lucky someone grabbed her before she reached the road because I tripped and fell and he then grabbed the pram too because I wasn’t on the ball that morning. It can happen to anyone, be thankful for your babies just like I am, a momentary lapse is all it takes we are human not perfect no matter how hard we try to pretend we are. ❤️

  8. First thing I learned as a parent is I knew nothing and others knew just as little (thanks to our privilege of having an extraordinary baby). And now, I know all we can do is try, try and try again. Everybody can judge, but, with a little empathy, everybody can also stop judging…

  9. This is spot on. Society today is about the antithesis of support and love and if makes me fear for my sons future. There will have to be one hell of a grassroots movement to stop this vicious cycle once and for all. A freak accident occurred and NO parent anywhere is above a freak accident. Period.

  10. Thank you for a thoughtful examination of the reaction of the angry mob against this mum. I cannot imagine what she went through when she saw her son with Harambe and in the moments it took to rescue him. The angry mob reaction is so completely over the top. I fear for her safety mentally and physically. She will have PTSD from this. Her son too perhaps, although he may not realize quite the danger he was in. Social media has its good side and its bad side. We are seeing its worst side.

  11. Well said x so many people so quick to judge and it’s amazing how wonderful these people seem to think they are!

  12. Wow. I can only assume that these people who NEVER lost sight of their multiple children must have had them all tied together on a chain gang or something. In which case, ‘I feel sorry for their kids’.
    The reality is, there but for the grace of god goes every single one of us who has the care of a child.

  13. Well written. Scary and accurate. Big hugs to you X

  14. Well written and said. I’m a divorced woman previously married to an airline pilot who was gone 4-5 days a week and I have ADD (finally diagnosed in early 40’s) and think that subconsciously did not have children because I would very likely become that mother (trying to pretty much raise my children on my own while married to airline husband with ADD, which I didn’t know what it was, just knew my limitations). Thank you for saying what everyone else is afraid to say.

  15. So sorry you have to deal with this. I’m a writer and have had to deal with trolls many times. I just discovered your site and love it. It’s hilarious. I am pretty sure Twitter is the worst place for trolls. You’re right on in controlling the comments on your blog/site. It’s your right. As for the Gorilla thing, as others have said, my first thought was why in the heck is it possible for anyone to get into this enclosure?