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Leunig's phone-mum strikes back



Hi Leunig,

So, I saw that cartoon you made about me. You know the one. There's a mum looking at her phone and she doesn't realise her baby's fallen on the ground and it comes with this twee poem about how the baby wishes his mother loved him more.

Woman pushing pram (Credit: Sally Anscombe / Getty)This is awkward. I remember that day well. I'd spent all morning conscientiously singing, reading, rocking and cooing. I breastfed and bathed and walked around the house holding a baby that cried and cried. Neither of us had slept the night before. I'd been practising controlled crying (that's when you try hard to keep in control, but you can't stop crying). I had to get out of the house.

Being a mum is hard. All of your relationships change. Everyone wants to judge your choices. Breast or bottle? Cloth or disposable? Co-sleep? Attachment? Are you meeting your milestones? Are you losing the weight? Your thoughts are often ruled by anxiety and guilt, yet you can feel euphoric. You have this overwhelming love for and profound protectiveness of this tiny creature. It's a lot to come to terms with.

And it's not cool to be a mum. 'Mummy' when attached to podcasts, blogs, or business ventures carries, at best, a sort of sneering condescension, at worst, a smug irritation at voices people would prefer remained silent. It's hard for a mum to have an opinion without being automatically dismissed as shrill or silly.

Do you know the bone-crushing loneliness that comes sometimes with caring for a newborn? I hadn't showered in two days. Sleep, when I could get it, came in three-hour batches. My body had become a full-time food-production unit for my child. When you saw me, the baby was settled at last. I had that most precious commodity — a moment all to myself.

It would be easier, perhaps, to put my baby into childcare for one day a week. Then I could get some rest, get my freelance work done. But I don't dare to. I'm still haunted by those cartoons you did when I was a teenager. The baby in creche, all alone, staring at the ceiling, wondering why Mummy doesn't love him ('Call her a cruel, ignorant, selfish bitch if you like, but I will defend her'). Do you remember?

If I'm honest, after I got the work admin done, I did flip over to Instagram. I feel guilty about that. But after days spent staring at cold dishwater I need, sometimes, some visual inspiration.


"I've never seen a baby fall out of her pram. Because babies don't fall out of prams. They just don't."


And sure: my baby fell out of the pram. But that only happens twice a week. Besides, I figured it out, just as soon as I finished updating Insta-stories. I'd only gone a few blocks before I realised. Honest.

Okay, that's my little joke. Nobody's going to believe that. In my time as a mother, I've experienced a lot of things. I once changed a nappy that was so bad, I needed to clean the baby's ears. I've seen the startled, upside-down face of a toddler whose lightweight stroller has been upended by one-too-many shopping bags. (They don't fall out, incidentally. They just sit with their hair standing up, snugly suspended in their five-point-harness.) Once, in a sleep-deprived haze, my friend gave her baby two night feeds in a row while the child's identical twin went hungry.

But I've never seen a baby fall out of her pram. Because babies don't fall out of prams. They just don't. You might have picked up on this yourself if you'd had any knowledge of muscle development, or pram engineering, or, you know, babies.

I notice there are no daddies in this cartoon. I'm not sure where Dad is. Maybe he's at work, maybe he's getting a medal for changing a nappy, maybe he's at the pub, scrolling through Instagram. Daddy's whereabouts aren't important, I guess. He has your blessing to pursue his career without judgement. That, after all, is his place.

I wanted to finish with a poem about you. But I couldn't find a good rhyme for 'misogynist'. So I wrote one about me instead.

Mummy's exhausted. She's feeling alone.
So sometimes she sins with a small glowing phone.
Who needs to target corrupt CEOs?
Just pick on the lady with spew on her clothes



Kate MoriartyKate Moriarty is a freelance writer. She writes the 'Home Truths' column at Australian Catholics and blogs at Laptop on the Ironing Board. Main image credit: Sally Anscombe / Getty

Topic tags: Kate Moriarty, Michael Leunig, parenting, mothers



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Existing comments

mmm...motherhood. There's mastitis, mushy vegetables, melancholy, matchless love and marvellous joy. Mothers make mistakes and don't need to offer an explanation, especially to men who sneer.

Pam | 25 October 2019  


Richard Lea | 25 October 2019  

Bloody brilliant Kate.

Rose Barrett | 25 October 2019  

Thankyou Kate Moriarty. Beautifully said. I have adored much of Michaels's work. But he's out of touch and out of time with this judgmental and misogynistic piece of work. Offensive, unconstructive and hurtful. Thanks for the response. You speak for me!

Jodie | 25 October 2019  

Where is Daddy please Leunig? Oh, it’s him calling now to know what’s for dinner tonight and has she ironed the blue striped shirt. He needs it for early morning conference.

Marie Lockyer | 25 October 2019  

Love it! I do enjoy Leunig's work as a whole. He just nails it much of the time, but for young Mums sometimes there can be moments of sheer boredom when they long for stimulating conversation. The phone can fill a gap.

Kerry | 25 October 2019  

This is so perfectly articulated, so utterly fucking PERFECT. So incredibly well done, Kate. That cartoon infuriated me to the point of angry tears. This writing made me feel like all was right again in the world and the misogynistic bullshit will fade with time. You’re a genius, Kate. *massive round of applause*

Peta-Gai | 25 October 2019  

Thanks Kate. Beautifully said and written.

Bee | 25 October 2019  

Consideration of the entire body of Leunig’s work must rule out the assumption that he is a phobic unless commentary is deemed to be an activity of phobics rather than sceptics. Given, then, that Leunig is not a gynophobe, neither can he be its synonym, misogynist. If, indeed, he has stumbled in this cartoon, what he is seems to be beyond the ability of the paltry vocabulary of denigration used by the Social Left, and breathed in as zeitgeist by Kate and by social media responders, to describe.

roy chen yee | 26 October 2019  

OUTSTANDING! Smart, funny, on point. Thank you, on behalf of all the enraged mothers and women who couldn't find the words to explain their hurt.

Nicole Hayes | 26 October 2019  

This is so good. People don't get how lonely and exhausting being a mom can be. When Meghan Markle told the reporter thank you for asking how she was, it brought tears to my eyes. Here is a princess expressing what we all know, that we would love for people to recognize the work we ate doing.

Mary | 26 October 2019  

Excellent response to such a cheap shot. Better to counter with education than vitriol. I salute you and wish you well, your little one is in good hands!

Jim | 26 October 2019  

Spot on. So perfectly written. Thank you Kate!

Simone | 26 October 2019  

I love Leunig's cartoons, he is funny, quite brilliant. But as someone who has followed him for years, he also has a problem with women. I remember something he wrote in the sixties (so see, I am older than a lot of you), where he said he hated the Beatles. As a huge Beatles fan, I picked up on this. He said it was because all the young girls he fancied, loved the Beatles and not him. I thought it was meant to be funny, but then I saw him interviewed, - roughly 50 years ago- & I realised he was serious &'very jealous. Sad I thought, and I have read since that he has always thought this way. Brilliant in some ways, but perhaps not in others.

Faye | 26 October 2019  

Bravo, Kate. 'Truth is truth, no matter who says it', the adage goes; usually directed towards one we don't much care for but who - nevertheless, and to our chagrin - tells it like it is. But the flip side seems harder; gently calling out a poorly-considered view proffered by someone universally admired and loved. You do it well - thank you. 'Tis a talent in short supply, you should bottle it :-)

Richard Jupp | 26 October 2019  

Roy Chen Yee ... mate. just don't bother. You clearly have no idea of the grim reality of how Leunig's occasional swipes at the exhausted band of mothers hit them in the guts. The mums of today didn't ask to be burdened with the extra load of impossibly huge mortgages, absent or really busy dads and intolerant workplaces - they are largely doing their best within their human limitations. Leunig draws cute ducks and I have a Vasco picture (you know, the one in the armchair, showing the stormy way some of us experience the world) above my desjk here, but he has form on women. You may not remember the one about the baby in childcare - it, too, provoked a storm. Many mums would love to be plaster saints like Michael L, but find him singularly lacking in compassion when it comes to their female selves. If your torturous explanation of why he isn't "phobic" means you think he can't be misogynistic, you need to look at his body of work and find the ones depicting mothers. The evidence speaks for itself. Just don't bother, Roy.

Older woman, still a mum | 26 October 2019  

Certainly we can admit that 'fear' and 'hatred' are so often connected in the Human Condition's complexity, roy chen yee; but I would make no claim that one is synonym for the other, as you seem to.

Richard Jupp | 26 October 2019  

Thank you Kate for articulating what so many of us felt this week.

Ramona Barry | 26 October 2019  

I would not have seen this self-righteous Leunig cartoon if people like Moriarty had not drawn attention to it. I stopped drooling over Leunig years ago, thank god, at the time of his 'baby in creche, all alone, staring at the ceiling, wondering why Mummy doesn't love him' cartoon that Moriarty mentions.

Megan | 27 October 2019  

Kate, this is brilliant. For what it is worth, I had a go a writing a poem with misogyny in it. Leunig inciting misogyny has form / His cartoons of mothers are filled with scorn / Sad he will not acknowledge all that we do / For mothers of all kinds would even care for him too

Sue Barrett | 27 October 2019  

It may not be convenient to parents, but a child will feel the neglect of being ignored for a device (mileage may vary). Sorry Mums or dads. I believe Leunig is simply making this point - if you don’t want children, then don’t have them. Sorry if you felt he was attacking your right to post duck face on Instagram 12 times a day..

Tom | 27 October 2019  

I do love Luenig, I also agree with what you were saying about being a Mum, but I must correct you on one thing; sadly, babies have fallen out of prams. :-(

Kerrie | 27 October 2019  

Perfect answer! Thank you!

Sabeeha | 28 October 2019  

As a stay at home dad in the 80's, from birth of my daughter Quetzal and 1st birthday of my son Toban, I must have been blessed as I sailed through and regarded looking after them as a breeze. Perhaps it was good health and good sleeping pattern, but most of all it was good support. Support from the other parents as we all looked after each other and helped each other with our children. My wife expressed at work and we used cloth nappies, all in al it was the best job in the world and planeed properly and good health, it was a doddle. I didnt see the cartoon, so wont make comment.

Rob Bell | 28 October 2019  

This is what l have seen. Silent mothers pushing their 8 month olds in prams, handing them their mobile phones turned on 'toddler world', at any sign of their toddler's lament. From the toddler's perspective, the lament is the want to be understood and listened to, despretly wanting to start a conversation. All the sounds he makes are his first attempts at human to human(s) communication, social interaction, and social attabtability. By giving him a machine. His efforts are egnored.

AO | 28 October 2019  

No Roy. Consideration of his whole body of work shows he is a gynophobe which shoots the rest of your argument to shreds. Besides, people change (though maybe not in your zeitgeist.) Why is it not conceivable that he has become a grumpy old man?

Erik Hoekstra | 28 October 2019  

I lost my enjoyment of Leunig's work the day he published the 'creche baby' cartoon. His venom towards women in what he perceives as parental failure is unmatched by anything directed towards men in the parental role. Well done Kate for continuing to challenge the patriarchy!

Anne | 28 October 2019  

Words can't express how much I needed this. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Kat | 28 October 2019  

Wow what a wonderful article honouring our and all Mothers . Women who give birth and life. How sad our church so rarely honours mothers Sainthood they live day by day often acknowledged May the day come!!!

Nance Cale | 28 October 2019  

Call me a literalist, but unless you have actually dropped your baby on the pavement and not noticed, I don't think this cartoon is about you. Your writer, Kate, hits out at Leunig (whom I admire) but takes a cheap shot at Dads "getting a medal for changing a nappy" - so isn't she guilty of caricature too? Hopefully most parents of either gender are doing their best. Let's all calm down. Unless your phone use is irresponsible, move on to another topic, and there are plenty of more pressing issues - eg the warming world your child will inherit; the grossly unequal society we are developing ; the loss of species due to climate change, over-development, hunting and poaching....

Meg | 28 October 2019  

Glorious. It's a while since mine were that size but I remember that pain and the judgement. Ugh. I'm not going to riff on what I think of Mr Leunig because once I start...

Lucy Hamilton | 28 October 2019  

Leunig says that he didn’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings, and I believe him. I think he was commenting on a major change he’s observed in society. I agree with him to the extent that I too observe that change. For example, I used to sit in my GP’s waiting room and see most of the seats occupied by mothers interacting with small children. I haven’t seen that for some years. The mothers are still there with their children, and there’s been a slight increase in the number of fathers with children. The big change was that the parents now are nearly all busy with their phones (and sometimes the toddlers are, too). There seems to be a lessening of the connection between parents and children - and connection is essential for all kinds of community, and the best and most effective form of connection ultimately is face-to-face, human to human. So far, so Leunig. But why did he pick mothers to blame for this change? The social conditions that are breaking down our society aren’t the result of women’s selfishness or greed. They may very well be the result of human selfishness and greed, but to specifically blame mothers defies belief. If anything, they are the first victims, as being part of the paid work-force becomes less and less a matter of choice and more a matter of government policy and economic demand. Yes, babies are becoming disconnected. We’re all becoming disconnected. But - cui bono? It surely isn’t mothers!

Joan Seymour | 28 October 2019  

I just found Lunig's cartoon so I could see for myself what all the fuss was about. To me there is nothing to indicate whether the parent is either male or female. It makes me wonder why it is only mothers who are upset by it. There is no such thing as the perfect parent.

Margaret McDonald | 28 October 2019  

It seems Michael Leunig has pressed a raw nerve, maybe there is some truth is what he is trying to say. How would you feel if you are catching up with your best friend, but she spends the time on her phone ignoring you - it's almost the same thing. Speaking to your child, especially when out and walking, is how they learn to understand the world, how they learn language and how they bond. As for fathers, maybe they are at work earning the money and they get home tired too after often long stressful days. It's time we all learned to appreciate each other and dabbled in a little self reflection. By the way, the sacrifices, and there are many, are well worth the effort. and in case you think I don't know what it is about -widowed with tiny children, almost no support, and the children are now wonderful adults. As I said, worth the sacrifices and effort. Very tired of the complaining. As Oscar Wilde said: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."

Jane | 28 October 2019  

In the end, after the basics are covered, the most important thing anyone can do, especially parents, is pray for the well being of each family member and especially for those who are struggling … That peace and joy starts with each one of us and prayer is the greatest silent anonymous gift we can give.

Jane | 28 October 2019  

Brilliantly written! I really wanted to write something similar. I'm a father, but I've been a hands-on father (as I believe is becoming more the norm) to twins, so I related to what you wrote as a parent. I've had the hours/days/weeks/months of sleepless nights, dealing with hours upon hours of upsets, playing, settling, soothing, teaching - and then society gives parents crap for looking at their phone when they have a precious moment to decompress. The cartoon was unjust whether targeted at mothers or fathers. It's hard enough being a parent without pithy little cartoons like that, taking cheap shots. Also, I think it's healthier for a parent to look at their phone for a little while to decompress, rather than conform to society's expectation that we need to be staring with unfiltered adoration at our children 24/7. Sometimes we need to decompress so that we have the bandwidth to get through the rest of the day, and the night, and the next day, and the next. So we look at our phones sometimes, big deal, give it a rest Leunig.

Paul Bladon | 28 October 2019  

“To me there is nothing to indicate whether the parent is either male or female.” What, Margaret McDonald, can’t you read? “Mummy was busy on Instagram...” Having said that, I have a question: How do you know when a cartoonist has been successful?

Paul Smith | 28 October 2019  

I love you! You are super mum and you don’t need to justify your self to anyone. Great comeback anyway! <3

Kirra | 28 October 2019  

You are quite right Paul. Needing to actually see the cartoon before I commented, I asked Google unfortunately what I checked out only showed the cartoon, I didn't see the verse until I had hit the send button. That said, methinks we do protest too much.

Margaret McDonald | 28 October 2019  

Sorry but as a pram pushing elderly grandmother who tells people to email me rather than phone because I'll be grandmothering I think this is a bit of a storm in a keep cup. And though I had never thought of Michael Leunig as a misogynist like all of us he no doubt has his blind spots. And truth be told I share his grief (yes really). Things have changed. I love singing Baby Shark with my granddaughter on the bus and I'm sad we are entertaining the kid across the aisle because his Mum is on the phone. Granted I was not doing either 30 years ago with my own children, but now I realise I missed out on something. But it's true babies don't fall out of prams, unless they have been in such a temper that they broke the harness (ours is fragile by now), BTW locally it's common to see Dads pushing the pram, walking the dog AND talking on the phone.So I guess men can multitask after all. But like Michael (and I'm around the age he is) deep down I just really wish they wouldn't.And I don't at my age feel any compunction about saying so. Life is very short.Childhood much shorter.Sleep well everyone.

margaret | 28 October 2019  

I'm with you Meg.

Julie Shannon | 29 October 2019  

As the husband of a mother and the father and father-in-law of several more mothers, congratulations on this brilliant response. Leunig is often clever and his cartoons and comments on target but he should just stop cartooning about women-specific subjects. It's his blind spot and it kills the better material he does. Or he could get to know some mothers and learn what he's talking about.

Rais | 30 October 2019  

A great response and helpful to express the frustration that mums go through, particularly when you are not getting enough sleep (sleep deprivation being used as a form of torture btw!). It is best to leave it at that though, - a point of view; no criticism of failing mums, fathers, cartoonists etc, just us humans reflecting on ourselves and our behaviour. We have to remind ourselves that we get stuff wrong (when considered in hindsight usually) but we get it right too. Parenting is, like everything in life, a journey which can be easy or terribly difficult for many, many reasons. Communication and expression of ideas helps us grow - keep it nice, keep it going!

Liz Walker | 30 October 2019  

I love the cartoon by Michael Lunig, he sees the world as it is and yes mothers are spending way too much time distracted by phones, poor little kids if only their mothers were addicted to them

Raylene Maree | 01 November 2019  

Very good Kate. Mums are just too easy for blokes to pick on.

Pauline | 02 November 2019  

Congratulations! I doubt Leunig will take the slightest notice, let alone apologise, but you are absolutely right!

Juliet | 02 November 2019  

Please read Michael's response to the vitriol that has been sent his way.

Patricia Treston | 02 November 2019  

I saw the Leunig cartoon - and sorry, fumed but did nothing - so pleased to read your vivid, pointed yet polite response - wish you had been around 40 years ago. You would have made such a difference. More power to you.

Pamela | 02 November 2019  

I am disappointed with this journalism. The writer wants to hurt and has found her mark. For those who know Michael Leunig would know that he is incapable of hurting yet at the same time exquisitely vulnerable to being hurt.

Graham Warren | 03 November 2019  

Wonder how such busy and overwhelmed parents had time to read the paper to see the cartoon. Bet they either caught up with it because of social media reactions no other reason - unless they have subscribe via smart phone to view the paper as they push their prams. Refreshing to think some babies actually get the privilege of being outdoors and pushed along in a suitably safety designed pram and restraint correctly fitted by a loving carer. Leunig errs but the newspaper wins with growing subscribers wanting to hate his artistic expression.

Phil | 09 November 2019  

It’s just meant to a humorous cartoon not a news item. Maybe there is someone like that. Don’t take it personally if it isn’t you or turn it into something against women or mothers! If someone makes a joke about bad drivers should I get defensive because I drive?! You’re doing the hating here and comfortable generalising negatively about dads! Double standard with your writing vs his cartoon? If a partner doesn’t do their share perhaps they shouldn’t have been selected as partners. Who takes responsibility for that? I don’t need the pity or congratulations of others for being a mother. I chose that with eyes open to the challenges ahead. It’s hard at times like other things but it also provides more rewards than anything I can think of. Perhaps choose to view things without the negative glasses on next time. A laugh does us all good!

Jane | 27 June 2020  

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