While I wouldn’t quite say it’s my favourite song, I’ll confess to having a real soft spot for Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man. This is partly because I love her voice, but it’s also because it was number one in the UK charts on the day I was born. I mean, I doubt I was appreciating the song mere moments after my arrival in the world. I was probably crying and whatnot (for some reason, my memories are hazy). Anyhow, because it was number one then, I feel it is symbolic. A bit like star signs, or something. And yes, I have grown up to feel that sometimes, it’s hard to be a woman. Especially if you’re also a gemini.
As a feminist, I don’t find the song particularly offensive. I do stand by my man. Given the mother he’s got, I’ve no bloody choice. Therefore I was most displeased to learn that, in 1992, Hilary Clinton had a pop at Tammy in order to demonstrate how independent she was from husband Bill. In a TV interview Clinton announced that she was not “sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette”. Well, no. If Tammy Wynette had been on TV, it would have been to do some singing, quite possibly, at that time, with the KFL (I don’t recall Clinton ever being “justified and ancient”. Or “bound for MuMu Land”, for that matter). Hilary was on TV because she was married to Bill Clinton, by whom she was not, however, standing. Or sitting (she does seem to get a bit muddled on that point). This comment obviously offended Tammy and Hilary had to apologise, but not before the whole thing had been mediated by Burt Reynolds, of all people (it’s not quite Gazza bringing chicken to Raoul Moatt, but as crazy mediations go, it’s pretty good).
Twenty years later, we may be needing the help of Reynolds once more. This time it’s Cherie Blair who’s been misusing pop culture references in order to talk bollocks and lecture the rest of womankind on how they ought to be (rest of womankind: “Great. Just fucking great”). And the parallels don’t end there. Like Clinton in 1992, Blair is an exceptionally successful woman in her own right. But she’s successful in ways that wouldn’t normally give a person the public platform that she actually has. Part of the reason what she says is reported is down to the man she married, just as pretty much all of the reason why Clinton was on TV in 1992 is down to the man Clinton married. Put it this way, it’s not a great position from which to lecture womankind on what independence means (rest of womankind: “Too fucking right”).
During a speech at Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women event in London (just writing that clause makes me want to vomit), Blair is reported to have said the following:
One of the things that worries me now is you see young women who say: ‘I look at the sacrifices that women have made and I think why do I need to bother, why can’t I just marry a rich husband and retire?’ and you think, how can they even imagine that is the way to fulfil yourself, how dangerous it is [...]
You hear these yummy mummies talk about being the best possible mother and they put all their effort into their children. I also want to be the best possible mother, but I know that my job as a mother includes bringing my children up so actually they can live without me.
Obviously, as a mother in full-time paid employment, I read this and think go Cherie! Sod the mother-in-law and her “making sacrifices for the children” bollocks! You’re on my side! Yeah, that’s exactly what I think. Or it would be if I wasn’t so busy thinking excuse me, Cherie, but what fucking planet are you on?
In a horribly crass troll-baiting manoeuvre, the Guardian has decided to respond to Blair’s comments by asking readers what is a yummy mummy, exactly? (the faux innocence of the phrasing is great, isn’t it?). Cue lots of pointless comments on how Blair’s mixed up stay-at-home motherdom with yummy mummyness, which has nothing to do with financial dependency, but involves being fit and fuckable (a MILF, as many of the commenters point out, eager to show off their knowledge of sexist acronyms). To a certain extent, they’re right. I’m in paid employment and that doesn’t stop me from being a yummy mummy (the fact that I ming, however, does). But I don’t think that’s the whole point.
It is easy to interpret Blair’s comments as reigniting what the American press refer to as the “mommy wars”, SAHMs vs career mummies, each fucking up their children’s lives in their own particular way. There’s an element of that, but I think what Blair is saying is so far removed from the reality of most mothers’ lives that it barely touches upon the tensions that we really feel. It’s a cardboard cutout version of life. We’re just not playing these Daily Mail roles.
How many women or girls do you know who have said “why can’t I just marry a rich husband and retire”? I bet you don’t know many. That is because, unlike Cherie Blair, we don’t all hang around in the vicinity of potential rich husbands. In my life I have known only two women who did this, both of whom didn’t have the qualifications or career opportunities enjoyed by women such as Blair (or indeed me). For one of these women, it worked splendidly. She’s now mega-rich, never works and isn’t being driven mad by her three kids because they’re at boarding school during the week. I could say “oh, but she isn’t fulfilled”, but the truth is, she seems perfectly happy to me. Life isn’t some great morality tale (although I imagine if you’re married to Tony “A Journey” Blair, you have to pretend that it is). For the other woman, it didn’t work out so well. She’s now left holding the babies with no career history and nowhere to go. But still, even if she’d chosen a different route, I doubt she’d now be a QC giving speeches for Fortune magazine.
The assumption of privilege in what Cherie Blair is saying is, frankly, painful. Blair claims that “every woman needs to be self-sufficient and in that way you really don’t have a choice – for your own satisfaction”. But not everyone’s career is satisfying. Not every woman relishes “self-sufficiency” when the alternative is destitution. Not every mother can even afford to work. And for many of us, whether we are in paid employment or not, what makes us “a success” – the things we’d like our children to admire in us – isn’t tied to how we pay the bills. Blair links paid employment for women to personal self-realisation and to setting a good example for children. To me this seems horribly sexist. Do you know, Cherie, some of us just work to pay for stuff and if we’re lucky, we have a job involving something we’re good at. It’s a bit like how men work. Actually, when you think about it, it’s exactly the same.
At the moment my partner doesn’t have a job, although he has an interview this Friday.* It is the only interview he has been offered all year and the post is part-time. But in some ways, this is good. Our youngest would only have to go to nursery half the week and he’d get loads of time with Daddy. Only now I’m wondering, would Cherie Blair approve? Would my partner be sacrificing his “self-sufficiency” in order to bring a child up unable to live without him? Would he be making himself a terrible role model? Would he be doing all this, despite the fact that this is the only sodding job on offer? Perhaps it doesn’t matter, what with him being a man. Should Tony be the one commenting on this? (I’d worry he’d be a bit “alpha” on this particular one. And indeed on everything else.)
Anyhow, I suppose my next question is, what’s the male equivalent for “yummy mummy”? No one seems to have found one. I haven’t thought of one yet, but perhaps I never will. I know my partner’s a great dad, and he’s also dead fit (a FILF, no less), but, after all, as Tammy would say, he’s just a man.
* I was in two minds as to whether to mention the interview in a post, in case it jinxes things. Then I thought perhaps someone who reads this post might be willing to think “lucky thoughts”. So if you would like to, please do so. But only if you are a “lucky” person.