According to Kirstie Allsopp, nature is not a feminist. On the face of it, it’s hard to disagree. Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin, Audre Lorde? Feminist. Nature – plants, trees, flowers and stuff? Not feminist. There, that was easy.

Of course, this isn’t exactly what Allsopp means. Her comment comes in the midst of an online “debate” about fertility, one of those in which you’re meant to take a position on when a woman, any woman, should reproduce. The most ridiculous thing about it is the suggestion there might actually be a right answer. Too early? You’re feckless and just won’t cope. Too late? You might have missed your chance. Somewhere in the middle? Way to piss off your poor, hard done-to employer, you traitor to the cause! Face it, would-be breeders, you’re destined to fuck it up, and besides, we haven’t even taken into account the specificity of your situation. We’re talking about this as though it’s an abstract choice, in which issues of safety, wealth, culture, interpersonal relationships etc. don’t play any part (best not start looking into those things, too, or your head would explode). (more…)

I can’t remember when I first realised my son was a person. I guess as a mother you always know these things. Right from the moment he was first placed in my arms I sense there was something person-y about him, almost as though he might be an individual with his own consciousness, fully capable of developing a sense of himself which was not inextricably linked to gender stereotypes. Quite why this should be, I couldn’t say, but now that he’s older, I believe more and more that I was right. Nonetheless, like any mother, I have moments when I still wonder if I’m failing him.

From an early age my son has liked things. Some of them have been pink and some of them have been blue and some of them have been other colours. He has also liked activities, some of them boisterous and aggressive, some of them gentle and caring. Sometimes he goes through phases of liking more pink things than blue things, or doing more gentle things than aggressive things. A more attentive mother might have sat down with an excel spreadsheet, listed the number of boy activities and preferences in one column, the number of girl ones in another, and come up with a suitable gender for such a child. I never did this. I just looked at him and thought “ah, a male person, albeit one growing up in a world full of crappy categories arbitrarily linked to sex difference. Oh well, we’ll do our best to ignore them”. (more…)

I knew my sons were boys four months before they were born. For each, a penis was visible on the twenty week scan. They were not, shall we say, “modest”, which is just as well, because I wanted to know in advance. I wanted to be able to prepare myself, by which I do not mean purchase a vat of blue paint and a range of suitably gendered toys. I wanted to know what, in a viciously gendered world, we’d be up against: the conditioning that tells my children to be violent, unfeeling, dominant, unable to admit to vulnerabilities, or the conditioning that tells my children they must be passive, self-effacing, nurturing, mere objects for the purpose of another’s self-definition. I wanted to have time to think about how to protect them (but there’s never enough time for that).

My sons are boys because they have penises. They are neither female nor intersex. They are male. They are not boys in the gendered sense of the word: their character, emotional life, intellect and world view are not shaped by the fact that they have magic boy brains. I am not, however, naïve; I know that much of what is shaping their experience as human beings comes from the fact that others believe such boy brains exist and will treat my children accordingly. This is why, as a feminist, I am against what gender is and does. It might be a hierarchy which implicitly positions my sons at the top, on the arbitrary basis of reproductive difference, but it is one that harms them, too. They are unique, creative, wonderful little people, not “a gender” (what is that, anyhow? How many genders would we need to allow them to be utterly individual? 7 billion? What, you mean like having no genders at all? Don’t be such a bigot!). (more…)

One of the many things no one tells you about having kids is just how hard it makes it to have a wee. If you are someone for whom toilets have always been perfectly accessible – if, for instance, you’re neither trans nor intersex, and don’t have mobility restrictions – it can come as an enormous shock to find that suddenly toilets are the holy grail. The chances are this is temporary. Your children will grow and leave you to wee in peace. Nevertheless, in the interim it can be enraging. You’ve always assumed that the world was built around the needs of “people.” Suddenly it’s obvious that this is an illusion only the privileged can entertain.

Today my sons got yelled at in Morrison’s and (for once) it wasn’t their fault. All they were doing was waiting outside the toilet cubicle while Mummy paid a call. Suddenly I heard a woman’s voice telling them they had no right to be there and should go to the men’s. My sons are four and six. I have no intention of sending them off to the men’s toilets unaccompanied, or leaving them to wait outside. I was amazed – unfortunately, too amazed to think of a cutting response to the woman, who’d left by the time I unlocked the toilet door. (more…)

My kids are hilarious. If you followed me on twitter, you’d already know this. Rarely a day goes by without some comedy disaster involving underpants, missing homework or a mix-up between Star Wars and real life. It might not sound funny now but if you heard about their antics in real time (which twitter permits), you’d be rolling in the aisles. Or at least mildly amused. Or maybe you’d just unfollow. Anyhow, to me they will always be unwitting comedy giants.

I tweet about the funny things they say because they have no idea why I’m laughing, and I feel a bit pathetic laughing on my own (or worse, at them). The way in which a child’s intelligence develops ahead of knowledge or experience can often be tedious, but just occasionally it leads to wonderful linguistic errors, bizarrely out-of-place quotations and passionate defences of things which simply cannot be true (although mistrustful observers rarely bear in mind how much random nonsense you’ve had to get through before mining these gems). Obviously when it’s your own child you believe these flashes of hilarity may also be a sign that your offspring is a total genius (that one time my six-year-old said the Tudors were followed by the Steves, I was dining out on it for months).

I might share daft things my children say, and you may or may not find them amusing, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t make me less politically engaged. It doesn’t mean I think this is the only thing the internet is for. It doesn’t mean I am naturally conservative, unthinking, classist, fantastical, desperate for retweets from “some fifth-rate blazer ‘n’ T-shirt wearing comedian who guest-starred in one episode of Rev and has gained 2,500 followers as a result”. Except apparently it does. Some blokes – one of whom, Clive Martin, wrote a piece for Vice, the other of whom set up a “hilarious, but not in an uncool mumsy way” twitter account – have decreed that it is so. Humour is for the child-free hipsters. Iconoclasm doesn’t allow for maintaining a sense of humour while also keeping a critical focus on material reality; it’s taking the piss out of parents for not keeping out of the way while you treat the internet as one endless, pretentious undergraduate party.

Obviously I like chuckling at the edgy witticisms of youngish men as much as the next person. Like women and older people, parents can’t really do humour. They lack the intellect, moral rigour and involvement with the stuff of real life. They’re not even any good at curating the accidental bon mots of their little ones, but then that’s hardly surprising. As Clive Martin sympathetically notes in his analysis of The Sad World of Adults Pretending to Be Kids for Retweets:

Looking after a young kid must be pretty arduous and alienating at times, so you can understand why things like Mumsnet and gin exist.

I know! Such empathy from one who still has his finger on the pulse of human endeavour and suffering! The sad thing is, give us parents an inch and we’ll take a mile. We’re not just keeping to the Mumsnet talkboards, we’re now tweeting things about our kids which may not even be funny! Think of all the important twitterspace that’s taking up! Space that could be devoted to important things, such as mocking people because reasons.

While many of the current targets of mockery are male, I can’t help thinking there is a thinly veiled misogyny behind this latest round of parent-bashing (with the implication being that men who tweet about their children are in some way less intellectually engaged and honest, and therefore less “male”). Feminists have long pointed out that experiences of childcare and domestic life are edged out of public discourse, and this applies whether we’re talking about comedy or art. Such experiences are not considered “authentic” enough. When Marilyn French wrote The Women’s Room, the life of someone who cares for children was not considered novel-worthy. There’s nothing grand, nothing big or meaningful, even if it represents a person’s whole horizon. Why should the real people – those out there in proper, public life – have to come anywhere close to it? Why should anyone want to read your pathetic little domestic tweets, even in a light-hearted context? That’s not proper activism, at least not when activism is reduced to gaining retweets. But shouldn’t it be more than that?

Does it matter whether the tweets are true? Well, jokes frequently aren’t true, or are based on exaggeration (mine aren’t. My kids really are that funny. Honest). The problem, I feel, is the subject matter and the fact that individuals should gain approval for something considered so lowly. Only a tiny sector of society – youngish, child-free, male, snarky, educated yet cagey about it – are allowed that special pat on the back.

Parenting is not, in and of itself, anti-establishment. It enforces a degree of enclosure. Nevertheless, the minutiae of childrearing, the shared truths, even the shared lies, are part of how a community is formed. Mocking inoffensive jokes isn’t just hurtful; it betrays a misanthropy which shouldn’t form part of drive for social change. My children might not make you laugh but that’s not your problem.

One of the perks of being a mother is being able to tell a woman expecting her first baby any old crap you like. After all, what’s she going to do about it? Facing the unknown,  she’s hardly going to contradict you. You’re a mum. You know stuff. As for her? Let’s face it, she hasn’t got a clue.

Of course, this is a mean thing to do and you should, ideally, refrain from it (unless said expectant mother is especially annoying). If you already know how much uncertainty and self-doubt motherhood can bring, it’s just vindictive to set about stoking it up in someone else before she’s even got started. That’s why I can’t see any excuse whatsoever for Virginia Ironside’s current “advice” column in the Independent.

First of all, allow me to present the dilemma:

I’m about to have my first baby, but I’ve just been head-hunted by a firm that wants me to start work as soon as possible. Friends say I should wait and see how I feel before I commit to a new job but my husband has said he’s keen to look after the baby and become a house-husband  – he works freelance and he’s going through a time when he doesn’t have very much work. Can you or any of your readers offer advice on what I should do? I’m at a loss and can’t make  a decision.

What should this woman do? Well, here’s my suggestion: don’t write to Virginia Ironside. She’s not interested in your life. She just wants to use it as a springboard for promoting her vision of Perfect Motherhood. (more…)

I’ll always remember the day my first son was born. “It’s a boy,” said the midwife. “Urgh, take it away,” said I. “I’m a feminist. I don’t do boys.” The fact is, like all card-carrying feminists, I’m contractually obliged not to give a shit about the welfare of non-women. As far as they’re concerned, I’m all out for revenge.

Of course, that’s the theory, but in practice things are more difficult. When it’s your own children who’ve failed (as yet) to identify as female you end up making compromises. Truth is, I’ve found that I love my sons very much. It’s just everyone else’s sons who can sod off. It’s not as though a social structure which discriminates against them will have any impact on my kids, or on the genuinely important ones (aka girls). So let’s crack on with creating a world in which everything is weighted in favour of the latter.

(more…)

Whether or not the Duchess of Cambridge chooses to breastfeed her baby – and if so, whether or not she chooses to do so in public – is fast becoming one of those utterly pointless “national debates”, the entire purpose of which is idle point-scoring. True, for all I know Kate Middleton is at home this very minute, scanning the reader comments in the Huffington Post in order to decide what to do with her own breasts and where to do it, but I doubt that very much. I can imagine Diana being that bothered, certainly, if she thought it would simultaneously win the nation’s hearts and piss off the queen,  but not so much Kate. All the same, it’s a bizarre pressure to be placed under. Isn’t it bad enough to be part of a family that is constitutionally obliged to treat you like a brood mare? (more…)

This weekend I attended Britmums Live 2013. What’s more, I enjoyed it. There, I’ve admitted it. Now excuse me while I watch my imaginary status as “not one of those mummy blogger types” disappear down the drain.

It’s not that I ever used to hate mummy bloggers, or even that I didn’t always consider myself to be one of them. Certainly, I have some discomfort with the term itself. Adding what Pamela Haag calls “the mommy modifier” to words like “blogger” or “porn” instantly seems to render them trivial and cutesy. While this might say more about patronising attitude towards mothers than the things in themselves it’s hard not to be affected by it. When I tell bloggers who aren’t parents that I write about motherhood and childcare, I always feel a little regretful that I’m not saying “world politics” or “art and literature”. I might write the odd post criticizing the low status of mothers yet sometimes I find I’ve bought into it myself. (more…)

There are certain things to do with parenting which, although parents of every class engage in them, still seem to be the preserve of a certain type of upper-middle-class mother (I use “upper-middle-class” in the vaguest and most annoying sense of the word). For instance, “doing the school run” has become one of these. Long before Gill Hornby gave it the mummy-lit treatment in The Hive (which I’m sort of enjoying), the simple act of dropping off your kids at the school gates has felt like something only posh, Polly Filla-types do. I blame Easy Living’s School Runway for the fact that, the first time I had to take my son to school, I honestly expected to get back to my car and find it had been magically transformed into a 4×4 (for better or worse, it hadn’t).

“Throwing a children’s party” has become another of these “just for posh parents only it isn’t really” things. This Friday’s Daily Mail reports that the average cost of a child’s party “soars to £309 as parents battle to outdo one another”. Indeed, because that’s totally what parenting is like. When we’re not panicking about looking catwalk-ready in the playground, we’re stressing over who’s throwing the coolest parties for their tots (to be fair, according to the survey by VoucherCodes.co.uk only 14% of those interviewed reported feeling this particular pressure but hey, it’s always a nice conceit to pretend parents are every bit as petty and superficial as their kids. Which we’re not. AT ALL, okay?). (more…)

According to journalist Angela Epstein – whom I hadn’t heard of until five minutes ago, when I happened to tune into 10 O’clock Live – feminism  has “spooked” a generation of women into not having children. Blimey! Poor women, and bad, bad feminists. What will they think of next?

Epstein was debating “feminism” (as if such a thing is debatable) with Christine Hamilton and Laurie Penny. Epstein has children, the other two do not. Epstein is anti-feminist, Hamilton and Penny are not (I know! Christine fucking Hamilton!). In such a situation, it’s clear that Epstein sees herself as the only person qualified to discuss what motherhood does to women and why certain women are missing out. This is total bollocks. Funnily enough, having children does not make a woman an expert on why other women should or shouldn’t breed. (more…)

My son’s best friend isn’t his friend any more. It’s been that way for a while. I’ve noticed, gradually, in the school playground. Ex-best friend doesn’t look out for my son any more, doesn’t respond when he calls his name. Ex-best friend has other friends, high-value friends. For a while I wonder if I’m just being paranoid. Maybe that’s just what five-year-olds are like, I think, but no.

“It’s okay,” my son tells me. “He says I’m allowed to sit next to him on a Tuesday if no one else is there.”

Fuck that, I think.

“It’s not for him to decide where you sit,” I say. “Aren’t there better people to sit with anyhow?”

My son says yes but looks unconvinced.
(more…)

I am the mother of two boys. I know I’m not perfect but I do try to be a good parent. Unfortunately it appears that for the past five years I have been remiss. I have failed to “channel” my sons’ boisterousness.

According to James Delingpole – now the Ross Kemp of posh rightwing journalism – “we seem to have forgotten that boys will be boys”.  I for one am guilty of this. I look at my boys and think “they’re boys”. But rarely do I go on to conclude “and thus they will be boys”. This might sound like a minor omission but it’s not.  What it actually means – and this is a serious fact, because the Telegraph says so – is that they’ll grow up to beat the shit out of other boys. And possibly also girls. And maybe even household pets. Basically, because my boys have not been allowed to “be boys” (as defined by the Victor Book for Boys circa 1964) they will grow up to be violent hooligans as opposed to men of courage – the kind of men who win wars, slaughter beasts and present Top Gear.
(more…)

Obviously I noticed your daughter before I noticed you. I expect you are used to that. Legs so thin, how could it be any other way? I tried not to stare but it’s so hard not to. People used to stare at me in much the same way, or so I’ve been told (I never noticed at the time). Once you’d both signed in, you came and sat next to me, with her on the other side of you. I noticed you then but only because I couldn’t see her any more.
(more…)

Until this week I had no idea that Hugo Chávez formally recognised the economic value of traditional “women’s work” . To be honest, I didn’t know much about Chávez. The one Venezuelan I know didn’t like him, but then none of us like our political leaders, do we? The most I’d assumed was that Chávez didn’t like women overly much, given the state of abortion law in Venezuela. Seems I was wrong, at least where a certain type of woman is concerned. It appears Chávez acknowledged that women who, to use the terminology of the average pay gap apologist, “don’t work because they’re raising children”, were bloody essential to a country’s welfare. Even if things were a bit more complex than that, as a basic principle that seems brilliant. Globally, we pay lip service to the devotion of mothers, yet so often stop short of saying you could actually put a price tag on it.

With Mother’s Day coming two days after International Women’s Day, I can’t help wishing it was more about that – genuine, heartfelt recognition – and less about a bunch of flowers, a pat on the head and yet another year of being horrendously undervalued. Don’t get me wrong, on a very personal level I love it. The card my five-year-old has written for me (“Thank you for all the love yoof givan me”) is just marvellous and I’ll treasure it forever. But as a cultural event, I wish Mother’s Day kicked a bit more arse. The commercial focus of it these days all feels rather KFC “Mum’s Night Off” in how it values what mothers do, bigging up inequality as a noble sacrifice in return for which you get, if not a bucket of chicken, then the only marginally better box of Thornton’s Continentals. It celebrates a particular type of motherhood – twee, self-effacing, repressed, waiting for that one day of the year when it can truly let rip with a half-bottle of rosé wine and a Lush bath bomb. It has got, let’s be honest, fuck all to do in appreciating what a wide range of mothers, all of different backgrounds and with different needs, do for their own children and society at large. If it did have, it would at least offer some form of meaningful response to all the things which piss us off.  (more…)

This evening my eldest son and I had our worst ever fight. Or not even really a fight. A contretemps (me), or “Mummy being mean” (him). It ended with him sending me to my room because I wouldn’t get his cherry tomatoes – a sustitute for the lasagne being described as “poo” – out of the fridge. To be honest, I think he was surprised at how eagerly I accepted my punishment, but there had been worse moments than that and I was rather glad to retreat to my duvet and kindle while he stomped around downstairs throwing alphabet fridge magnets onto the floor.
(more…)

Top tip for partners: If you and your partner have children together and there’s one bit of parenting you don’t usually do – let’s say it’s getting everyone ready for the school and nursery run – and it just so happens that one day you get to do it – let’s say you’re setting off for work a bit later – and it turns out it’s really, really difficult, do you:

  1. think “crikey, this is stressful” and make a note that while your partner may not have to start work as early as you do, that doesn’t mean life’s necessarily much easier?
  2. stomp about wondering why no one has got a better routine established, intermittently asking the kids pointed questions that start with “but don’t you usually …” or “doesn’t Mummy get you to …”?

The correct answer is of course (1). The second one does NOT accurately describe the way my partner behaved this morning, but it just felt that way. Because I’m stressed and tired and so is he. We’re really, really tired and even though our children are lovely, they don’t half whine about irrelevant crap. (more…)

Way-hey! I’ve just “done” Christmas! And because I am all grown-up and have to take in relatives and stuff, I get to moan about it too! Hey, fellow grown-ups – isn’t Christmas just crap? Don’t you just hate all the hassle? I know I do – and yet, I also don’t. I’ve had a good Christmas, me. And even the bits that have pissed me off have possessed their own special charm.

Hence in a spirit of positivity – and fueled by way too much booze – I’ve compiled my own list of Christmas lessons learned. So here’s what Christmas 2012 has taught me – could this teach you, too?: (more…)

Come Christmas Day, my three-year-old will be getting the pink doll’s house he’s been asking for for weeks. Or rather, he’s been asking me for it for weeks. I’ve only recently discovered that his whims seem to change depending on who’s around.

During my son’s nursery Christmas Party last week Father Christmas asked each of the childen what he or she would like to receive. Much to my surprise I discovered that “a pink doll’s house” becomes “a lorry” when other children are around. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t all that surprising. He’s at the age at which one starts to learn what it means to be a girl or a boy within a highly gendered culture. He’s starting to realise he’s not really “allowed” to like pink things, at least not in public. From now on his beloved Suzy Sheep socks are for bedtime only. (more…)

Conservative MP David Davies claims “most parents would prefer their child not to be gay”. As a parent, I can only speak for myself but I’d like to think most of us don’t give a shit. Seriously, David. Even those of us who “want grandchildren”. We’re generally educated enough to know that you don’t have to be heterosexual to become a parent and, beyond that, we don’t all hold our children responsible for endlessly continuing the family line. Sod the potential next generation – my kids are complete in themselves.

Of course, my perspective on what “most parents would prefer” will be coloured by the views of those parents with whom I choose to associate. Still, I do have a broader perspective on things – otherwise I’d say “most parents would prefer their child not to be a Conservative MP”. Hell, that’s true of me. I mean, I’d try to be tolerant. I’d still love him and respect his choices. All the same, I fear my Conservative MP son would still see the disappointment in my eyes and it would burn into his soul (that’s if he had one – not that I’m bigoted, despite never having fought and trained with a Conservative boxer). (more…)

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