New Statesman: To ignore someone’s educational background isn’t “fair play” – it perpetuates inequality

Privilege is a very complicated thing, as privately educated white men know only too well. No one gets to choose who their parents are, not even people whose parents happen to be extremely rich. Hence it would be terribly unfair to judge a child on the basis of which school they attended. We should all aspire to be class-blind, even those whose inferior education has made them less likely to hold opinions that matter anyhow.

Thus it is with horror that many have received Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock’s suggestion that companies should ask job applicants whether or not they went to a private school in order to “develop a national measure for social mobility”.

Quite how such a measure will counteract the UK’s horrifying gap between rich and poor is unclear, but it is enough to strike fear into the heart of every defender of those great British values: meritocracy and fair play.

According to the Telegraph’s Charles Moore, Hancock “is trying to impose . . . systematic bias in employment”:

“Instead of employers working out who is the best candidate for the job, he is trying to conscript them into his babyish attempt at class war.”

Meanwhile, Lord Waldegrave, a former Conservative minister, now Provost of Eton, has threatened to resign from the party over the proposal, describing it as, “quite wrong to punish children for decisions taken by their parents, and to run the risk of choosing crucial public service jobs not on the basis of merit but of social engineering”.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman: As pilots fight to pump breast milk at work, why is society so ashamed of lactating women?

People do not like to be reminded of the fact that human beings are mammals, members of the class in which females secrete milk for their young. It all sounds so primitive, placing us on a level with the beasts of the field. We’ve risen above it, haven’t we? All of us, that is, apart from those who still lactate.

Take the four female pilots who recently filed claims aimed at forcing their airline, Frontier, to make it easier for new mothers to pump breast milk at work. 12-hour workdays and five-hour flights are not, it turns out, convenient for the average lactator. One of the women had already received a written reprimand for pumping in an airplane toilet. Apparently this “raised safety issues” – but why wasn’t it thought of before?

Because nobody likes to think about the practicalities of breastfeeding, that’s why. We may live in a world in which every new mother is put under an inordinate amount of pressure to do it, but to consider the logistic and economic problems this raises? Hell, that would mean looking at actual business structures, and that’s difficult. Shaming women, on the other hand, is easy.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Sheryl Sandberg, Barclays Bank and the real value of equal pay

Yesterday evening I suffered the misfortune of witnessing the latest Barclays Bank advertisement. It’s one of those wry, cynical ones which show the customer going through various life stages, from youthful optimism right through to middle-aged resignation as the realities of family life slowly asphyxiate all hopes and dreams. Everyone’s been there, haven’t they? And by “everyone”, I mean all middle-aged, middle-class men, for they are the ones who have Stages Of Life and Related Financial Concerns. As for the rest of us? Why, we’re mere plot devices. Middle-class women exist only to have intermittently swollen bellies which produce parasitical children. Working-class men? Only there to screw over long-suffering middle-class men when they need their car fixed or their drain unblocked. Working-class woman? Doesn’t exist, at least not in bank ad land (perhaps one day she’ll be permitted to pop in, Mrs Doyle-like, with a tea urn and a duster with which to metaphorically “clean up” your finances). Continue reading

Mother’s Day: It’s time to make it a more radical, arse-kicking event

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.  Continue reading

Inequality: Further lessons in blaming the victims

There is a simple reason why some of the best private schools, and some of the best state schools too, focus on developing a young person’s whole potential. It’s because it prepares them for the future.

So says Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary. And who can argue with that? Well, I can, for starters. I’ve nothing against developing potential in the young and preparing them for the future. Nor do I mind teachers playing a part in this. All the same, I suspect my understanding of “potential” and “preparation for the future” isn’t necessarily the same as Twigg’s. Continue reading

Is motherhood a job?

So the Queen told Kate Winslet that motherhood is “the best job”. Why do I find this so annoying? I am a mother. I do think mothers are undervalued. All the same, I’d rather not be told I have “the best job”. Particularly not if Hollywood actresses and heads of state are claiming it’s their dream job, too.

The Telegraph’s Jemima Lewis is railing against the Queen’s choice of words, too:

A job is a position for which you must compete. […]  If you’re good at it, you might get promoted up the ranks and become an expert in your field. By contrast, any moron or sociopath can become a mother. There’s no line manager to assess your performance, and no hierarchy to ascend. You might think of yourself as an expert, but other mothers won’t thank you for telling them what to do.

Continue reading

Message from a Woman, On Location, In the Workplace*

* Not really. I’m on the sofa at home.

“Women in the workplace” is a strange name for select committee inquiry, isn’t it? Hinting at novelty, it somehow suggests that “the workplace” is a strange place for women to be and that if there’s a problem to be explored, it’s to do with the presence of women, not with gender inequality nor discrimination itself.* Just women, being there. That’s the whole issue. Without them, “the workplace” would be simply “the workplace”. It’s not as though this has anything at all to do with men. Continue reading

To the Daily Mail, a non-apology

“If working parents didn’t feel guilty enough about leaving their children at nursery, now new research has found …” starts the 1,00,695th Daily Mail article on the crapness of “working parents” (aka mothers in paid employment). Yes, fellow “working mums”, it’s our turn again. Just when you thought all eyes had been turned on stay-at-home mummy bloggers, it appears we’re back in the firing line. Bring it on! Continue reading

More dismally silly nonsense from the post-sexist world

I was born in 1975. I do not recall a time in my life, ever, during which sexism, racism or homophobia were not considered to be passé. Discrimination always happened yesterday. Then today becomes yesterday and suddenly we realise that today wasn’t too great, either. Apart from “today today”, 2012. Finally, at long last, we’re totally sorted. Prejudice doesn’t exist. It’s not as though thought there’s the remotest possibility that in twenty year’s time we’ll look back and say “actually, I don’t know why we all thought that was acceptable”. Continue reading

So who gets to play the mummy card?

A recent survey from the Chartered Management Institute shows that female executives earn an average of £400,o00 less than their male colleagues over their working lifetimes. As a feminist, just how bothered about this should I be? After all, it’s a minority issue, focusing on a privileged group. Aren’t there more important things to deal with? The truth is, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about executive pay, male or female, what with two kids, a non-exec beta-female job and being fairly busy.

In this respect I am a bit – but not a lot – like Angela Ahrendts, the female chief executive of Burberry. Ahrendts doesn’t think about the pay gap much, either:

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this, what with three kids, running the company and being flat out busy.

Speaking as a low-level, non-aspirational version of Ahrendts – fewer kids, lower earnings, less go-getting-ness in general – I can see what she means. Giving a shit about stuff isn’t just time-consuming, it’s also seriously uncool. And besides, does it really matter? Once you’ve earned your million, do you really miss that extra £400,000? (Not having earned my million, I wouldn’t know. But I suspect that women who are openly arsed about the extra £400,000 are less likely to earn the million in the first place.) Continue reading

Debating porn: Is it “just like stacking shelves”?

Young women with low-paid jobs in retail are dead useful, aren’t they? I don’t mean just for stacking shelves and beeping stuff through the checkout. I mean as a debating device for the middle-classes, people who’d never dream of finding themselves on their hands and knees in Asda, making sure the Moshi Monsters tinned spaghetti hadn’t got mixed up with the Third & Bird wholewheat pasta shapes.

When I was growing up, for instance, the threatened penalty for not working hard at school was “ending up on the sweetie counter at Woollies”. Whereas to me this would have meant strawberry laces on tap, to my parents this meant only misery and failure. It’s only in a post-Woolworths world that we see how much worse it can get; if the pick ‘n’ mix counter were open today, it’d be run by staff receiving only JSA for their troubles. Continue reading

The End Of Men: It’s okay, I checked – they’re still here!

Whenever a person makes any of the following statements – the future is female, men are the new weaker sex, masculinity is in crisis, the pendulum has swung too far, the male of the species is becoming redundant etc.* – it is surprisingly hard to mount a challenge. Deep down, you know such people are talking straight out of their arses, but you really don’t want to be the one to say so. First, it sounds mean and unsympathetic. If, for instance, you are a middle-class woman and you’re being compared – somewhat conveniently – to a working-class man, you risk appearing rather uncaring and ungrateful (and that’s before you get onto the standard feminist rant about how positively frightful visiting Waitrose on a Saturday can be). Second, you don’t want to make it look as though you actually believe feminists are merely engaged in an ongoing competition with the patriarchy to win the coveted Crappest Life Cup. Challenging gender stereotyping and power imbalances – and actually proposing change – are rather different activities to splitting the human race into two undifferentiated groups and complaining that your group is the current “loser”. It’s important not to engage in such a stupid argument (even if stupid people have spent years trying to bait you into doing precisely that). So you might think “well, best say nothing – it’d only give them ammunition”. Or perhaps pull a sad face and nod thoughtfully, just to make sure these people get off your case. Continue reading

Incoherent ramblings of a Ready Brek brain

I am a mummy. I have small people living with me – I like to call them “children” – and I am obliged to take care of them. I am also really fucking stupid. After all, that is what being a mummy is all about.

It has taken me quite a while to admit to the “being stupid” element of motherhood (that’s possibly a symptom of the stupidity itself, but I wouldn’t know). Technically what happens is your brain turns to mush, or porridge to be precise (if you happened to be a fuckwit to begin with, then it’s Ready Brek). Thereafter you might be left with a helpless human being who’s entirely dependent on you, but best steer clear of doing anything remotely responsible. From now on you’re only capable of working on “instinct” (don’t worry if you haven’t a clue what that is – you’re not expected to rationalise it, or anything else for that matter). Continue reading

Parenting regrets? Apparently we’ve had a few…

Parents of small children! Have you been in paid employment today? Were you aware that this working “habit” of yours is something which, in years to come, you will deeply regret? In case you didn’t notice this – in case, for instance, you completely failed to take note of all the complete strangers around you saying, on a daily basis, “enjoy them while they’re young!” and “ooh, don’t they grow up fast!” – Huggies Little Swimmers have commissioned research in the top 20 regrets of parents today. Continue reading

Dear ‘Wealth Creators’

Dear ‘Wealth Creators’

You know when you got bullied at school and went home in tears? Well, actually you probably don’t, since most of you will have been boarding at Eton. But anyhow, let’s imagine you do. When that happens, do you know what mums always say? They’re just jealous. That’s right. They’re just jealous. Whenever anyone upsets their kids, mums always decide that the perpetrator just has to be seething with envy. After all, what else could it be? Continue reading

What women want – how complicated can it be?

Women! When you wake up tomorrow morning, which of the following would you most like to do:

  1. rush around like a blue-arsed fly trying to get the entire household off to holiday club / nursery / work, before arriving (late) at your own workplace for eight hours of unrewarding graft
  2. rush around like a blue-arsed fly trying to feed, clothe and not swear at your children, before spending the day thanklessly washing, cooking, cleaning and refereeing toddler fights
  3. get up late and have a leisurely breakfast in your state-of-the-art kitchen before popping out to meet your girlfriends for shopping / lunch / a session at the spa, before arriving back just in time to greet / snog / shag your partner (you may also, at some point, say hi to the cleaner and the nanny – but that’s optional)

I would of course go for Option 3. Does that make me a bad feminist? Or just someone who would not object to spending a much higher percentage of her time living as though she was on holiday? Continue reading

Bigging up the office in the name of choice

Most mornings I trudge resentfully to work. Today, however, I skipped merrily through the August sunshine, eager to reach my desk, get my head down and perform my duties as a useful economic unit labouring away for The Man.  Whence this joy? It’s not simply because my kids were being annoying, making the office seem a welcome break (let’s face it, that would be most days anyhow). It’s because I’d just read this, a piece that’s enough to make any sane woman think OFFICE! WOO-HOO! YEAH!

The piece I’ve uncovered (via @Scriptrix and @LynnCSchreiber) tells the story of a woman whose whole family turn up at her office to “liberate” her from the tyranny of work and celebrate the start of her new life as an “ever-present loving homemaker”. I don’t know if it is a spoof; I suspect it isn’t. Either way, it reminds me of the reasons why I became a feminist in the first place. Continue reading

Samantha Cameron: Just like us, only posh

Until this morning, I thought the Conservative Party – dominated by mega-rich, ultra-privileged men – were completely out of touch. What’s more, I tended to think the same of the MPs’ partners. That they couldn’t possibly understand the needs of working mothers such as myself. Well, it turns out I was wrong. Thanks to the Telegraph (which I seem to be linking to all the sodding time at the moment), I’ve realised you should never judge a £45 Smythson “I’ve got nothing to wear” notebook by its cover. Samantha Cameron, wife of David, is in fact just like me, with the same hopes, fears, ambitions and worries. Just like me, only posh. Continue reading

On not being a summer holiday mummy

Way-hey! It’s the start of the holidays! School’s out, the sun’s shining, so let the fun begin! Well, it’s fun for the kids, anyhow, who’ll be at home all day, getting under everyone’s feet and turning the place into a complete and utter madhouse. To tell the truth, I don’t know how I’ll cope. Or rather, I don’t know how my partner will cope. Me, I’ll just be going to work as usual. And I hate to say it – and feel a tosser for doing so – but I’m feeling a bit left out.

One of the many reasons why my partner retrained as a primary teacher was so that he’d be around in the holidays for our kids. It was a good decision, but not one that I could have made (I am monumentally awful in front of a class of thirty). This summer is my partner’s first as a qualified teacher, and our eldest child’s first following a year at school. It’s a special summer for both of them. They deserve it – they’ve both done so well — but I can’t help thinking hang on – I want in! How can they be having an idyllic Cotswolds summer without me in it? Continue reading

The work-life balance: Just another way in which you don’t measure up

I’m in the middle of writing up my mid-year appraisal, a task which is of course harder than doing the actual work which is being appraised. It’s especially difficult if, like me, you fear that writing anything more positive than “I’m crap at my job” will make you sound like an arrogant knob. So you twist and turn and faff about, finding ever-more convoluted ways in which to say “I’m alright, really, I suppose”. And then you get to the question which asks you where you’d like to be in five years’ time.

In five years’ time I will be forty-two and five years’ closer to death. Obviously I’d prefer it if this wasn’t the case, but putting “I’d like to have discovered the secret of eternal youth” on your appraisal form is not the done thing. I know this because the form even suggests the criteria by which you should be assessing five-years-hence you: “career progression, training, aspirations, work-life balance”. Looking on the bright side, I can think of things to write for all of these, apart from the last one. Continue reading