New Statesman: Meet the hot, funny, carefree Cool Mums – the maternal version of the Cool Girl

I suppose we should all be thankful. Time was when “mum’s night off” came in the form of a KFC value bucket. Now, with the advent of films such as Bad Moms – “from the gratefully married writers of The Hangover” – it looks as though mums are finally getting permission to cut loose and party hard.

This revelation could not come a moment too soon. Fellow mums, you know all those stupid rules we’ve been following? The ones where we think “god, I must do this, or it will ruin my precious child’s life”? Turns out we can say “sod it” and get pissed instead. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore said so.

I saw the trailer for Bad Moms in the cinema with my sons, waiting for Ghostbusters to start. Much as I appreciate a female-led comedy, particularly one that suggests there is virtue in shirking one’s maternal responsibilities, I have to say there was something about it that instantly made me uneasy. It seems the media is still set on making the Mommy Wars happen, pitching what one male reviewer describes as “the condescending harpies that run the PTA” against the nice, sexy mummies who just want to have fun (while also happening to look like Mila Kunis). It’s a set up we’ve seen before and will no doubt see again, and while I’m happy some attention is being paid to the pressures modern mothers are under, I sense that another is being created: the pressure to be a cool mum.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Andrea Leadsom’s Maternal Unthinking

In 1989 the philosopher Sara Ruddick published Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace, in which she sought to identify “distinctive ways of conceptualizing, ordering, and valuing” that arise out of maternal practices. “I am not,” she wrote, “saying that mothers, individually or collectively, are (or are not) especially wonderful people […] For me, ‘maternal’ is a social category. Although maternal thinking arises out of actual child-caring practices, biological parenting is neither necessary nor sufficient.”

I do not expect Andrea Leadsom to have read Maternal Thinking, let alone agreed with its precepts. For instance, Ruddick takes particular care to tease out the interplay of selflessness and self-interest that goes into mothering a child who one wishes to become a successful member of a community (regardless of whether one supports the values of one’s own community in absolute terms or not):

Maternal practice assumes a legitimate special concern for the children one has engendered and passionately loves as well as for the families (of various forms) in which they live. Any attempt to deny this special form of self-interest will only lead to hypocritical false consciousness or rigid, totalistic loyalties. Mothers can, I believe, come to realize that the good of their own children is entwined with the good of all children, that in a world divided between exploiter and exploited no children can be both good and strong, that in a world at war all children are endangered.

Compare this with Leadsom’s approach to maternal politics in her hours-old yet already infamous interview with The Times’ Rachel Sylvester:

But genuinely, I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake, you know, I mean [Teresa May] possibly has nieces, nephew, you know lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children, who will directly be a part of what happens next. So it really keeps you focused on what you are really saying, because what it means is you don’t want a downturn but never mind let’s look to the ten years hence it’ll all be fine, but my children will be starting their lives so I have a stake in the next year, the next two…

Whereas Ruddick envisions maternal self-interest as a one possible stop gap on the road to recognising that a world divided into exploiter and exploited is unsustainable, Leadsom identifies self-interest as a good in itself. There’s no need to move on to a more collective politics of care, just as long as you’ve done enough to ensure your own child isn’t totally screwed in the short term. Continue reading

In defence of the Highgate Mum

Posh mummies: aren’t they just awful? Hogging the pavement with their designer prams, clamouring to get their precious offspring into the most prestigious schools, hyperventilating the moment their little cherub comes into contact with a non-organic edamame bean. Thank God they have some comedy value, otherwise there’d be no point to them at all.

This, at least, is the view of the twitter account @Highgatemums, described by the Poke as “comedy gold.” @Highgatemums tweets the idiotic (and not so idiotic) musings overheard from the “posh mums of North London.” And some of it is very funny, if stretching the bounds of plausibility (“He gets annoyed that no one realises ‘Jack’ is short for ‘Jacobean’”). It’s hard to read the timeline and not to think how much you’d hate to be one of those mummies (apart from the being rich thing, obviously). They’re so superficial! So dumb! So why would I want to defend them? Continue reading

“Nature is not a feminist”

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). Continue reading

Can you be a mummy blogger and still be a feminist?

I’ve given this post a really crap title. It’s a title so crap that if, say, Mumsnet were to arrange a debate on it as part of their annual Blogfest, you’d take one look at the programme and think “what a perfectly ridiculous question!” Then you’d swig a bit more free gin and giggle at the famous people but all the while you’d be working yourself up into a state of ever more righteous indignation. Mummy blogger! Feminist! Pah!

Finally the time for the debate would come and you’d be ready, primed to respond to any trigger words the panel (i.e. anyone on stage who wasn’t Alison Perry) threw at you. And then it would begin! They’d say words like “jam”! And “shoes”! And then, horror of horrors, Sarah Ditum would even utter the word “university”! All hell would break loose. There’d be shouting, hissing and fury. See? You just knew that debate would be shit. It was all in the title.

Continue reading

Why this mum’s not saluting Lily Allen’s baggy pussy

I realise I’m late to the party when it comes to discussing Lily Allen’s new video, or even discussing how I’m not going to discuss it. Therefore I’m going to discuss it a bit, then discuss people discussing it, and then not discuss it any more. I reckon overall that should do.

Like many people, I liked the balloon bit in Allen’s video but thought the rest was rather like punching someone in the face while telling them you were only offering an ironic commentary on face-punching. I’d like to think it’s possible to encourage people to be critical of sexist, racist culture without simply re-creating it in order to say “LOOK! LOOK HOW BAD THIS IS!” Continue reading

Why I hate “me time”

One of the many things you learn upon becoming a mother is just how important “me time” is. Believe me, it’s really, really important. Without it no mum would ever survive.

In case you’re wondering what “me time” is, it’s what other people call “time” or, to give it its full name, “time when you’re not at work in which you do other stuff”. This is not to be confused with “free time,” that is, time in which you do anything you like (i.e. get drunk). “Me time,” or “time” as it was once known, is filled with activities which are kind of okay. You wouldn’t go so far as to call them interesting but hey, they help while away the hours. It’s stuff like having a bath, washing your hair, doing some sit-ups, walking the dog. Fine, but not exactly noteworthy. Unless, of course, you are a woman who has had kids. Then it’s a different story. Continue reading

Why Mumsnet feminism matters

This week the Telegraph ran a piece that purported to ask the question “has motherhood ever been so political?” Beneath the obligatory “pregnant woman in boring, inexplicably tidy office” photo, Judith Woods outlined the hard choices faced by mothers in today’s deeply unequal society.

Few people realise, for instance, that when mothers choose to stay at home “it’s not about luxury”. Nor is it about not having a job, or only having one that’s too poorly paid to cover childcare expenses. According to Woods, for these mothers “it’s about replicating the secure, traditional upbringing they had”:

In the process, they forgo holidays abroad, avoid glossy magazines full of the latest fashions they can’t afford and drive battered cars worthy of Only Fools and Horses.

I know, I know, it’s heartbreaking. But don’t use up all the tissues — there’s worse to come: Continue reading

My problem with Virginia Ironside’s parenting advice

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. Continue reading

So yeah, I, um, went to Britmums …

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. Continue reading

Mummies to the rescue! On Daddy Pig, Father’s Day and gender stereotypes

Poor old Daddy Pig! As usual, he’s in trouble. This time, however, he’s not broken his lawnmower / dyed his football strip a girly shade of pink / chosen a Christmas tree that’s too big to fit in the car / mistaken a field of potatoes for Potato City. He’s been found guilty of being a bad role model. Ho ho!

According to a Netmums survey, 93% of parents “claim children’s shows don’t represent real-life dads this Father’s Day” (and, one presumes, at any other time):

Almost half of parents polled (46%) slammed books, adverts and children’s TV shows like Peppa Pig, The Simpsons and even the Flintstones which show dads as lazy or stupid. Almost a third of parents (28%) claim it is “a very subtle form of discrimination against dads” while a further 18% were more strident, saying it makes children believe dads are “useless” from an early age and there would be an “outcry” if it was done against mums.

Misandry a-go-go! Or possibly not. This is, after all, Netmums, not exactly known for enlightened views on gender equality. I don’t trust them on feminism (or feMEnism, as they like to call it), so I’m hardly going to take their word for it as far as Daddy Pig’s concerned. Continue reading

The royal pregnancy: A not very big adventure

This evening I read my children a lovely story called The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure. In it, a beautiful princess called Kate visits her friends Biff, Chip and Kipper, owners of a magic key which takes them on amazing trips to far-off lands and … Only kidding. The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure is actually the story of a woman in her thirties who looks nice while being pregnant. The end.

Disappointing though it is that Kate Middleton isn’t doing something genuinely adventurous, it’s not entirely surprising. Day after day we’re reminded that she’s “ripping up the royal baby rule book” by planning to stay with her parents once her baby is born. And that she’s whipping Kim Kardashian’s much commented-on arse in the pregnancy fashion stakes. All very exciting, at least for those of us who are excited by staying with parents and wearing clothes. For the rest of the world, it’s just a bit bewildering. You know something’s not quite right, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. Is it the crapness of royal protocol, the shamelessness of royalty itself, the fawning press, the sexism, the infantilisation of pregnant women … or all of these things at once? And is it even worth worrying about it now when it’s only going to get worse? 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

Why do people hate mummy bloggers?

Most people really don’t like mummy bloggers, do they? By this I don’t mean that the latter are facing intolerance on a daily basis. It’s not as though there are crowds lining up with pitchforks outside Mumsnet Towers (having said that, I’m not sure whether that’s even a real building). Anyhow, I just think that, if you asked most people what they thought of mummy bloggers, those who bothered to have opinions at all would not be expressing positive ones. 

You could say it stands to reason. To the outside observer, mummy bloggers are like Private Eye’s Polly Filla, only with less successful writing careers. They’re whingey middle-class moaners, who think their children are the centre of the universe and that everyone else should be gripped by the trials and tribulations of parenthood. They write whiney posts about potty training, behaviour management, cake baking, childcare guilt and cleaning products. They even write whiney posts about whining. Narcissists of the hearth, they’re unable to see beyond the domestic sphere and engage with what really matters. What’s more, they’re so self-obsessed that they’re even aware that this is going on (in case you didn’t check – why ever not? – all of the above links lead to posts written by me. I’m so vain, I’m pretty damn certain this post is about me). Continue reading

Just how tiring should parenting be?

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. Continue reading

No, I don’t hate Liz Jones – I’m just worried about her

Dear Liz Jones

Today you wrote a column about women like me, that is, middle-class women who became mothers in our 30s. Thank you. Usually no one ever pontificates about our lives, motivations, shriveled eggs, outrageous sense of entitlement when we’re out and about pushing a buggy the size of a 4×4 etc., so it makes a pleasant change. Nevertheless, while listing all of our flaws — and heaven knows, we late breeders have got them — there’s one you missed out. Yes, we might be selfish, overly obsessed with our offspring, fussy, flabby and over-tired, but do you know what else we are? Really fucking patronising. Therefore allow me, Liz, to patronise you. Continue reading

Mummies! Ever get the feeling we don’t yet have enough “mummy stuff”?

Becoming a mother has brought with it many unexpected perks. I get my own special “mummy” porn. Proctor & Gamble are proud sponsors of me. And now, as an added bonus, TV presenter, classical musician and Hear’say survivor Myleene Klass is designing clothes for me. Honestly, will the treats never end?

Introducing her new clothing range for Littlewoods, Myleene explains that it’s “designed by a mummy for mummies”. Thank heavens for that. I am so sick of forcing my mummy-shaped body into all these “normal” clothes. Finally, someone has listened to the voices of mummies everywhere and catered to our highly specific needs. Continue reading

It’s not baby talk, it’s the stuff of life

Has anyone else noticed that when cis, fertile men get sentimental about pregnancy, it’s most likely to be when they’re suggesting pregnant women shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions? This is the moment when the most rational amongst them can turn to mush; witness Mehdi Hasan in his now-infamous New Statesman piece on being an anti-abortion lefty:

I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a “person”.

Aw, isn’t that sweet? (Providing you squint a bit and ignore the part that reduces a living human being to a mere “mother’s womb”.) It’s always nice to find men who are in touch with the cute side of pregnancy, even if it’s only in order to tell the unhappily pregnant that they just don’t “get” it.

When we’re discussing a normal pregnancy – that is, one in which a woman is appropriately receptive to her “with child” state – it’s a different matter. Sure, men write about it, but it tends to be in sarky, distancing (dare I say paranoid?) tones. There’s a real fear of engaging too closely with the subject; you might have been able to impregnate your bird (“he shoots, he scores!” as a million fatherhood manuals quip), but actually showing an interest in the implications of this would undermine the manliness and virility which you’ve only just demonstrated. In a wonderful (and unusual) article on becoming a new father, Sarfraz Manzoor notes that the books he found on the subject “tended to be written by men who deludedly believed they were funny. The blokiness was deeply dull”. God forbid that men should be expected to take pregnancy and birth seriously. It’s way too girly for that. 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

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