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


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

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

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

Darling, I only had you to screw the company

When we were kids, my brother and I would spend hours engaged in deep philosophical debates about why we were here. Or rather, why I was here (he was the eldest and for some reason or other, we never got on to discussing him). His line: ‘you were only born so I could have someone to play with’. My line: ‘I was only born because you were such a disappointment’. All very touching, I’m sure you will agree. Of course, we never got on to the real reason for my existence, which I will reveal to you now: I was born, as was my brother, so that our mother could get out of going to work, thereby screwing her employer and wasting an education that could have been given to a man. Forty years later, I imagine she’s still feeling smug about it. Continue reading

Don’t mention the theme tunes

Do you ever go through phases when anything and everything you do appears to be accompanied by an inappropriate theme tune? I’m only asking because a) I’m going through such a phase right now and b) I’m self-obsessed enough to assume this is of interest to everyone else.

Take today, for instance. What with it being my Secret Day Off, I have been in and out of clothes shops, trying on dresses I don’t need and can’t afford (Caitlin Moran advises against this in How To Be A Woman, but …  actually, I can’t think of a but. She’s probably right. But anyhow, Moran’s not the boss of me). I’ve just been in Warehouse – a store that now screams WAY TOO YOUNG FOR THE LIKES OF YOU!!! – and have been working my way through a pile of wholly inappropriate frocks for no other reason than they were in the sale. I’d just put on a ridiculous geometric print number and was doing that thing when you go out of the cubicle and pose in front of the bigger mirror, like that’s going to make any sodding difference to how ridiculous you look. And then it happened – they started playing One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful. Continue reading

My Super Top Secret Day of Doing Sod All

Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone, but right now, at this very moment, I am not at work! I got up this morning, overdosed on coffee, powered through the usual school-and-nursery nightmare run, arrived at the office, parked my car …. and scarpered off into town, fully intending to remain there until home time. Right now I’m in a café, with a peppermint tea and chunky chocolate biscuits. The music they’re playing is rubbish, but who cares? I’m not at work! And what’s more, nobody knows this but me!

Actually, that’s not strictly true. My boss knows this. Today has been officially signed off as annual leave (believe it or not, my idiocy does have some limits; skiving off work and then blogging about it is where I draw the lime). My partner and kids don’t know about it, though. As far as they’re concerned, Mummy’s in the office doing whatever it is Mummy does in there (my four-year-old once did an impression of me at work, which involved him waving his arms around to type and saying “I read email! Everyone annoying! I go home now!” The accuracy was astounding). This is not the first time I have taken a day off without telling my nearest and dearest. To be honest, I do it as often as possible, three or four times a year. I reckon everyone should, if they can. After all, what is a day off if everyone knows about it? They’ll just ask you to do stuff and the whole point of a day off is not doing anything. Continue reading

Bad Mood Feminism: Because it’s not real equality unless you’re allowed to be a grumpy, selfish sod

I will warn you now: I am writing this post in a bad mood. An exceptionally bad mood. In fact, it’s so bad I’m going to give it capitals: it is a full-on, in-your-face Bad Mood. And I wish I could say it was about something serious. World poverty and exploitation, for instance, while I’m sitting on a train to London writing on a netbook, meeting agenda before me and Pumpkin café cappuccino to the left. But no. I am in a Bad Mood but there is no moral authority behind it. On the contrary, today it’s All About Me.

That description of me I just gave – I’m not sure it’s set the scene fully. I’d also like to mention that I’m wearing a red Country Casuals dress – very “Special K woman gets a promotion” – and am rocking some serious black heels. The kids are in nursery and breakfast club, and Mummy’s off to do some serious business. But first she thought she’d read the Independent (seeing as we’re going for hard copies today and not the free stuff you can read any day online).

I was in the Bad Mood before I opened the newspaper. I have had a complete pig of a morning making sure everyone gets off to the right place, with no help from my partner because hey, he’s now got a job to go to (while my own job – still the main-earning one – is starting to feel like career woman posturing being kindly indulged by a benevolent world which has decided to grant me a moment’s “equality”). I feel put-upon and resentful. In fact, I am wondering if deep down, childish resentment is one of the main reasons why I blog. Not because I care about the world or anyone else. All this “wanting a voice” – it’s just wanting to complain when there’s nowhere else to go. Anyhow, I was in a Bad Mood before I even got to the following headline, from a piece by Laurie Penny: “Women “having it all” is a middle-class myth”. You don’t say, Laurie. Are we really still on about that?

Penny could really do better than this because this is the same sodding article we’ve been reading since 1978 (I possibly exaggerate – I was three at the time – but it’s probably not that far off). Here are some of the classic anti-feminism-as-real-feminsim boxes it ticks:

  1. presents feminism as having been put off-course by the concerns of women who are “independently wealthy, white and upper-middle class” (what, like those privileged morons in The Women’s Room? Yeah, they can fuck right off)
  2. plays off the suffering of “poorer women in domestic work” against the petty concerns of those in “high-salaried, full-time careers” – who might employ them! Crikey! (I hope Penny copy-edited this piece herself – otherwise that’s, like, exploitation)
  3. discusses proper feminism – with “serious campaigns for universal free childcare, for wages for housework, and for a welfare state that could allow everyone, not just women, to balance life and work” – as though no one now gives a shit. Especially not the wealthy women. Who are all feminists, except they aren’t. Or something.

Well. I was as pissed off as everyone else by the sense of privilege and entitlement pervading Anne-Marie Slaughter‘s Atlantic article, but can we give this a rest? All the sodding time, the same old false dichotomy. The one that trivialises the authority of women who gain positions of power (the patriarchal sell-outs) and does fuck all to help anyone else, beyond intimating that feminism is a bit crap really because some women have dared to be self-interested.

Penny writes scathingly about feminism being reduced to a fight for “the rights of a minority of women to be admitted into a sexist labour market whilst managing the school run on the side”. I think it’s this phrasing that gets to me the most. That’ll be women like me (and actually, managing the school run alongside early-morning meetings is a total pisser if you’re trying to “look professional” i.e. not get your throat cut in the next round of redundancies. Oh, but at least Penny would like me then).

I am white, but not independently wealthy nor upper-middle class. I don’t employ a cleaner (but I sodding well would if I fell into either of the previous categories, like a shot). I honestly do not get the impression that feminism is reduced to faffing around to cater for my needs. It would be highly inappropriate if it were, but it isn’t. I don’t earn enough to fall into the “success” category that Penny derides. I work not as an indulgence but because I need to. It’s got sod all to do with fulfillment or entitlement. Today I have put on heels to attend a meeting and thus by Penny’s standards I’m one of those “high-heeling their way up the corporate ladder”. What a way to ridicule just the simple act of a woman going to work.

Penny claims to only have the best interests of feminism at heart:

Without wishing to sound like a conspiracy theorist, if I had to invent a way to undermine feminism as a socially useful movement, I’d set up a ridiculous standard of personal and professional attainment, one that would be unachievable for the vast majority of women […] After I’d set up this impossible standard, I’d be sure to make women feel like failures for not attaining it.

Well. That’s novel. Do you know what I would do, though? I’d set up ridiculous standard of moral authority, one that would be unachievable for the vast majority of human beings. After I’d set up this impossible standard, I’d create caricatures of all the women who didn’t measure up and claim that these days, they were the sole focus of feminism and its concerns. I reckon that would be pretty effective.

Anyhow, this caught me on a Bad Day, in a Bad Mood. Perhaps we should just blame a lack of sleep. Or failing that, Andy Murray.

Success, the Louise Mensch way

When were growing up, my brother used to have the following poem on his wall:

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

Success, attrib. Emerson (possibly)

It is a nice poem (you can tell I’ve got a PhD in literature, can’t you?). Nevertheless, it makes me sad. My brother is disabled and hasn’t achieved all of these supposedly tiny, natural things. He has my respect, and my children love him. But it’s not quite the same. Perhaps we shouldn’t set any universal standards for success; it’s always a bloody minefield.

I say all this, but I have in my hand a copy of August’s Glamour. And right there on page 26, it’s none other than Tory MP Louise Mensch, taking me to task for my pathetic ambivalence towards success:

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Feminism: It’s not just about covering your toddler in eyeliner

Strange though it is, there are times in life when you come across people who don’t believe misogyny exists. This evening I decided, once and for all, to set the record straight. I armed myself with a netbook, black eyeliner and a suitably feminine-looking toddler (i.e. my youngest son). I thereafter proceeded to trawl all the websites I could think of – the Mail Online, the Guardian Comment is Free,  Waitrose Online Grocery Shopping – searching for random anonymous comments which proved that SOME PEOPLE DON’T LIKE SOME WOMEN! Once I’d gathered all my comments, I proceeded to use the eyeliner (Benefit Bad Gal!) to write them in massive script all over my son-pretending-to-be-a-girl. Then I told him that his cuddly monkey didn’t love him any more, which made him go all cry-y and vulnerable-looking, at which point I took a photograph. This photograph proved, once and for all, that MISOGYNY EXISTS! Continue reading

Career mummies: The whole truth

Yesterday at work I was on the road visiting clients. The colleague with whom I usually travel was off, so I’d been asked to take along a younger member of staff, to help her gain experience. When I say ‘younger’, I mean quite a bit younger. The colleague was fresh from university and in her first job. She still lived at home with her parents (as should anyone fuckwitted enough to have been born later than 1987). As we drove along, she asked me lots of questions about my life, work and experiences. I started to feel like we were in a film. A terrible road movie looking at female relationships across the generations, a movie in which lessons are learnt and bridges are built. As the questions mounted, I started whether the M5 was in fact a bluescreen.

At one point she said the following:

It must be really hard, working full-time and having children. How do you manage?

Continue reading