New Statesman: Why we should let all boys wear skirts to school

As Paris Lees once wisely observed, “sexism didn’t disappear when women started wearing trousers.” This is sad but true. Trousers, while a practical item of clothing, have not yet brought an end to sexual violence, reproductive coercion or the male appropriation of female labour and resources. Depressing though this is, there is one glimmer of hope. What if, argues Lees, men were allowed to “adopt feminine styles”? Perhaps that’s what’s been missing all along. It’s not that men benefit from male supremacy; they just haven’t discovered the joys of a nice tea dress or a fetching pair of kitten heels.

I am all for clothing equality. Being 5’1” with an ample chest, I never shop in menswear sections myself, but have always felt the strict divisions in terms of styles – in particular, the prohibition on men wearing skirts or dresses – to be arbitrary and wrong. It is a means of reinforcing the belief that the social and psychological differences between men and women are far greater than those between women and other women and men and other men. While women, having fought for their trouser-wearing rights, are now permitted (in most countries, at least) to emulate the dress sense of the dominant class, for most men, “women’s clothing” remains off-limits. Even the comedian Eddie Izzard, who once said of his wardrobe “they’re not women’s clothes, they’re my clothes, I bought them,” has since backtracked, now describing himself as “somewhat boyish and somewhat girlish” (despite being 54).

When it comes to children’s clothing, the differences are even more stark and ridiculous. Apart from the obvious, the bodies of pre-pubescent boys and girls are not significantly different, so it is not as though shape and size can even be said to be a factor. But enter any children’s clothing department, and you will find the flowery pink-for-girls, rough-and-tumble blue-for-boys stereotyping impossible to avoid.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman: Trousers for all: Why are girls still being required to wear skirts for school?

Who wears the trousers in your relationship? In my case, it’s definitely my partner. I’ve always been a skirt and dress person. Unnecessary cloth-based leg separation just isn’t my thing.

Nonetheless, while I question both the practical and stylistic merits of trousers and shorts, I will defend to the death the right of other women to make their own sartorial choices. For this reason I am broadly in favour of Trousers for All, a UK-wide group campaigning to give girls the option of wearing trousers as part of their school uniform.

While most schools already permit this, there remain a number who do not. This week, as part of The University of Manchester’s social justice festival JustFest, academics Dr Katia Chornik and Professor Claire Hale will argue that this is in breach of the Department of Education’s School Uniform document and The Equality Act 2010. “Both documents,” says Chornik, “emphasise the need to avoid uniforms which are expensive and which treat one sex less favourably than the other. In our view the practice of banning trousers for girls is gender discrimination and prejudice against females.” But is it really?

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Hypersexualisation vs slut-shaming: Should France be banning mini-me beauty contests?

The French parliament is seeking to ban beauty contests for girls under the age of 16. It follows a report from former sports minister Chantal Jouanno, entitled Against Hypersexualisation: A New Fight For Equality. In it, she also recommends outlawing “adult clothing in child sizes, for example padded bras and high-heeled shoes”. While I’m all for fights for equality, this makes me uneasy. Despite not having had a beauty queen past (unless winning a fancy dress contest dressed as Peggy from Hi-de-Hi counts) I know my childhood would have been far drabber without all those glorious afternoons during which I made myself look like a mini Bet Lynch.

I don’t wish to draw huge comparisons between France banning the veil and this move. There are different people and motivations underpinning it. Nonetheless, I think there are some shared cultural currents, not least a desire to protect those deemed “vulnerable”  by regulating what they can wear. The bodies of women and girls become meanings to be managed. When Jouanno expresses concern over “the sexualisation of […] expressions, postures or clothes that are too precocious,” the spotlight falls on little girls themselves and the need of adults to place them within our own deeply flawed categories. To my mind, this simply isn’t fair. 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

Throwing a children’s party: The non-Pippa Middleton guide

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 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?). Continue reading

Five-year-old friendship musical chairs

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.
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Boys will be boys?

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.
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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

On fighting with my son, five

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.
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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

Learning from Miss Meadows

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. Continue reading

The nature of angels: Confronting the girlification of the nativity play

I like to watch the clouds roll by,
And think of cherubs in the sky;
But when I think of cherubim,
I don’t know if they’re her or him.

The Cherub, Ogden Nash

I haven’t studied theology and I’m not a great reader of the Bible. Thus when it comes to the nature of angels in a Christian context, I’d say I’m pretty ignorant. I think there’s some debate about whether they are male, female, intersex or none of the above, but I’m worried this is just me confusing Christian representations of the divine with the above Ogden Nash poem. I’m pretty sure one was called Peter Gabriel and that Satan used to be an angel before the Emperor turned him to the Dark Side or something like that. But that’s about it. If you want a definition of angels (and you don’t mean the Robbie Williams song or the 1970s hospital drama) please don’t ask me. And yet, despite my professed ignorance, here’s one thing I don’t think angels are: simpering girlies in pretty white dresses, all trying desperately hard to look like Beyoncé while swishing their hips in a saucy manner. Continue reading

When every hour is whine o’clock…

Author’s note: when reading this post, it’s important to imagine each word read out in as whiny, annoying a tone as possible. Plee-eee-eeease.

It starts first thing in the morning, at around 6:30am. The request could be anything – “can I go to the toilet / can I go downstairs / can I have a drink of water?” On cue I respond with “how do you ask nicely?”, thereby getting the required “please” .* I wouldn’t mind any of this. Okay, I would, a bit, but they are reasonable requests for little people to make. It’s just the tone that gets to me. I can’t stand the tone. Reader, my children whine. 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

Yes, I chose to have children. And?

When I had children, it was not an accident. I wanted them. I’ve always wanted them. Two people would not exist were it not for my selfish, hard-to-justify yearning for them. So, world, what are you going to do about this?

The fact that I made the decision to reproduce and did not merely have little people thrust upon me is something of which I’m often reminded, usually by people who don’t like any of the following things to be suggested:

  • mothers should not face discrimination in the workplace
  • public spaces ought to be more child-friendly
  • parenting is hard work

But you CHOSE to have children, they cry. Yes, I did. But is that a reason not to question our treatment of parents and their offspring? Does choosing a particular path in life mean one cannot question the conditions that pertain to it? Is discrimination against mothers justified on the basis that they could have rejected parenthood entirely? And is antipathy towards the young entirely reasonable since it’s down to those who brought them into existence to protect them from it? Continue reading

In sweary, snot-smeared praise of non-passive, non-spiritual feminist motherhood

As a parent, with five full years of parenting experience behind me, I’ve come to hate one thing in particular: people who refer to being a parent as though it offers them some divine insight into the meaning of life. “As a parent …”, they will begin, before going on to tell you how the arrival of Jake and Isabella totally changed their worldview, finally making them aware of what really matters. These people don’t mean to suggest that non-parents are inferior, but they do so anyhow. In addition to this, they make all other parents feel crap, since if we don’t agree with their “as a parent” positions, this somehow suggests we’re not doing enough to rise to the parenthood challenge. It drives me mad, this fake parental insight; just the sight of one Calpol “if you’ve got kids you’ll understand” slogan is enough to have me spitting feathers (as if non-parents are incapable of understanding that giving kids pain relief might mean they’ll be in less pain). Yes, I’m a sodding parent, but I don’t need this constant ego-stroking. Give me cheaper childcare and I’m happy. Continue reading

A lesson in school ‘choice’ guilt

I am a middle-class mother of two, educated to PhD level. I work in an education industry. You’d think that when it comes to my own kids, I’d be hothousing like mad. Nonetheless, when it comes to sending them to school, I can’t help feeling I have let them down. I mean, I send them (the eldest one, at least – the other’s still too little). And I help them with their reading and whatnot. But so far I have singularly failed to do any of the following things:

  • save enough money for an emergency private school fund
  • make a tactical home purchase in a sought-after catchment area
  • pretend to be a Christian in order to get my sons into the voluntary-aided “outstanding” school down the road (which is actually closer than the school Eldest ended up in)

The last of these things is partly down to laziness, partly down to a desire not to be a hypocrite (and okay, a teeny bit down to the fear that if God does exist, namedropping Him in order to get a school place might make him rather wrathful come Judgement Day). The first two are down to money. I don’t have enough cash to play the system. So I get to keep my principles, but only because I’m too skint to sell out.
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The yummy mummy debate, round two: Now kids in cafés are rubbish as well

Earlier this year my partner, kids and I stopped for tea in a Little Chef.* For reasons I cannot explain, my boys were being exceptionally well-behaved, so much so that one of the waitresses came over to compliment us, the parents, on this. For further reasons I cannot explain, my youngest then decided to hold his chicken nugget aloft and pronounce “I’m like a dog eating poo off the floor”. I can totally see him as a future Sunday Times restaurant critic. He has that way with words. Back then, however, it was less than impressive. Thankfully the waitress took the feedback in far better grace than it deserved.

There are times when my kids have been total sods in cafés. Real little fuckers annoyances. I mean, they’re ace and everything – this morning I even over-egged the positive parenting pudding by calling them “the best little people in the world” – but now and then they turn to the Dark Side. And when that happens, there’s no reasoning with them at all (okay, I tell a lie – there sort of is. But it’s the kind of reasoning that ends with someone going “waaaaaahhhhh!” and it’s not always me). Continue reading

My new campaign: Feminists For Yummy Mummies

I’m launching a new campaign to support much-maligned sector of society. Everyone, I give to you: Feminists For Yummy Mummies!

Now it might sound like I’m being sarcastic but actually, I’m not. I’m deadly serious. If there’s one group which suffers due to a very specific form of sexism which is rarely identified, let alone challenged, then it’s … Well, to be honest, there are many such groups. But well-kept upper-middle-class SAHMs definitely form one of them. It’s about time we did something about it. Continue reading

How to over-interpret a puddle of wee

This morning I woke up in a puddle of wee. Not, I hasted to add, my own (a situation to which I guess there are pros and cons). It was one of my children’s. He’d got into bed with us for a cuddle and, most unusually, had ended up having an accident.

I am worried about him. While I’m very much aware of the practical consequences of wetting the bed, I have only vague ideas about what causes it. For some people I imagine it’s just “a thing” (the technical term). But when it happens out of the blue, I can’t help associating it with some kind of trauma or distress that wasn’t there before. More specifically, I worry my son is not happy at school. I worry he might be being bullied. I worry he is having problems making friends. Continue reading