New Statesman: In super-rich divorce cases, I find myself cheering for the Gold Digger

Being female is an expensive business. It’s not just that the lipstick and high heels don’t come for free. Financially you are hobbled from the day you are born.

There’s no way of putting an exact figure on how much being a woman costs. There are various ways in which people have tried, estimating gender pay gaps, comparing pensions and savings, even checking how much more parents spend on presents for sons than for daughters. But so much of this is unquantifiable. What’s the cost of your time, your emotional labour, all those things you do or don’t do because the world belongs to men and you are not one of them? How does the impact of your sex intersect with your class, your race and your location? It’s impossible to get a precise figure for how much each of us is really owed. Still, since no one’s offering us any actual compensation, I suppose we don’t have to anyway.

At primary school in the 1980s we used to sing a song called Supermum. Vastly inferior to Billy Connolly’s Supergran, it was a study in patriarchal passive aggression:

Supermum, you’re wonderful, but very underpaid.
Supermum, you’re cook and cleaner, handyman and maid.
If you put in a bill, for all the work you do,
There’d be an awful lot of wages due.

Ha! How better to indoctrinate little girls into the ways of the patriarchy than by piling on the insincere praise? It’s not as though “Supermum” ever would ask for payment for her labours; indeed, that she doesn’t is the whole point. While we might occasionally see articles which fancifully estimate what the yearly salary of a stay-at-home wife and mother should be (£159,137, apparently), these are meant to be all the reward a woman needs. You don’t need the actual money, just someone to tell you (ideally via the medium of song) that your labour could be considered economically valuable. It could be, but it isn’t. Soz about that.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Women in politics: Are the wives and daughters of male MPs all we need?

When only one in five MPs are women and 85% of Cabinet ministers are male it’s easy to worry that women’s needs will be ignored. After all, if our policy makers inhabit a world in which the vast majority of people are men, isn’t that likely to colour their view of the people they represent? While it’s clear that women do not all share the same concerns, wouldn’t an environment in which being a woman is not in and of itself anomalous offer a good starting point from which to consider the diversity of all women’s views? I think it would; it bothers me that we remain so far from achieving this.

Of course, it could be that I worry too much. After all, it’s not as though the average MP has no contact whatsoever with womankind. Male MPs might, by and large, have been raised in creepy, ultra-posh all-male environments, but it’s not as though they never come face to face with real, live women in the here and now. They have wives! PAs! Nannies! Cleaners! Some of them even have daughters! What’s that if not an emotional investment in the future of the female population?

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Rich parents: Just richer, not better

It was the lovely Mark Steele who pointed out that, when it comes to spending money, it’s the poor who have all the choices, “swanning around in charity shop cardigans and galavanting on shopping expeditions like the women in Sex and the City, squealing ‘Hey let’s go to Poundland and buy a dishcloth’, in ways the rich can barely dream of”. Meanwhile wealthy people like James “I’m not a rich person” Delingpole are scrimping and saving in order to give their offspring the same pricey schooling they received. No Poundland dishcloths, charity shop cardigans or, um, skiing holidays for him. Instead, it’s school fees all the way and what’s more, according to the chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, wonderful parents such as him are made to feel like “social lepers”.

It’s not fair, is it? As Delingpole points out,

I could have done the decent thing and used my earnings to help drive up property prices in a good state-school catchment area; or I could be splurging the same amount of dosh on an annual skiing holiday, a safari and a lease on that nice, chunky Range Rover I’ve always coveted. But instead, miserable, selfish bastard that I am, I’ve chosen to squander my money on my children’s education. What kind of monster must I be?

What kind indeed? In his view, “a loving, caring sort of monster”. In mine, just a rich one, no better nor worse than anyone else, were it not for his truly monstrous dishonestly regarding the broader inequalities in play. Continue reading

False rape allegations: Why the distorted focus?

Finally – finally! – we get to know just how prevalent false rape accusations have become. As BBC Newsbeat reports “it’s the first time details for England and Wales have been compiled, showing how common the problem is”. From that particular wording, you wouldn’t necessarily think that the answer to that was “not very common at all”. But you’d be wrong. Over the past 17 months there have been two – yes, two – successful prosecutions per month for making false allegations and wasting police time. To put that in perspective, you find an average of 332 prosecutions per month for rape over the same period (something the BBC fails to mention). Even if we set aside the fact that many rapes are not even reported or do not get to trial, it’s quite a contrast. Think of how many times you see stories of false rape allegations reported in the press and imagine if rape convictions were reported in the same way. Every other story you read would be about a rape conviction. But it’s not, is it? Because rape is “the norm” and false allegations are the exception – even if our tendency to focus on the exception means we now think it is the norm (at least if we write for BBC Newsbeat).
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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

The best way to market feminism? Let’s all make it less feminist

So I’d been having one of those days and I decided, in a moment of complete stupidity, that I’d wind down in my lunch hour by going on Twitter (yes, I know!). And then of course the first thing I spotted was this:

Now, it’s not necessarily a bad question. And on a good day I’d have been thinking hmm, interesting. I’d say it’s a mix of influences such as … (at which point I’d have realised there was no way of putting this into 140 characters and given up). But I was having a bad day so my immediate response was Well, that’s f***ing obvious. It’s because most people are useless and young women are no exception. And that’s only 100 characters. I didn’t tweet it though as I thought it would annoy most people (what with them being useless).

Of course, I found myself looking at the responses Vagenda did get. Pah, I thought. Even the feminists are useless. Blaming other feminists for the stereotypes promoted by anti-feminists. When actually feminists are ace. Apart from these ones, who are useless.

Judgement duly passed, I then stalked off to retrieve my sandwich. Continue reading

Caitlin Moran: Spewing forth

Here is an odd fact: whenever there is a twitterstorm surrounding Caitlin Moran, one or both of my children vomits. I don’t know why this is. During the Lena Dunham thing it was Youngest, all over the back seat of the car. This time, with that rather odd Times piece on equality, it’s been both of them in turn, one after the other (to be precise, one onto the pyjamas of his brother, prompting the latter to puke onto the floor – we call it vominoes). Obviously next time Moran plans on tweeting or writing anything remotely controversial, I’d like to be made aware so I can get a bucket at the ready.

That said, I always end up following said twitterstorms, in-between vomit mop-ups. The truth is, if Caitlin Moran didn’t exist we’d have to invent her. For philosophical purposes, obviously. She’s like that tree falling down in the forest with no one there to hear it, or … Actually, I don’t know many examples of philosophical stuff (I only got halfway through Sophie’s World in 1998). But anyhow, Caitlin Moran has meanings that extend way beyond anything she herself has written or said. I’m sure there’s a special word for stuff like that, I just don’t know what it is (I ought to know these words because I’m a privileged person. The reason I don’t is because I’m lacking in intellectual curiosity, busy with two kids and not quite sure how to look up words for phenomena that I don’t quite know how to describe in the first place. So not unlike Caitlin Moran, you could say). Continue reading

Bristol University Christian Union vs The Equality Banana

The other day my sons were fighting over a banana. It’s not as though bananas are particularly treasured in our household  – certainly not if there are bank -breaking fruit such as strawberries available – but I hadn’t been to Sainsbury’s for a while. This particular banana happened to be the last thing in the fruit bowl, hence scarcity made it valuable. My youngest was content with sharing, but my eldest wanted all of it. Having witnessed all attempts at persuasion fail, I went for the compromise option, giving Eldest most of the banana while offering Youngest a single bite. Obviously this solution pleased no one, hence I ended up pacifying the little blighters with Coco Pops instead.

You may be reading this and thinking “well, that’s just a rubbish solution – of course it didn’t work!” And you’d be right. That’s why I made it up. What I actually did was what any reasonable parent would do and split the banana in half. This seriously pissed off Eldest, who threw a major tantrum, during which he hurled his half into the recycling bin. Naturally he then saw Youngest munching on the remaining half and wanted back the piece he’d rejected. Only he couldn’t have it because it was already covered with that morning’s leftover Ready Brek. “Well, you should have been willing to share”, said I. Lesson learned, until next time at least. Continue reading

Maria Miller and abortion: “It’s only journalists asking me about it”

In the Guardian’s Saturday interview, Aida Edemariam puts the following question to Maria Miller, who has both spoken and voted in favour of reducing the abortion time limit to 20 weeks:

Let’s say that a woman goes for a routine anomalies scan at 20 weeks. And let’s say, because of timing, or because maternity units are often so oversubscribed, this turns into 21 weeks. And at that point this woman discovers that the foetus she’s carrying has a terrible anomaly and will either die  in the womb or have a terrible quality of life, for both baby and mother – what would you say to her?

I think it’s a good question. I’d probably ask it, too. Except I wouldn’t because I’m not a journalist, hence I’m not trained in asking politicians the right questions, those questions which are relevant and pointed and put them on the spot. It’s only people such as Edemariam who are able to do this. This may be why Miller notes that  “the only people who ever ask me about this issue are journalists”. Too bloody right, Maria. The rest of us, well, we’d only fluff our lines. That’s if we got to interview you at all, which we won’t. It’s not our job. This doesn’t mean you don’t owe us answers all the same. Continue reading

Equality: The Mothercare Trousers Conundrum

When I’ve been pregnant, I’ve always found it hard to get clothes that fit. It’s not that I’m oddly unaware of the existence of maternity garments – I’ve seen enough “Baby on board” slogans to last several lifetimes – it’s that I’m much shorter than the average person. And when short people get pregnant it’s just too weird. How can you possibly be two “abnormal” things at once? Isn’t that just taking the piss?

It would appear so, not just in relation to pregnancy wear. And whereas with that I can understand the reasoning – the short and pregnant form too small a market so you might as well just leave them to adjust their own over-bump trousers – when it comes to equality ideals, I don’t get it at all. It seems to be decreed – by people who are usually only one “weird thing” at most – that everyone else is only permitted to have one “issue”. Anything more would just be greedy. Continue reading

Oi, masculinity! Mind having your latest crisis in peace?

Can anyone remember a time when masculinity was not “in crisis”? I’ll be honest with you: I can’t. Whatever the time, whatever the place, men have always found a way in which to be society’s real losers. Poor old them.

I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic. Oh, okay, actually, I do. I am sodding well sick of white male middle-class journalists linking petty struggles with their own egos to the plight of unnamed working-class males. Once you bring the working-class males into the mix, no one is allowed to be unsympathetic. Especially not feminists, who are all middle-class anyhow.
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Michael Gove: An apologia

A post I started writing a couple of weeks ago then forgot about. Until Michael Gove hit the news again for proposing the abolition of GCSEs...

Arriving home after the England vs France Euro 2012 match, I was greeted by an excited four-year-old, eager to tell me about the match:

Mummy, it was a draw! Everybody won!

My first thought: Aw, how cute! My second: Ha, bet that response would seriously piss off Michael Gove!

We all love a bit of Gove-bashing, don’t we? Just the sight of his face, fixed in a permanent expression of priggish outrage at misuse of the subjunctive in five-year-olds, is enough to make the average person want to scream something grammatically incorrect at the top of his/her/their voice(s). In my workplace we even have a picture of Michael Gove’s face pinned on one wall. Every so often someone adds a sarcastic speech bubble, just for their own amusement. I’m not a teacher and I don’t work in a school. Perhaps every workplace has its own Gove-bashing facility, kind of like those relaxation tank thingies you imagine Japanese workers having, but to allow people to let off steam in a peculiarly British way.

I’m starting to worry, though. Maybe we’ve all gone a bit too far. Is he really all that bad? Isn’t he better than a lot of the others? And so I’ve decided, in a moment of complete madness, to see what kind of a defence I’m able to mount for him (you can thank me later, Michael. In Latin).

1. Unlike all the other vote-chasers, you get the impression that he really, really means what he says

Even if it’s total crap. But with Michael, everything’s personal. He started out poor, went to grammar school, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, got to Oxford and ended up mixing with the posh folks! And all he wants is for your child to have the chance to do that too! With the emphasis being on “have the chance”. You can’t have every child doing that. Just the clever poor ones. And the clever rich ones. And probably, as ever, the thick rich ones, too. The point is, if everyone’s given proper hard stuff to study, instead of the liberal pinko shit you get in state schools today, we could have exactly the same inequalities as before, but with better knowledge of Ancient Greek! Plus, a select few grammar school pupils could be living the Michael Gove dream! (Confession: I went to a grammar school. I went to Oxford. Do I think most children should be sacrificed for the sake of a few having the chance to be like me? Of course I do. But the opportunity to implement this just hasn’t arisen. I don’t think Gove should be allowed to get there first)

2. He’s endearingly in awe of academics

I mean, you might not think it. He wants academics to write A-level specs, and he wants them to do training so employers don’t have to bother. The only things he doesn’t want them to do is research, teach and run universities i.e. be academics. But then he says really cute things like this: “I’m a journalist by trade, a politician by accident, and a historian in my dreams”. That’s dead sweet, isn’t it? My partner used to be a professional historian (in the past!), and it’s nice to think Gove dreams of watching students vomit in campus lifts, buying shoes at Matalan and having to tell the millionth knob in the pub that no, we don’t all “already know what happpened by now”. I wonder if many historians dream of being Gove?

 3. He’s probably right about languages, even if it’s for the wrong reasons

Children used to be taught MFL, meaning Modern Foreign Languages. Now it’s to be just FL. Which sounds a bit like “fuck all”, and that’s unfortunate. But on the whole, I think the dropping of the “modern” has much to recommend it. Talking about the environment in German is boring. Being forced to engage with history and culture – in any language, dead or alive – isn’t. It also helps us to value the transferability of a linguist’s skills. It’s not about the language per se, but the learning of a language. I say all this, mind, and I don’t know any Greek or Latin. Perhaps they’re seriously overrated, rubbish languages. Middle High German is good, though. Let’s get that into every primary.

4. He’s probably wrong about the other things, but then so are my dad and my nan, and that doesn’t make them bad people

Several years ago I had a massive row with my dad and nan, who were doing the whole “young people today are thick as pigshit” routine. They’re not, you know. It’s just a thing people say, and it justifies anything: scrapping GCSEs at the drop of a hat, writing off children at a very young age, deeming generations unworthy of jobs that don’t in fact exist, and treating the ones you do employ like shit while claiming they all need “remedial help” (fuck off, CBI). Most young people I know are fine and can do apostrophes and hard sums and everything. Which is no use to them in the current economic climate, but hey, it’s good to know nonetheless.

5. It’s not his fault his face is like that

It just is. He might look permanently priggish, but I, for instance, look permanently grumpy. Sometimes, if I’m out and about and don’t realise I’ve encountered a mirror, I find myself thinking Christ, she looks a miserable cow. Glad I’m not her. Whereas actually, there’s a permanent party goin’ on inside my head (mind you, it’s quite late on at the party, and several people have drunk too much, and someone’s crying and another person’s just thrown up in the kitchen sink. But it’s a party nonetheless). Maybe it’s like that for Michael Gove. Only for him, it’s a veritable bacchanalia, replete with old Etonians in togas who finally accept little Michael as one of them.

This is about all I can come up with. I’d probably have been able to think up more, had I been of the generation who did O-levels and are hence mega-clever (unless of course I’d had to do CSEs, in which case I’d be mega-thick, but also completely invisible in any assessment of what a generation might have achieved). Anyhow, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m of the dumbed-down generation. Must go now because my youngest is asking me whether dolphins have wheels. Alas, I fear it won’t be the O-level track for him…

Shopping Tips for Facists: My Jubilee Experience

Before I get started with my Official Diamond Jubilee Blog Post, I’ve a confession to make: I haven’t watched any of the BBC coverage of the Jubilee celebrations. So it’s fair to say I haven’t quite “immersed myself” in the whole thing. I was going to watch the Concert at the Palace, but my partner had already switched over to Euro Football’s Most Shocking Moments on BBC 3, and to be honest, it was quite good fun reliving penalty shootouts and whatnot (the official footballing term). This does however mean that my Jubilee experience has been limited to 1) not going to work for two days, and 2) decorating the dinner table to make it look like I’m an over-enthusiastic new member of the BNP:

Scary, eh? I’d hasten to add that, while I don’t like wasting money, I’ve not gone on to join Nick Griffin and his chums just to make sure I get good usage out of these items. Although if you do happen to be a BNP member, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is probably the one time ever that IKEA will be stocking all the facist paraphernalia you could desire, and at a reasonable price (thus ends the one-off feature ‘Shopping Tips for Facists’).

While I haven’t seen the BBC Jubilee coverage, Bel Mooney – of “no one else is allowed an abortion but me” fame – has. And she is not amused. Indeed, in an article which may well have been half-written before the celebrations even started, she couldn’t help feeling that the whole thing would have been much better had it been presented by her ex-father-in-law Richard Dimbleby. This is pretty damning, given that he’s been dead since 1965.

So, what is it that offended Bel so much?

We saw Clare Balding aboard the magnificent rowing barge Gloriana shouting that the event was all about ‘empowerment’ and ‘diversity’. Er, no it wasn’t, it was about the Queen.

We heard some idiot call the Queen ‘HRH’ (what?) instead of ‘Her Majesty’, someone else talked about her as being a ‘precious piece of cargo,’ while the top deck of a boat was described as the ‘first floor’. Lord Nelson, spin in your grave.

All-purpose showbiz type John Barrowman told us that the bell-ringers would play some ‘tunes’ (that’s not what they do, John), while fluffy little Fearne Cotton was insulting World War II veterans by her very presence on HMS Belfast. (How I wished for Kate Adie, who would have done a fine job).

Jesus! I’m glad I didn’t watch it. Calling the top deck of a boat the ‘first floor’? Give me strength. If only the Sex Pistols had included something about ‘HRH’ and bell ringers ‘playing tunes’ back in 1977, the revolution may yet have come to pass. Clearly Clare Balding is doing her best; she can’t help being that thing AA Gill said she was and which Bel is too polite to mention. And yeah, that stuff about ’empowerment’ and ‘diversity’ is total bollocks. But what is she meant to say? She’s talking about the Queen’s subjects, who aren’t particularly ’empowered’ but there’s no point laying into the Queen over that one right now – it’s her special day!

The thing that really pisses me off, though, is the comment about ‘fluffy little Fearne Cotton […] insulting World War II veterans by her very presence on the HMS Belfast’. My grandad was a World War II veteran. He may have been incredibly courageous fighter pilot, but he was not a moral beacon for the nation. He, for one, would have rather have been watching Fearne Cotton than Kate Adie. And as far as I’m aware, Kate Adie didn’t cover World War II, either (and if we’re going to get all arsey about it, Bel, the correct terminology is ‘the Second World War’. World War II is an Americanisation, which is hardly appropriate in the context, wouldn’t you say?).

If you look at the list of everyone with whom Bel’s annoyed, you detect a common pattern. They’re either women or gay men. With Clare Balding you get the double whammy of a lesbian woman. No wonder we need Richard Dimbleby. Even if he’s dead.

Perhaps the most amusing, if tragic, bit of Bel’s rant comes towards the end, when she explains how the BBC execs just don’t “get” the common people and their needs:

The sad truth is this: these highly paid people regard with contempt those men and women — rich and poor, young and old, British and foreign — who are thrilled by the longevity of Elizabeth II’s reign.

The jibe about BBC execs being “highly paid” is, let’s face it, remarkable. So rich people don’t understand the needs of the masses. Apart, that is, from the richest of them all, those who rule the whole sodding country. Oh, and also the “rich” mentioned above, who happen to agree with Bel about how best to interpret the role of those who lead us. They’re okay, as are their less well-off counterparts. As for anyone else? Well, presumably the Jubilee’s not for them.

One of the saddest things about the unpaid Jubilee stewards scandal is what it says about what those in authority really think about the monarchy and the people whom they serve. It’s not just that no one bothered to consider the crassness of the rich vs poor symbolism on such an occasion, surely the worst of times during which to exploit those in need. It’s the starkness of the message: this is a national celebration, but it’s not for you. You don’t take part in it. You sleep under a bridge and you manage the crowds of ‘real’ people, the people for whom all this takes place. And we’re not even going to pay you. Hell, when I worked as a waitress I’d get paid double time on occasions of national importance, on the basis that the sacrifice I made by working was all the greater. But these people get nothing, other than a vivid reminder of the fact that they’re not like the rest of us. I’d say let them eat cake, but JSA probably doesn’t extend to such frivolous purchases.

Well, I am now about to dismantle my BNP Table of Doom. I couldn’t live like this anyhow. It’s immoral, and what’s more, it doesn’t go with my overall household colour scheme.