Ignoring “women’s work”: Yet another Christmas tradition

“I love that moment when you first come downstairs and you can tell the turkey’s already in the oven.” So says the placard outside my local Sainsbury’s, complete with the picture of a traditional Christmas roast. This quotation has started to irritate me every time I leave the house. “That moment”? Is this something with which I’m meant to be familiar? Is it meant to be pleasant? Because to me it sounds frankly disconcerting.

For many of us, wouldn’t our first thought on sniffing the turkey-scented air be “hang on, am I in the right house?” Turkeys don’t just put themselves in the oven, or at least you’d hope not (and if that’s the sort of poultry Sainsbury’s are now selling, I’m steering well clear).

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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

My partner’s man-flu: Let’s be honest, it’s all a patriarchal plot

I am ill. My partner, however, is more ill. For me, this is almost as annoying as my being ill in the first place.  

I don’t mean to be unsympathetic but I feel that as a feminist, I am put in a difficult position. I don’t like gender stereotyping yet man-flu is itself a horrible pseudo-misandrist stereotype – one of those fake weaknesses, like being crap at washing up, which mean men get to laze around watching telly while women do all the work, at least in TV adverts. I don’t want to be in a TV advert. I don’t want to find myself playing the role of one of those Boots or Anadin women – the passive-aggressive little troupers who “just get on with it”, taking on all domestic work while caring for their poor, sick menfolk and ostentatiously ignoring their own needs (no, no, I’ll just take this pill. I’m fine honest. I’ll just take this pill and stomp around metaphorically juggling all my responsibilities while my piss-poor family watches and does sod all, the bastards). I find all of this rather offensive. Hence even though my partner cannot make it out of bed, I am resentful. Why should I have to do everything? Why can’t I get man-flu, too? Continue reading

The no-housework way to keep your man

Married ladies! Are you still labouring under the illusion that cleaning the toilet is a joint responsibility? When your husband picks up a dishcloth, do you leave him to it rather than rush forth, Cath Kidston pinny all a-billow, gasping “wait! I’ll do it!”? Does your man put his own underpants in the laundry basket rather than toss them, Christian Grey-like, to the floor? If so, are you aware that you’re risking divorce?

A Norwegian study has revealed that “couples who share the housework are more likely to divorce”. Ha! And there was you, naively assuming it was safe to let your man loose with the Fairy Liquid. Alas, you’ll be heading to splitsville quicker than you can say “decree nisi”. Of course, the press have latched upon this finding with liberal horror, and not the slightest trace of sexist glee. “So much for equality!” squeals the Daily Mail, while the UK blog Divorce Online offers a not-particularly-tongue-in-cheek “ladies, know your place and save your marriage”. Well, that’s you told. 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

Potatoes vs Pinnies: Choose your own hell

Today I tweeted two photographs of domestic items. Said items were 1) a potato, and 2) an apron. These are not great photographs, nor were these particularly interesting items. However, they amused me, as each struck me as an especially extreme example of its genre (assuming potatoes and aprons can be said to have genres). They were common items, and yet they were symbolic of something bigger than themselves: the peculiarly obstinate headfuck that is motherhood and domesticity.

1. The Potato of Slummy Mummy Hell

I found this right at the back of a kitchen cupboard, behind some tins of 3rd and Bird pasta shapes. Continue reading

Stop being mean to Ann Romney!

As a mother who is also in paid full-time employment, I’m really grateful to women such as Ann Romney, who have the empathy and generosity of spirit to appreciate “lower-value” women such as myself. In particular, the following comment of hers has made me feel a whole lot better about who I am:

I love the fact that there are women out there who don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids. Thank goodness that we value those people too. And sometimes life isn’t easy for any of us.

Too right. I’m going to pin this quote above my desk, right next to the picture of those babies who I’m assuming must be mine.

Look, I’m busy. It’s work, work, work with me. So sometimes I forget the following things:

  • I “don’t have a choice” about going to work. I mean, I don’t – we need the money. But hey, sometimes I even enjoy it and get a sense of achievement! And that’s just selfish, isn’t it?
  • I “still have to raise the kids”. Sometimes I assume that since I have a partner, child-reading isn’t all my responsibility. That’s what paid work does to you. It’s like I’m turning into a man or something. It’s always good to get a reality-check.
  • I ought to be paranoid that stay-at-home mums might not appreciate me. I need to be reminded that people like Ann “value” me. I mean, normally I just assume stay-at-home mums are fellow human beings with varied viewpoints. I think I’m mixing with the wrong sort; they just don’t patronize me enough.
  • I need count my blessings. “Life”, says Ann, “isn’t easy for any of us.” How true. How true, and how profound.

Of course, some liberal fuckwits are being mean and making a big deal about the “I love the fact…” element  of Ann’s comment. And okay, it does sound weird coming from a multi-millionaire who doesn’t have to work and could probably pay for me and thousands of others not to without even noticing the difference (how about it Ann? Okay, ignore the others, what about just me?). But the thing is, it’s just a turn of phrase. She just meant “I think it’s nice”, or rather, not “nice”, but she loves the fact we do it all the same. That we step up to the plate. Basically, she loves us or something.

I love the fact that some people have the time to make judgements about the lives of others, particularly as said others don’t have the time to make the judgements themselves because they’re too busy working. Basically, I love the fact that Ann Romney doesn’t have to work.*

* As in do paid work. Because remember, Ann, staying at home looking after children is working too. For a moment there it sounded like you’d forgotten it.

How to be a total bitch – en français!

One of the weirdest language teaching books I possess (and believe me, I have many) happens to have been written by Barbara Woodhouse. Unless you weren’t born or were totally off your face on Soda Stream, you’ll remember Barbara from the early eighties, when she had a ratings-topping TV series on training dogs (and people have the nerve to complain about the “vacuous” TV of today. Thirty years ago we sat around for hours watching laboradors being told to sit down. Believe me, whatever you think of TOWIE, things could be so much worse).

Barbara’s catchphrase was “walkies!”. It doesn’t sound hilarious now, but back then, we were all saying it (I guess you really had to be there). But that’s not the end to Barbara’s linguistic talents. Back in 1961, she authored a series of phrasebooks in French, German, Italian and Spanish. I possess the French and Spanish versions and consider them, in some perverse way, to be works of genius.

A particular USP of these books is that they’re targeted at middle-class married women. Middle-class married women of fifty years ago, that is, so totally unlike their modern counterparts, with their careers and their nannies and general Polly Filla-esque hatefulness. These are “proper” housewives, teetering on the brink of the sexual revolution but not yet corrupted by its evil forces. The Daily Mail would love them. I, on the other hand, can’t help feeling that if they were anything like these phrasebooks suggest, said housewives were complete and utter bitches from hell.

Women who bought Barbara’s books didn’t have nannies but they had au pairs. This was why they were learning French or Spanish or whatever it was, depending on whichever hellhole beyond dear old Blighty their “foreigner” (Barbara’s preferred word) came from. Not in order to have pleasant chats or charmingly cultural meetings of mind, you understand. Simply in order to tell their “foreigners” to bloody well get on with the cooking, cleaning and childcare, thus leaving the actual “housewife” time to, um, “run” the household.

It’s interesting to see this in the context of all the venom directed at middle-class “career women” in 2012. The latter, if both certain feminists and the right-wing press are to be believed, are inadvertently responsible for creating the further exploitation of other women, merely offloading their drudgery onto another woman rather than truly challenging an exploitative system. It’s an interesting, if essentially sexist, criticism (since the work offloaded should not in any case be viewed as the original woman’s alone). It’s also bollocks because middle-class women have always been exploiting other women, just as middle-class men have always been exploiting practically everybody on the fucking planet (apart from upper-class men, who never seem to get criticized by anyone, presumably because even their exploiting activities have been “outsourced” to someone else). I’m not saying this is right. I’m just suggesting that perhaps feminism, while it could and should do more, is not the originating factor in this.

From within an aggressively “traditional” 1960s set-up, Barbara’s books enable the “housewife” to tell the “foreigner” what to do, what to say, what to eat, when to speak, all in a way that’s utterly hateful. I can’t be arsed to learn your language properly, but look, I’ve learned to say “Je ne peux pas vous laisser sortir aujourd’hui”, just so you know the important things. It’s not the language of a business relationship, it’s a lesson in how to treat another human being like shit. In addition to the linguistic stuff, Barbara even offers practical advice on ensuring that the “foreigner” does not end up a bit of a porker: “smaller helpings at meals can do wonders in this direction”. You don’t say, Babs. All in all, I find it strangely fascinating, and utterly depressing.

I don’t think housewives in the 1960s were anything like the women Barbara conjures up. I think they were probably just your average flawed, semi-selfish, semi-kind human beings, and were probably a bit pissed off with life, and probably a bit pissed off with being advised that the only way to deal with the limitations in their own lives was to impose further limitations on the lives of others. And perhaps that’s part of what triggered a new wave of feminist progress, albeit one which still hasn’t sidestepped the trap of class exploitation (I say, rather circumspectly, as that’s an awful lot to read into a very thin, obscure French phrasebook, given the amount of historical context I could look into but, um, haven’t).

Anyhow, even if everything else I’ve said is crap, I think you’ll agree that I have some really weird language books. Next week: Deutsch heute. Altogether now:

Findest du Vox Populi einfach klasse?

Ann Romney, Hilary Rosen and THAT crappy old debate again

Way-hey! It’s Mommy Wars time! Or Mummy Wars, as I ought to call it in UK English, only it doesn’t sound as hardcore. But, hey, whatever. Nothing we love more than a good ol’ Mommy/Mummy scrap.

To summarise: Obama adviser Hilary Rosen suggests Ann Romney isn’t an all-round expert on women’s concerns as she’s “never worked a day in her life”. Ann Romney points out that raising kids is pretty hard work, actually. And that, plus lots of media shit-stirring, is pretty much it.

So, who do we agree with? Ann Romney because we should be valuing the unpaid work millions of women do? Or Hilary Rosen as she’s not involved in a presidential campaign that, if successful, would completely fuck women over?

What with having had little people emerge from my vagina, I am an expert on this kind of thing, so here’s my point-by-point guide to help you out.

  1. Looking after kids is hard. Doing paid work is hard. They are both hard because they involve doing stuff for people when you don’t necessarily want to do it.
  2. The relative hardness of paid work vs stay-at-home parenting is variable. Factors for variation include: i) whether you have, or could potentially have, a job with good pay and conditions; ii) whether you have, or could potentially have, a nanny or home help; iii) whether your kids are, or could potentially be, being complete and utter nightmares. Factors i and ii depend a lot on money; Factor iii, in my experience, varies from millisecond to millisecond, and you’ll never, ever work out what it really depends on.
  3. Going on and on about how hard looking after kids can be is nice and all, but it’s not really “appreciation” in any real sense. Normalizing the fact that someone’s having a crappy time is certainly the easy option, but making said time less crappy (changing parental leave laws, challenging gender stereotypes, questioning why those outside the home have more power and influence) would be a whole lot better.
  4. Getting totally carried away and telling someone who’s in the middle of cleaning up toddler vomit that hey, she’s the “CEO of the home” and doing a great job of “project managing” this family “business” is not showing appreciation. It’s being a patronizing bastard.
  5. Women like Ann Romney do not speak for the whole of womankind. Mitt Romney ought to get a focus group or something. Or just talk to some other women (but careful, Mitt. There are literally BILLIONS of us out there, and yeah, I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but believe me, it isn’t).
  6. If raising kids is so fucking hard on women (and yes, it is) perhaps it would be a good idea to let pregnant women make their own choices about whether to have said kids. And yeah, I know it was cheeky of me to slip that one in. But I’m like that.

Right, that’s it. I think I’ve said it, but I’ll leave it to the First Lady for a summing up:

Every mother works hard, and every woman deserves to be respected.


Uh, thanks and all, Michelle, but I for one am a right lazy sod. But hey, I appreciate the sentiments.

So I impulse-bought a four-poster bed…

We’ve all done it, girls. You pop out ‘just for some window shopping’ and before you know it, there you are, sneaking in by the back door, smuggling slats, curtain rails and mattresses up the stairs in the hope that hubby won’t notice. “Buy anything? Me?”, you shout down. “Nah, didn’t see anything I liked”, you boldly chirp, all the while trying to work out where to hide the bedposts and when would be a good time for the “crikey, look what I’ve found” Big Reveal. Well, today that was me. And I am ashamed, although, as ever, I have my excuses.

To put it in context, my partner and I have had the same futon since our student days over a decade ago. And it was second-hand and broken when we got it. Hence last Christmas my dad generously gave us some Ikea vouchers with which to purchase a nice bouncy new double. And that’s just what I’ve done (with the addition of some funky but somewhat superfluous posts).

Of course, given our current financial situation I should have thought “fuck the bed” and used up all the vouchers on our weekly shop. I mean, I wouldn’t mind living off Dime cake and pickled herring for a few months. But the bed was on special offer and it was being discontinued and it was a FOUR POSTER so I had to have it. D’you see? I HAD TO HAVE IT.

The expense doesn’t bother me that much, or rather, it was covered by the vouchers, so Not Real Money, or so I tell myself. I guess the thing that bothers me now is what the fuck am I doing with a four poster bed in my house? To put it bluntly: my house is a tip. A complete and utter tip. I wasn’t “good at” housework before I had kids, and now I’m even worse. So what on earth is one to make of a gorgeous white princess bed set in the middle of this utter squalour?

I am aware that there is a certain status attached to living in a pigsty. “Only boring women have tidy houses”, or so the fridge magnet says. A friend from school, now a proud mother of four, once posted a poem as her Facebook status, the details of which I’ve forgotten, but the essence of which was “who cares about a bit of dust when you’ve got love and cuddles and childish laughter filling your home”. And quite right, too. Only I’m not talking about a bit of dust. I mean, I wouldn’t call in Kim and Aggie just yet, but the fact is, our house is not nice. And I’m running round in circles, not to improve it, but just to slow down the decline.

I could, I suppose, do more. Once I’ve finished work, put the kids to bed and done the “basic” kitchen tidy and put on a wash, I could have a daily focus: hoovering for Monday, hob and oven cleaning for Tuesday, upholstery cleaning for Wednesday etc etc. Years ago, before I had kids, I did actually go through a phase of being like that. Funnily enough, it was when I was giving up smoking. It certainly helped, but I still look back on that time of domestic madness and shudder. I just couldn’t bear going through that again. I don’t want to lie on my death bed and think “well, that bit behind the sofa’s still looking pristine”. But by the same token, I don’t want to lie on my death bed and think “blimey, these sheets could do with a wash” (I accept that I’ll probably be thinking neither of these things, but you never know. I’m not a religious type so will no doubt be running through all sorts of random rubbish to avoid thinking of my imminent non-being-ness).

Well, anyhow, perhaps the best you could say is that the four-poster’s a means of bringing a peculiar kind of balance. A haven of luxury in the midst of chaos. And failing that, it’ll probably be quite good for shagging on. Once I’ve found a way of revealing to my partner that it’s actually there.*

* As you may have worked out, some of this is a fib. Partner was with me when I bought it and it’s actually being delivered tomorrow. But the part about it being a four-poster is true. So ner.