Rebranding feminism: distortion and inclusion

After taking part in a debate on feminism, the Great British Bake Off’s Ruby Tandoh has found herself accused of elitism. According to the Daily Mail, Tandoh “has admitted she thinks The Great British Bake Off is ‘crap TV’ and that the women who watch it are ‘silly’”. Of course, that isn’t anything like the message she was trying to convey while taking part in the Elle debate on whether feminism needs a rebrand. While I’m still not sure I agree with her point, I think this distinction is important. Feminists should be able to state their beliefs without everything being sent through the anti-feminist distortion machine, in which certain key words (in this case “crap TV” and “silly”) are matched to the most appropriate off-the-peg parody of feminist belief and then thrown back in the speaker’s face. Continue reading

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

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

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

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That Mumsnet feminism thing: I (sort of) blame the patriarchy

Not all choices are feminist choices. It’s a good thing too — what kind of pressure would women be under if, every hour of every day, every single thing they did had to be weighed up on the basis of whether or not it was passed feminist muster? It wouldn’t be fair. It would hold us back, hence we each just have get on and do what we need to.

Some decisions help improve the lot of other women. Some decisions, while beneficial to us, inadvertently send out messages which are used against others. Some decisions do neither. I’d say one objective of feminism should be to help women’s decisions become less loaded. It’s oppressive to have to represent a whole sex in everything you do. I don’t want to do it — would you?

I ask this because, following yesterday’s ‘Can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger?’ debate, I get the impression that some women feel this is precisely what they have to do. It’s not enough to make a choice that’s right for you, or to make the best of a limited range of options. You have to gain external validation for your choices otherwise you’re a bad person. If others fail to see your choice as the only one for women to take, you interpret this as them actively questioning your decisions and indeed your life.

That’s the only way I can explain anyone taking offence at a woman having the temerity to suggest her personal decision to support her family through education is a valid one. It’s the only way I can explain any woman thinking that it is judgmental for another to say having children is not a “full stop” in her life. It’s the only way I can explain a woman believing it is fair, reasonable and right to shout from a balcony that each mother’s breasts have a purpose and that this defines motherhood (sod you, adoptive mothers, mothers who’ve had mastectomies, mothers who for any reason cannot or do not wish to breastfeed — apparently you don’t count). It’s the only way I explain perfectly intelligent women so misunderstanding the difference between making jam not being a feminist act (honestly, it’s not, it’s just jam!) and it being an anti-feminist one that they’ll fire off whole blog posts on the topic, defending a right to make preserves that was never, ever under threat.

I think there was a lot of potential in the question ‘Can you be a feminist and a mummy blogger?’ (contrary to those who would rather rudely use arch-feminist Joss Whedon to refute such a position). I think there is clearly an argument to be made that some elements of mummy blogging form an extension of the 2nd wave feminist attempt to give domestic life the same status as so-called “public” life. Caring for children is not an alternative to living, it’s an essential part of it. We need to challenge the view that only those who earn and those who do things outside of caring should have a public voice. We all know that mummy bloggers (whatever one wishes to call them) have the capacity to lead this challenge. I had hoped — naively, perhaps — we could have moved the debate on to ask which forms of mummy blogging support this enterprise most effectively. Instead one panel member was castigated for failing to boost the egos of those who want constant approval for their choices simply because they’re choices (choice as a principle might be feminist but fawning over the “empowering” choices of each and every woman isn’t. It’s just patronising).

I think Sarah Ditum is a fantastic writer and thinker and I don’t believe she said anything which cast judgement on others. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Charlotte Raven says, but I respect her enormously (especially as she showed a tolerance and receptiveness to other viewpoints sadly lacking elsewhere). As a mother who’s always been in full-time paid work, I don’t take particular offence at those who suggest I’ve not done the right thing. I know what options I had and the sacrifices I had to make. That’s personal to me and while I have regrets, they’re mine, not yours. It takes a particular type of entitlement to fail to recognise that everyone’s life is shaped by different restrictions. I don’t go to the office as some great “fuck you” to stay-at-home mothers. I’m sorry, but you don’t even figure in this decision-making process, just as I’m sure I don’t figure in yours.

Until women have the confidence to take a joke about jam, to permit others to decide when the “full stop” comes in the narrative of their own life and to allow others to make their own judgements about what their tits are for, then I say we need feminism more than ever. It disappoints me to think the egos of mothers are so fragile. You should be angry. You should be shouting. But if you value choice at all, think wisely about who you choose to put in your firing line.

Why Mumsnet feminism matters

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

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

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

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

No More Page 3, Mumsnet and why my own dad has no idea I’m middle-class

A while ago I happened to mention to my dad that I wrote a blog and that it was part of the Mumsnet Bloggers network. God knows why I did this; he’d just mentioned a piece he’d contributed to Trout and Salmon magazine, so I suppose it was a failed attempt at one-upmanship (let’s face it, if you were me, would you want your dad reading any of this?). Anyhow, he wasn’t interested in reading my posts (despite the fact that I ploughed through all of his report on trout fishing in Scotland); he merely screwed up his face and asked me what I was doing associating with Mumsnet because “the women there – they’re all just middle-class mothers!”. Then he packed up his toolkit and went back off to work down the building site (did I just write building site? I meant court – he’s a barrister, so hardly salt of the earth himself). 

I am a middle-class mother – a middle-class feminist mother, which is even worse. How bloody exclusive is that? Obviously I believe all other women are exactly like me and if they’re not, then they sodding well should be. Nonetheless, even my own parents fail to acknowledge this essential middle-classness in me. I have a theory as to why that is: I think it’s because they’re my mum and dad and therefore they think I’m nice. Plus they’re middle-class themselves, but they don’t really know that they are. Or rather, they do, but when my dad says “middle-class mothers” he doesn’t mean mothers who are literally middle-class in socio-economic terms.* He means mummies who are assimilated into mainstream culture but who nevertheless dare to express opinions he doesn’t like.
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Gratuitous ‘Mumsnet blogpost’

Response to Alice Vincent, who, as Liz Jarvis discusses on The Mum Blog,  insulted Giles Coren on Twitter with the comment: “Columnists basing their opinions around their children. So yawn. Your column today is one step up from a mumsnet blogpost”

Hi, Alice Vincent! Are you reading this? I’d assume so, since you’re the expert in what constitutes a ‘mumsnet blogpost’. Not your favourite genre, I understand? Still, you’ve gotta keep track of all the literary trends, even the shit ones.

That spat with Giles Coren – don’t mind him. He’s just a sexist tosspot with a more famous, funnier dad (now sadly deceased) and a more intelligent sister (now marrying the lovely David Mitchell, the bitch). I wouldn’t bother with the runt of the Coren litter, poor Giles. Stick with us, the mumsnet bloggers. We’ll cater for all your boredom needs without ever telling you to fuck off while throwing misogynist insults into the ether.

Btw, have I told you about my kids? It’s obviously all I ever blog, nay, think about, but you might have been so busy getting bored reading blogs about other people’s children that you’ve forgotten to be bored about mine. Anyhow, blah blah blah nappies blah blah blah blah cute blah blah blah blah yummy mummy blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah on her high horse blah blah blah blah don’t get all offended and uppity little mummy blah blah blah blah cupcakes gin and tears before bedtime blah blah blah blah blah.

Sorry, are you still awake? Course you are. You’re used to Mumsnet posts like this. Hardened to it, one might say.

Thanks for being there for us, Alice. In the plain, boring, jam-smeared wasteland that is Mummy Central, it’s good to know people like you are still listening out for our aimless babble.

POSTSCRIPT Alice Vincent did in fact respond to this on Twitter. She seemed very nice, for a barren old hag. Only kidding. She seemed very nice. Giles Coren, you’re a real tosser. But I’m not going to tweet you regarding this.