Category Archives: Media

Mummy Wars

The mummy wars – or mommy wars – are, yawn, big news again lately I notice.  This shit is running all over my internet like a naked toddler with diarrhoea. And, like the aforementioned offensively leaky child, I regard it with a look of disgust and irritation in equal measure.

There’s this piece in Salon which is particularly interesting.  Sub-headed, ‘Behind sound bites and media hype, there’s the real conflict real mothers face every day‘ the article details the author’s journey from believing the mummy wars to be media hype to the sad realisation that they are – in fact – real.

Take this:

We as women spend our whole lives being judged, and never more so than for our roles as mothers. We suffer for it, and frankly, we dish it out in spades. We park ourselves in separate camps, casting suspicious glances across the schoolyard. And it sucks because the judgment is there and it’s real and it stems so often from our own deepest fears and insecurities. We pay lip service to each other’s “choices” – and talk smack behind each other’s backs.’

Who in god’s name is this woman hanging out with? And, seriously, why doesn’t she hang out with someone else?

Now, I’ve been a SAHM and a working mum so, like the author, I’ve had a foot in both ‘camps’ and I have never, not once, heard a mother ‘talk smack’ about the other group.  Oh, sure, I’ve heard mothers time aplenty diss other mothers’ style of child-rearing – that mother never disciplines her child, that mother feeds her child crap, that mother pushes her child too much – and that sucks as it is because of the emphasis on mothers being the sole ones responsible for that kind of crap despite everything; even if the mother works full-time and the dad stays at home, somehow deficiencies in a child fall to the mother. Yes, sucky.

But I have never, not once, heard that followed through to a conclusion of: that’s because she works so much, or that’s because she stays at home.

Now I’m willing to accept that, nowadays at least, the kind of mothers I interact with are privileged ones. They are, to a large extent, women whose family income allows them an actual choice as to whether to work or not. If they don’t work, their partner brings in more than enough to cover costs and if they do work, the kind of work they do will more than cover the (exorbitant) costs of childcare.  [Let’s ignore for now the very real effects on that ‘choice’ by things such as societal expectations that if either parent quits work, it will be the mother, that expectation in itself being reinforced by the fact that, being generally paid less than their male equivalents, it will make ‘sense’ for it to be her because she’s not earning as much as a male partner by the time they have children.]

I have to acknowledge this privilege because it makes a huge difference in terms of ‘mummy wars’.

Firstly, it makes a difference because this ‘working v. SAHM’ thing is, by and large, a dilemma of privileged women. You can bet your life, for example, that the debate isn’t taking rural India by storm. You can equally bet that it isn’t much of a hot topic even among working class mothers in the UK.  For the vast majority of mothers worldwide, their ‘choices’ are by and large so manifestly not choices at all that the whole issue doesn’t merit attention. It’s fair to say, therefore, that as well as straddling both camps, I am surrounded by the actual ‘mummy warriors’.

Secondly, it makes a difference because I have heard, on many occasions, mothers express their own personal preferences. I have heard mothers say, ‘I need to work, otherwise I’d go crazy being at home with the kids all day’, and I have heard mothers say, ‘I want to stay at home with my kids, I think it’s important in their early years.’  As far as I can gather, these sorts of statements are largely held to be evidence of THE MUMMY WARS! which strikes me as a bit odd.  I hear mothers express opinions all the frickin’ time that I think are completely loopy juice, but I don’t put on a breastplate and start running them through with a sword.  I take them for what they are – personal opinions that I don’t happen to share, but ho hum, tomayto, tomahto and all that.

Because statements such as those above will only be considered to be affronts to the listener if the listener has some issue with their own personal choices in that area.

If I work and a mother says ‘I think it’s important to stay at home’ that opinion per se isn’t offensive to me. If I simply happen to believe that a happy mother is more important than constant physical presence and working makes me happy, then I just chalk her opinion down to the fact that we all have, well, different opinions and go about my (working) day. If I’m a happy SAHM and another mother wonders how I can be with the kids all day and manage not to foam at the mouth, I can only reply, ‘Well, we’re all different, aren’t we?’  Simples, as that annoying rat says.


If I’m not happy with my choice – if my choice, whilst appearing more ‘choice-like’ than most mothers’, isn’t really a choice at all, if in other words, my privilege isn’t quite enough to fully insulate me from those limited choices (and what mother’s is, really?) – then my response will be a loud Fuck you! followed by the breastplate donning and a healthy dose of righteous indignation and a bit of Braveheart yodelling.

If I work because financially I have to but do in fact believe that by doing so I am actually damaging my children, or if I stay at home and am in fact starting to foam at the mouth on a daily basis but can’t find a job which covers the cost of childcare, then I will find that mother offensive in the extreme. And she will become my enemy and I will hate her frickin’ guts.

And this, of course, is the real key to the mummy wars. The fact that real choice is so very limited for mothers and the societal trope that, whichever choice we make, it will be wrong. The author of the Salon article gets to this conclusion, too, but then, for me, falls down by exhorting mothers to be the ones to reset the rules of engagement:

…damn near all of us are fiercely, ferociously devoted to our families. When we can get past being scared somebody’s going to call us out as whopping female failures, we can see that, though our days are structured differently, most of us are working our guts out. That we love our children. That we are not enemies. When we remember that, when we talk to each other instead of merely about each other, we can reach across the playground to raise a generation of future men and women who respect each other as workers and parents. More than that — we can, finally, be comrades.’

As if we don’t have enough to do already what with the carping and the suspicious glances, now we’re supposed to solve problems rooted in the gross inequality inherent in a patriarchal capitalist system.  I could maybe pencil that in for Friday afternoon, if L’il Boo naps that day.

It is not mothers who limit their own choices. And it is not mothers who can expand those choices by just being a bit nicer to each other.

The real battle lies not between working or SAH mothers. It lies between mothers of all stripes and a patriarchal system that stabs us in the back as it raises us up for admiration. Motherhood, they tell us, is the most important job in the world, but you lot, being women and all, are invariably fucking it up NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO! HA HA! Which presumably is why, in a society that judges unpaid labour to be economically worthless, we don’t get paid for this most important job.  Because we’re shit at it, remember?

[And if you want a deeper and way more amusing exploration of the unavoidable insanity that this shit causes, take a look at this sublime article from Katha Pollitt, via blue milk]

Real actual mothers may not fully appreciate the real forces at work against them and they may indeed look with envy at a mother sitting on the opposite side of the no-choice fence. But real, actual mothers don’t, in my experience at least, have the energy to judge other mothers’ choices; they are too busy trying not to judge their own. They are – even the privileged ones, especially the privileged ones – too busy trying to navigate a path between their children’s care and happiness, their own personal needs and society’s expectations to have time to judge others.

So if you want ammunition to wage this particular war, you won’t find it here. Here in Boogieville, we respect and support all kinds of mothers, from the SAHM to the part-timer to the full-blown careerist. We respect all mothers, from those who are truly happy to define their motherhood as merely a small part of who they are to those who define themselves entirely as mothers.

Because here in Boogieville we understand, a la Andrea Dworkin, that until we are all free, none of us are free.

Awesome Females II

[This is the second part to a post from way back in January.  And that post was six months late.  So don’t be confused by the reference to summer]

Our second summer film was Coraline.  And all I can say is: if you haven’t already, make sure you do.  You don’t even need to have children; all you need is a fondness for beautiful images and deep, scary themes.  Oh, and a love of awesome females, obviously.  I enjoyed this as much as the kids did.  More so probably as the large RadFem in my brain which normally sits through kids’ films mumbling Urggh? What? Are you frickin’ kidding me? Oh, for the love of god…, kept jumping up and down shouting FUCK YEAH! in my ear.

Because Coraline rocks.  If I’d seen Coraline as a kid, I would’ve wanted to be Coraline.  I’m not sure I don’t want to even now.

I cannot believe I can even write this sentence about what is a fairly mainstream film: there is nothing wrong with Coraline.

Coraline doesn’t have personality issues, and she does not, at any point, need saving.  She is brave, fearless, gutsy and smart.  She is deeply, profoundly awesome.

She is so awesome that she actually gets her own movie named after her.  Unlike, as we know, poor Rapunzel.

Coraline is not conventionally pretty.  She has short hair.   And it’s blue.  She wears (mainly) jeans and wellies.  A hair clip is her only nod to conventional femininity.

There’s a boy in the movie.  At no point is there so much as the slightest hint that Coraline therefore should go all goggly-eyed in his presence.  She never goes within a hundred miles of a swoon.  Though she rocks a fine grimace at him on occasion.

She does a admirable line in expressive sarcasm.

She has no fear of insects.

She’s bored, so she goes out to seek her own adventure.  She never expects life to come to her.

She faces a series of obstacles.  She faces them all without whining, without faltering.  And she wins.

Despite all her ‘male’ characteristics, she is never once painted as ‘abnormal’ or ‘odd’ or evil.  She never gets a comeuppance for being brave and fearless and gutsy and smart.

She saves everybody in the end.  And though nobody realises they’ve been saved and she therefore gets no congratulations, no thank yous, she just gets on with being AWESOME.


For the ignorant among you, I suppose a plot précis is in order.  Well, what’s wikipedia for?  Although treat the first line, which tells us this is a story about ‘a very “different” girl‘, as the sexist shite it is.

This film is almost perfect.  The only part I had a problem with was the characters of Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, two ex-strippers (yeah, I know) who at one point perform a stage show in the alternate world which basically involves them getting their kit off and singing about sex (sort of).  Not only did my RadFem shriek, Aah, fuck no!, but it just seemed odd subject matter for a kids’ film.  And I really couldn’t see the point of the scene plot wise.

And yes, Coraline’s real mum is mean and grouchy, but she’s shown as being under specific pressures and is allowed to have a human side nonetheless. So she actually came across as pretty typical as a mother (well, what they look like round here, anyway).

And, no, nothing is going to spoil my enjoyment of this film.  So there.

Occupy? I Wish!

Image: Alex Gabriel

Y’all sick of this shit yet?

Now before you go getting all angry and knickers-in-a-twisty (like we feminists do, you know), you should know that this is actually good news.  Because I thought the number was 17%.

Nah, fuck it, you should still be mad as fuck at this shit.

Re-posted via La Petite Feministe Anglaise.

Awesome Females

Way back when I first returned from summer holidays – and before feminist fatigue set in – I was going to write a little post about a couple of children’s films me and the little monsters had been watching (and re-watching) over the summer, but I very quickly hit a language wall.   No, not because we’d spent the summer watching arty French films deconstructing Foucault (or owt), but simply because of the dearth of colloquial language to accurately describe what I really wanted to describe.  So I let it go because events more important than a blog post took over.

But now I have five minutes with a cup of tea, so I am suddenly re-invested in catching the language I seek.

I wanted to describe girls.  I wanted to describe females who are strong, brave, fearless, gutsy and smart.  I wanted a colloquial word or a phrase that encompassed all those traits, a word or phrase that would immediately tell you that these girls were strong, brave, fearless, gutsy and smart without having to spell out out that they were strong, brave, fearless, gutsy and smart all the time.

What I came up with was entirely inapplicable.  I immediately rejected the phrase ‘she’s got it goin’ on’ because of it’s obvious sexual connotations.  I then fell into ‘she’s got balls’, ‘she’s got cojones’, ‘she’s got spunk’ (in the Australian sense).  I think you see my problem, right?  I could go for ‘kick-ass’ I suppose but the girls I want to describe aren’t violent.  Violence is not what these girls are about.  They are better than that.  Whilst they can use violence on occasion, hey are too smart to just be violent.  These girls are not mindless.  So I’m back to testicles again.  Because, bizarrely, we really do understand that testicles confer more than testosterone onto a person, they confer way more than that; to have balls/cojones/a huge, swinging pair is to be strong, brave, fearless, gutsy and smart.  You know, kind of like a man, duh.  It is unfortunate that we do not confer the same qualities on to a fine pair of breasts.  Actually, it’s not that unfortunate – I’m more than happy to leave the biological-things-that-hang references to the men – but I really would like a word or a phrase that brings forth the same connotations.  Like, ‘she’s utterly stramsta’, or ‘she’s got tribblequong like you wouldn’t believe’.

Because as that Wittgenstein dude said: The limits of my language are the limits of my world.

But there is no word or phrase that springs readily to mind to describe a female who is fucking awesome.  Not in my language.  Is there in any language?  Yes, I could just say, ‘these girls are fucking awesome’ (for they are, in many ways), but it’s such a dull and generic way to describe them.  This post could be fucking awesome.  That strawberry Angel Delight you had for pudding last night could be fucking awesome.  A dog that says ‘sausages’ could be fucking awesome.  Now, if anybody who reads this post actually did have strawberry Angel Delight for pudding last night or actually does have a dog who can say ‘sausages’ that really would be fucking awesome.  Not relevant, but I’m just saying.  That would be so awesome – and unlikely – it’d almost make me believe in god (ha ha, only kidding god – I’d need a bit more proof of existence than that.  Like waking up tomorrow to find everybody talking about which of the 90-odd female world leaders had the most tribblequong).

Anyway, enough about the dearth of appropriate language, and more about what we were watching that glorious summer that seems about eleventh billion years ago.

Two films really stood out; and by ‘stood out’ I mean were re-played so often, I started to think the characters were my other children.

The first was ‘Tangled’ which was L’il Boo’s particular fave.  Now, don’t get me started on how the bloody thing couldn’t just be called ‘Rapunzel’ like it’s supposed to be, and how that’s because we can’t have a girl headlining a film even when it’s her fucking film.  I’m starving for some thing to celebrate, so I’m just going to skim over that kind of institutionalised misogynistic shit and go straight for the good stuff.  Oh, and that does mean therefore that I won’t mention her picture-perfect features and Barbie-esque body either, but I do just have to mention her eyes.  Because frankly, they creep me out.  They’re so unnaturally huge I keep thinking they’re going to jump right out and eat her face whole until she’s nothing more than eyes on a neck.  Creepy.

No, I am concentrating on the good stuff.

The lack of mooning for example; step-mammy may be a shit of the highest order, but at least she hasn’t told Rapunzel that happiness depends on ‘trapping’ a man.  Stuck in her tower, Rapunzel occupies herself developing her art, not her artfulness.

The fact that she’s (excuse my language) kick ass, for example.  Rapunzel saves Flynn as many times as he saves her; these kids are a team in the nicest sense.

The fact that her true happiness comes from finding her own destiny, for example.  The end of Rapunzel’s quest is finding out where she’s from and who she is (OK, she’s a princess, but still trying to think positive); marrying Flynn is a happy add on.

I know, I know, there are still a lot of problematic things about this film, but it remains that it’s one of the few mainstream films I’ll allow my children to watch because there are at least some positives.  I’ll take mild satisfaction (or at least un-rage) where I can get it.  And, I’ll be honest, I love the horse.

Film number two will have to wait, despite being my favourite of the two.  My cup of tea is gone and I have actual work to do.

Adverts don’t make Me Cry, Either

In yesterday’s Guardian, Charlie Brooker discussed the new genre of Christmas adverts we now get at this time of year.  If you don’t know Charlie B (you know, if you’re, like, foreign), you really should pop by to say hi, if you like your curmudgeon to come with a side of snide and an acerbic aftertaste.

I can’t help it; the man makes me laugh, OK?

Charlie B was particularly charmed by the new John Lewis advert, which shows a small boy anxiously watching the days click away until Christmas…but! contrary to all expectations, he is not the spoilt middle-class offspring of virtually all of John Lewis’s customers (I think I became middle-class purely so I could love JL more) awaiting the arrival of presents, but a charming, lovavble munchkin who cannot wait to give his parents their present.

Here’s the ad:

No, I didn’t cry, either. I was too busy wondering what monstrosity the boy had made out of two lollipop sticks and a tuft of cotton wool and managed to call a present.  I am, clearly, a bad mother.

But is it OK to laugh at this?:

Given the fuss they were making, the tears they shed, you’d think they were watching footage of shoeless orphans being kicked face-first into a propeller.  But no. They were looking at an advert for a shop.’

Because I laughed at this till tea came down my nose.

With Every Silver Lining comes a Cloud

I write about how much I’m looking forward to Christmas.  I then peruse my FeedDemon and the first thing I see?

This: Can you find the female in the Arthur Christmas poster? courtesy of ReelGirl.

Hint: Yes, you can; Mrs Christmas is squished in amongst 12 males, including the main character of the film, the main character of Christmas (Father himself), random guy showing off upper arm strength, miniature version of Father Christmas (Father’s father??) and numerous elves (all elves are male?  are you kidding me? I remember watching Huey, Dewey and Louis Christmas cartoons which featured female elves and how long ago was that??  WHY ARE WE GOING BACKWARDS??)  I suppose we’re just supposed to be grateful that there isn’t a single, solitary ‘elfette’ in a mini-skirt and false eyelashes, sigh.

can you kindly stop this?

And the tagline underneath this Christmas dude-fest?  ‘2 billion presents delivered in 1 night…It takes a family.

Which immediately put me in mind of something I’d read years and years ago in the fantabulous book, ‘The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football‘, by Mariah Burton Nelson, which is a delightful romp through the innate sexism and misogyny in sport, not only in how it’s played but in how it’s decided what sports are ‘exciting’ and what is ‘sporty’ and what isn’t.  Really fab stuff and indispensible for any arguments you may have about women’s (lack of) sporting prowess.

Anyhoo, one part of the book relates to experiences of female sports journalists trying to cover sporting events and, specifically, dealing with the ‘tradition’ of interviewing baseball players in the locker room itself straight after a game.

These women were routinely subject to deliberate sexual aggression as the players met the journalists fully naked (making special efforts to ensure they were naked if a female was in the room) and, often, hinting at threats of sexual assault and rape.  Despite this, the women kept doing their jobs and so legal efforts were made to ban them from the locker rooms on the grounds of ‘decency’.  One such case went to court (forgive me a lack of details – my copy of the book is in storage), with an official from a certain club arguing that it shouldn’t be allowed, because ‘baseball is a family game’.

The beautiful judicial response?  ‘The last time I looked, the family included women.’*



D’you know, it makes me so sad.  I mean the whole sexism crap makes me mad, of course, but you know what makes me really fucking mad?  The fact I make it worse for my own daughter.  Because Boogie has been raised with a level of gender awareness that – certainly in my experience – is unheard of in the general population, she sees this stuff.  She, equally (and it wouldn’t be the first time), can look at a poster like Arthur Christmas and see that nowhere is she represented; for her, even Mrs Christmas wouldn’t count, because she doesn’t yet see the connection between children and adults, between her, a girl, and a grey-haired old woman.  She is not there.  Heart-breakingly, she very rarely is.

And I see her seeing these things and part of me wants to erase the knowledge, the awareness that girls aren’t valued enough to make films about, to write books about, to tell stories about and just make it all go away.

Jesus, I hope this’ll all be worth it in the end.

*Now don’t go thinking that this meant the women were legally allowed to ogle men in locker rooms and the men had no recourse.  Post-game interviews are now generally conducted outside the locker room by reporters of both sexes, which is just far more professional, isn’t it?

Lipstick and Powder

Boogie has a friend, M.  I’m quite fond of M, which given my general fear of small children is an event in itself.  But M has what looks almost like an addiction to lip gloss and is rarely seen without either a wand brush or a gloss compact in her hand, dabbling at her lips.  Boogie, knowing the answer, bless her, frequently asks if she can put some of the goop on her lips.  I, also knowing the answer, say no.  Lip balm is fine, I say, because it has a practical application.  Lip gloss, on the other hand, is nothing about the practical and everything about the beautifying.  So, no.

For a long time, my refusal of lip gloss, lipstick, nail varnish and other womanly paint, was instinctive and I couldn’t quite explain it.  After all, little children copy what they see, play at being adults, and both boys and girls (until boys internalise the disdain for all things girly) are commonly fascinated by make-up and regularly slather it all over themselves.  So what’s the biggie?  I truly couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it just didn’t feel right.

Peggy Orenstein helped me out.  Talking in her book (Cinderella Ate My Daughter), about her daughter asking for a toy gun, Orenstein didn’t know what to say.  She thought back to her own childhood, which had involved playing with guns and thought, why not?:

And honestly, let’s be realistic.  Playing with a toy gun – even yelling “Bang!  Bang!  You’re dead” – was not going to turn my kid…into Hannibal Lecter.’

How true.  Like Orenstein, I played with guns and swords, or rather sticks pretending to be guns and swords (we were poor) a lot, and I seem fine, too.  So why shouldn’t my daughter mess around with lipstick and eyeshadow?  It’s not like it’ll turn her into Jordan, right?


As Orenstein’s husband notes when he nixed the gun, he had also played with guns as a child, ‘But that was a different time.‘  And then Orenstein nails it:

‘...playing with guns did not make me a sociopath.  On the other hand, there was no industry trying to convince me that violence was the cornerstone of my femininity, no pressure to define myself by my bullets.’

Childish play with mummy’s make-up bag means something it just didn’t 30 years ago.  Then, a 3 year old painting clownish lipstick all over her face was just one aspect of playing with identity; in and of itself, it really didn’t have any loaded meaning because this identity play was so varied.  Children were allowed to ‘try on’ different identities and, importantly, given the latitude to discover for themselves how they all fitted, or not.

It is a different time now to when I was growing up.  I’ll probably post about this more at some point, but for now, I’ll just say that, as a child, probably up to the age of say 10 or 11, I was convinced I was a boy.  I didn’t wish I was a boy, I just knew I was.  And, yeah, I knew that for some reason, people thought I was a girl (though not that often if they didn’t already know my sex – I ‘presented’ very much as male as a kid: short hair, no adornments, boys’ clothes, scakky trainers, constantly grubby with bits of tree and insects about my person – ya get my drift).  But I just knew that, somehow, a mistake had been made.  Luckily for me, this mistake didn’t particularly trouble me – I was able to occupy that space known as ‘tomboy’ which, back then, was a perfectly acceptable place to be, and so I lived my life as a boy and nobody made anything of it.  Apart from the odd pissing contest (I’m talking literally here, not some testosterony business metaphor), being biologically a girl had no impact on my life as a kid.  So, who cared?  Not me – I was too busy climbing trees, getting into fights and experimenting with red ants.

But that was a different time.

All children have to investigate their gender; from their earliest experiences with adults they understand that it’s important to be ‘one or the other’; they can see that so much seems to hang off which one they are.  My own investigation took a particularly long time, but all kids go through it.  maternalselves talks about her own investigation:

‘I remember wondering about [whether I was a boy or a girl] when I was 3 or 4. I had short hair, I had a predilection for boy’s toys and I was unaware of the basic rudiments of gender difference.

‘When I look at photos from that time I can clearly see that I could have been a boy or a girl, especially when I was in shorts and a T-shirt. At the time I use to wonder: “What if I’m a boy and my parents don’t know yet”?…

What I’m trying to say is that my gender was constructed in a dialogue between the external and the internal, between the life surrounding me and my own development and needs. It was a complex process that took me a long time.

More and more, children are no longer given time for that process.  As maternalselves notes:

‘Nowadays girls don’t have this space. The whole of their experience is merchandised and served up ready to be consumed...‘There is no room for them to express ambivalence about their gender because by the time they are 3 years old they are already dressed in pink like princesses.’

In other words, there is now an industry trying to convince girls that something is the cornerstone of their femininity, and that thing is beauty.  That thing is to be passively consumed by the male gaze.  And, more, that industry tells them that ‘femininity’ is entirely what defines them.  And woe betide them if they’re found wanting.

I can’t even begin to express how damaging I think this is.  Make-up, along with the whole idea of passive beauty, is no longer something girls can try on and discard, or not, depending on how they feel about it.  The game is too loaded against them being able to make any kind of free choice about whether or not to be ‘beautiful’.  The message overwhelms them, from every corner of both children’s and adult media, from every advert they ever see, from every Disney film, from every billboard for Spearmint rhino, from every pink comic offering a three-lipstick compact to five year old girls, from every ‘Lad’s mag’ cover, from every push-up bra for pre-pubescents, from every colour being pink.  It is simply no longer possible for girls to explore who they are without being completely aware of what they are.  And what they’re supposed to be.

This has to stop.  And I can’t change the world, but I can at least challenge the strength of that industry’s message to my own daughter.

So, no, Boogie, no lip gloss.  And I’m quite sure why not.