Archive | June, 2012

‘Yummy mummies’ – who’s the Daddy?

22 Jun

Cherie Blair reinvigorated the ‘mummy wars’ with her apparent denigration of stay-at-home mothers who make the ‘dangerous’ choice of thinking they can just ‘marry a rich man and retire’.  How many of them do you know?  Me neither.

What is particularly depressing about this debate (or representation of a debate) is the complete absence of men’s choices from it.  Apparently having children is something a certain type of woman decides on alone, having ensnared a ‘rich man’ who has only momentary involvement in anything involving childbearing or childrearing, and who removes himself rapidly to the workplace, to bankroll any consequences.  No question that there may have been any discussion or negotiation – no – it is mothers who decide who does what.  Is this really so?

There may be some tiny percentile of the population who decide on an approach to parenthood where one partner (overwhelmingly the man) remains in a very high earning post, whilst the other stays at home (often with considerable support, and certainly with resources) to perform the ‘looking good for your money’ role: gym-toned, fashionably dressed, overseeing interior design and ensuring children are seen with all the best people.  But how relevant is this to most people? – absolutely not.

Another permutation is the ‘Earth mother’ – she stays at home while her man is employed because she is ‘so good at it’: natural childbirth, breastfeeding, baking, sewing, dealing with multitudes of toddlers.  Here it is ‘essence’ that dictates that the mother stays at home – the man just ‘couldn’t do’ all that, so it’s nature’s choice.

How about men who stay at home with kids?  Then it’s the economy which decides – ‘her job is so much better-paying than mine’ – as if that’s not the case in termsof his job for many stay-at-home mothers.  With wages stagnating and childcare costs skyrocketing, it’s a wonder many parents get out to work at all these days.

The point about any arrangements made between mothers and fathers in couples (including all the multifarious dual-working permutations of both full-time; one part-time; opposite shifts; both flexibly employed etc) is that they are made by both parents. By both parents in the context of their relative pay, their outgoings, and the lack of value attached to work involving childcare and domestic tasks.   ‘Yummy mummies’ might not be subject to the same type of criticism if everyone stopped and thought about how they got there.  No-one is criticising the fathers for how they are managing their families or their work-life balance; that is (as Mr Leveson might put it) ‘the great value of wives’.   Perhaps it’s about time we changed the terms of this whole debate.


Dressing like a wife? I wasn’t aware there was a uniform …

13 Jun

Kate Moss has grabbed the headlines by asserting that she would not wish to ‘dress like a wife’ – and that were she to do so her husband would go ‘mental’.  Like Tim Vine’s  joke about crime in multi-storey car parks, this comment seems to me to be wrong – on so many levels …

What does it mean to ‘dress like a wife’?  Having been one for well into a second decade, I have to say I have no idea.  Some of my best friends are wives: all of us dress differently.  Personal taste, income, body shape, how much importance we place on appearance, all these make a difference to how we look, but the one thing I’ve never thought of anyone I know is ‘ooh I can really tell her marital status by the clothes she’s wearing’.  What, I am fascinated to know, is the look for the long-term cohabitee this season?  Is it distinguished by ring alone, or is there a secret code I have yet to unlock, not being an obsessive fashionista?

Meanwhile, whilst pondering this conundrum, I went to get a drink from the kitchen, thereby passing by my spouse (in T-shirt and checked ‘chillaxing’ trousers – this week’s look for careless husbands perhaps?) and he happened to say ‘You look nice’.  Appallingly enough, I’m in a checked shirt (happily worn over my stretch jeans) and last year’s sandals, this morning’s make-up a distant memory. Trust me, even as the Daily Mail exhorts you to dress for dinner, it’s quite nice to know, that you, rather than your outfit, are still worth sticking around for.

Social Mobility tsar? He’s not going to do it alone ….

1 Jun

Am I the only person who thinks there’s some irony in having a social mobility ‘tsar’?  A tsar is a supreme ruler in Russia and Eastern Europe – the word derives from Caesar or ‘Emperor’ – could new clothes be required? Surely ‘social mobility’  should be headed up by a crew (maybe even a posse?) of people who have been to State schools and achieved high office – but I guess it’s likely that there just aren’t enough of them in the current ruling groups to make such a proposition practical….

And herein lies the problem of the current social mobility agenda.  It’s a bit like that old Irish joke, where a confused motorist in rural Ireland waves down a passer-by and asks for directions to his destination.  The Irishman replies ‘Well, I wouldn’t start from here’.

So, what do we have?  A great education system – if you can afford to be educated privately, or live in an area where there are grammar schools, or have faith (or enough of it to practise enough to get into best local option) or are Celtic – in the periphery of the UK the State sector often produces better results than in England.  If, on the other hand, you live in inner city England and your parents are not well-educated, your chances of entering the ‘top’ institutions and professions are often less, as your local school is less likely to be high-performing.  You may be able to reach the top, but it will require something more of you to do so.

And what else do we have?  A professional elite even narrower in background than our European counterparts, a system of privilege that depends on having attended two institutions – Oxford and Cambridge – and a smattering of Russell Group Universities beyond – and an attitude from the top, that having enjoyed these precious things, ‘we want to make them accessible to you’ – never mind that there’s limited funding for change, or that there may be cultural or qualifications barriers to entry; never mind that 60% of graduates are women, but only 30% of top jobs are held by them.

There seems to be some consensus that the early years that are the most important for determining future life chances, because of brain development,  because of habituation to books and learning, because of early socialisation, because it is easier than dealing with underachieving adolescents. And who are the main influences then? Parents – often predominantly mothers – as fathers are more likely to be higher earners and concentrating more on the income side of things in those pre-school and foundation years of education.  So it would appear that a lot of social mobility comes back to family policy – enabling mothers and fathers to both contribute to earning and to childrearing in a way which gives their children the solid base from which to progress in life, and which equips them for the ladder ahead.  So if we really want to attain greater equality of opportunity and outcomes, perhaps the Government should appoint a tsarina, and she and the tsar can try and work out together how best to balance the paid and unpaid elements of success in life, as thousands of parents do for their own children every day.

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