Thursday, April 07, 2011

But Daily Mail - who should I blame?

Hey gals, are you up to your eyeballs in housework and caring responsibilities and no idea who to blame? Well fear not - the Daily Fail is here to help - check out this classic piece "Think your man doesn't pull his weight at home? Maybe it's YOUR fault". Really. Yes. That is actually the title of the piece. Needless to say while my dirty pots and pans just sit there, I'm doing a line-by-line...

"Today, women outperform men at school and university. They make a success of their early careers and enter into relationships on their own terms."

Wow who knew a two-person relationship could be established based on one person's "terms". Mine are half board, all bills and cunnilingus on a Wednesday afternoon, who's in?

"So why then, once children come along, do so many women end up ‘holding the baby’, to the detriment of everything else in their lives, while their partners’ lives seem to carry on as before — relatively free of childcare responsibilities?"

Well given that 94% of pregnant women say they return from maternity leave to a worse job role than the one they left, maybe it's because employers discriminate so much against pregnant women that many feel de-incentivised to put in so much effort on their return. Maybe it's because with a pathetic two weeks of paternity leave available men are overtly discouraged from bonding with their babies and learning how to care for them. Just throwing some ideas out there.

"Could women be their own worst enemies when it comes to the balance of modern family life?"

Yeah that'll be it. I probably built my own prison cell and climbed inside. No doubt in the 250 year history of the fight for women's rights all we really needed was one woman to go "oh stop it girls, you've only yourselves to blame" and we could all have been CEOs and Prime Ministers centuries ago.

"There is a photograph of me holding my son when he is two months old. He is in rude health. His complexion is peachy, his eyes shine with liveliness and curiosity. In contrast, I appear to be in the grip of a life-sapping disease. My skin is sallow and drawn, the grey offset only by aubergine accents below the eyes. My cheeks are hollow."

There's a reason for that - if you have a peachy complexion and are holding a sallow, drawn, grey and aubergine child, social services tend to pop round.

"A few months later, I appraise myself in the landing mirror on the return leg from a night feed. There has been no improvement: I still look deathly. My dressing gown is covered in an applique of baby snot and nappy cream. My T-shirt is stiff with stale breast milk. What has happened to me?"

You don't wear heels and mascara to breast-feed your baby in the night? Personally I pop on something from Stella McCartney's wipe-clean-nightwear-with-velcro-tit-flaps collection.

"I worried about being a parent long before I became one. I had a decent job behind the scenes in television that, though it didn’t make me rich or powerful, allowed me to think of myself as an independent, capable woman and gave me just enough cash and free time to live a varied and spontaneous existence."

Maybe you really were an independent capable woman. Maybe you deserved more than a decent job. Maybe you deserved the opportunity to become rich and powerful. Actually sorry, based on your journalism skills, scratch that. Clearly you got away with it for a few years.

"I fretted about the inevitable compromises to my life and relationship with my husband that having a child would bring. We wrestled with the issue off and on for a few years. Then, as I hurtled towards the wrong end of my 30s, like many couples we took the plunge and I hoped for the best."

Ooops, maybe you should have tried campaigning for equal maternity and paternity rights and more employer flexibility for parents rather than hoping for the best.

"The result has been both much better and worse than I’d imagined. I have discovered the intense joys of parenthood. But I have also learnt that the inequality mothers experience in raising their children is not simply the cause of occasional bouts of angst, but the foundation on which our existence is built and future prospects determined."

I agree mothers do experience inequality, as a society we need to do better.

"My husband and I may have bought all the baby equipment and read all the right books before our child was born, but I was still entirely unprepared for the fundamental undoing of the life and identity I’d carefully constructed for myself over the previous 15 years and, in particular, the demolition of the equality that I’d thought to be at the heart of my relationship with my husband."

Right again - big issue. The personal is political, etc, etc. It's all very well men claiming to be in favour of equal rights in the workplace, they need to step up to the plate in the home and actually pull their weight.

"We walked home from hospital a new family of three. My husband took his two weeks’ statutory paternity leave. We spent that fortnight in a jet-lagged haze, barely getting any sleep, but surviving on exhilaration and adoration for our child."

Yes paternity leave is a good thing. Two weeks isn't long enough. See: what all feminists have been saying since the dawn of time.

"But then my husband went back to work, our baby ceased sleeping all day and the music stopped."

Clearly you needed support.

"My devotion to my son was unshakeable, but I was now faced with day after day in which for 12 or more hours I was solely responsible for an infant who was entirely dependent on me, utterly resistant to being put down and never seemed to want to nap."

So your husband was working 12 hour days the week after returning from paternity leave and arranged no other support network/nanny/au pair/etc? Yes that is unreasonable.

"Abruptly, the severe challenges of motherhood were brought home to me. Having been used to environments where I mixed with women and men of all ages, circumstances and life stages, I now lived in a world where I only ever seemed to be in the company of other new mothers and their young charges."

Other mothers? Eww, they sound awful. I can't bear socialising without men there either.

"Collectively shell-shocked, our topics of conversation appeared limited to the merits of various pram models and how to tackle colic. I vacillated between a desperate hunger for tips on encouraging my child to sleep and a head-pounding boredom with this narrow baby-centric world."

And no doubt the other mothers felt this way too. Perhaps you could have talked about it, or would that have been breaking the sorority rules?

"Every day, I was pulled up sharp by the dismantling of my former life. En route to my mother-and-baby activities, I would pass young women heading off to work dressed immaculately and with the luxury of a solitary bus ride ahead of them. I was filled with envy."

Is there anything you want back from your working life apart from the outfits? Really, stick a frock and a bit of lippy on and stop it.

"I’d known that life with a newborn would be tough, but what made it hard to bear was the disparity that was emerging between my existence and that of my husband."

Yes inequality is infuriating isn't it? Welcome to feminism!

"Up and out of the house by eight in the morning, scrubbed and suited, I suspected that he was only too glad to flee the domestic disorder he left behind."

Was it a designer suit? A silk tie? If only your self esteem was built on something other than your dress sense we could talk about other ways of dealing with the issues here.

"In my thoughts, I jealously shadowed his day: a day in which he had time to himself, exercised his brain and kept his career on track. No wonder, then, that when he came through the front door in the evening as I was clearing up the baby’s wreckage, he was sometimes met with tears or sulking. Bound up in my enforced domesticity, I gave no thought to my husband’s own entrapment in the world of work."

So he was entrapped in work? Ok so time to talk about automatic flexible working for parents and more paternity leave? Clearly you need more help here. And if he's being greeted with tears and sulking and he's not responding by asking questions about post-natal depression and also what he can do right away to help he's a dick. He can start by clearing up that baby wreckage for you and sticking the kettle on. And when he's done a foot rub might be nice. Remember - it's should all be in the terms you set out when you met him.

"When a couple choose to have children, all the gains women have supposedly made over the past few decades seem to vanish, as the time machine of motherhood transports us back to the Fifties."

Yes and while the stupid "men's rights" campaigners want to legislate to allow absent fathers to dictate the behaviour of the mothers of their children, none of them has started a campaign to get men to take responsibility for the real hard work of childcare. Revolution needed!

"After my son was born, my husband wanted to share the care as much as possible. But when he was around, I wanted him to experience how hard it could be to look after a young baby."

Of course you did. You've every right to share the tough bits with him as well as the fun bits.

"Perversely, I willed our son to puke and scream when he was with him."

Luckily with babies you don't have to will too hard to get puking and screaming. But if you get stuck a quiet spoonful of Sunny Delight should do the trick.

"When this wish was granted, I would look on coldly, offering no assistance, glad that he was finding it difficult."

Why should you have offered assistance? Your husband knows how to mop up puke. You get a bit of kitchen roll, mop up the puke, bin it. Remember this man is a dashing executive in a Ferragamo neckerchief. (Honestly I don't even know how to spell Ferragamo, that is how little I care!)

"On other occasions, when he was changing the baby’s nappy, putting him in the pram or dressing him, I would bossily interject, scolding my husband for his ineptitude and taking over the task."

Well either he was doing it wrong. In which case a quick "that's not nappy cream, it's Deep Heat" would be fair enough. Or he wasn't, in which case see under post-natal depression. Of course it's infuriating to see him coping with the job when he only has to do it once a week and you have to do it twenty times a day. You must be thinking that he doesn't appreciate the work you put in.

"I wanted him to understand how gruelling it was to live my new life. Yet I risked discouraging him from getting involved."

Why is it your job to encourage him to get involved? How would you do that anyway? Write the latest Arsenal results on the kids' arse? He should be encouraged to get involved by (a) sense of fairness, (b) the fact that you are visibly exhausted (look! no nail varnish!) and (c) the fact that the kid contains 50% HIS genetic material.

"Looking after children can be tedious and gruelling. For many men, if it’s a choice between spending an extra hour at the office or getting back home in time to wrestle irritable offspring into a bath, they will take the former."

But it's precisely because it's tedious and gruelling that mothers need help with it, need nights off. If your husband is deliberately leaving all the tedious, gruelling work to you, he is a dick.

"Time your return right, however, and the children will come running to the door, calmed down, scrubbed up and ready for sleep, greeting you like the Railway Children reunited with Father. Then all you have to do is help them potter off to bed and give them a kiss as they tell you they love you, Daddy."

Sadly once they've gone to bed you may notice your wife looks like death and is still crying after a month and a half. This is your cue to remember that the Railway Children was a work of fiction for a bygone era and step up to the plate a bit.

"Fathers’ reluctance to get involved in the day-to-day graft of childcare is rarely challenged. Men have too little resolve to resist the cultural norms, government policy and employer practice that herds them into a secondary parenting role."

Right so we need to change cultural norms, government policy and employer practice. Go!

"And as mothers, we don’t always help ourselves. We begin to use the role of expert foisted upon us as a weapon against fathers."

As (ridiculously unsupported) mothers don't women have enough to worry about already without having to pretend not to be an expert so we don't upset the idiot who's overtly avoiding doing his cut of the housework and parenting?

"It starts from the first weeks of motherhood. We begin chiding our partner for the way he fastens a nappy or holds a bottle, and the criticism continues down the years as we throw up our hands at the school shoes he buys or his inadequate attention to detail over holiday club arrangements."

What do men need? "Yeah you put a nappy on!", cue fanfare and dancing girls. Yes parenting is pretty thankless. Does he whoop and holler with joy when you do these things (wrong)?

"I can recall grabbing the pram from my husband’s hands in order to strap in our baby to my satisfaction and making critical comments about how he chooses to spend the days he looks after our son."

Hey here's a great idea - just head out with the baby only loosely half-fastened to the pram. I mean what's the worst that can happen? He drops it down a drain? Oh well, you can make another one... And yes it's a huge issue when parents look after kids and one parent does either nothing much or takes the kid to all the fun places and leaves the other parent to do all the chores.

"As another mother told me: ‘Could I relinquish control and allow my husband to help? Probably not, because I wouldn’t be confident that it would be done to my standards.’"

So one of two things is going on - either he missed out on learning parenting skills, probably because of cultural norms (not being given baby dolls, etc as a child) or because of government policy (he only got two weeks paternity leave) or even employer practice (not being able to leave early when needed). Or he's faking incompetence to avoid hard work. And I wouldn't put it past him - he's already been hanging round the office and extra hour to avoid helping with bathtime. And if your standards are so high - congratulations, you're a great parent! Half the country just throws a frozen microwave meal at the kids and wipes them down with a Wet One when they start to smell stale.

"Women are inconsistent, claiming they are frustrated with having to deal with the majority of the domestic burden, yet are at the same time unwilling to cede any control over home life."

New mothers with post-natal depression are definitely inconsistent. They need support... And you're not claiming you're frustrated - you ARE frustrated. With good reason.

"Fathers can feel excluded and back off — even get depressed. Many men talk of the pressure not to put a foot wrong."

Oh poor poor men. The stress of feeling they have to not feed car tyres to their newborn. Having a kid is hard work. If that makes you back off - you are (have I mentioned this?) a dick.

"Beyond their own homes, women can also be guilty of maternal gatekeeping. Although mothers collectively rage at fathers for not taking responsibility for their children, the valiant few who do try to ‘cross the border’ are often treated warily, ignored or intimidated."

Where are the statistics on this? Most of the hands-on dads I know are idolised and one of them definitely uses his son as a talking point to chat up attractive young mums in the playground. And you were just moaning a few minutes ago that you only get to hang out with other women and you missed hanging out with men. So you in theory would be extra-welcoming to these dads.

"I know of one father who was asked to leave when he tried to take his daughter along to her mother-and-baby swim class."

Probably should have worn trunks. Seriously you have a single anecdote to prove your whole point? And I already demonstrated YOU are an example of someone who feels the opposite way. Counter-argument complete.

"Rather than realising that encouraging men to play a fair part in raising their families will pay dividends for both fathers and mothers, and, most importantly, children, mothers hoard the domestic power they are left with."

Yes women, we need to encourage men to do their fair share. In fact we need to do our fair share, most of their fair share and 100% of the encouraging. Don't plan to sit down.

"Rather than try to fight the forces they are up against, from inflexible work to costly childcare, women decide instead to sulk. Women sulk at work and sulk at home, wallowing in martyrdom and indulging in territorialism."

Yes women stop sulking, paste on a smile and laugh it off as your inept husband comes home in the middle of the night drunk and tries to feed bar snacks to the child you've just spent 8 hours getting to sleep. And you can only really wallow in martyrdom if you have been martyred. That may be the root of the problem. And if you have been martyred I think you should probably be entitled to a quick wallow, remember to keep that broom up your arse while you do it though!

"When not sulking we submit, unquestioningly buying the male line and even — sometimes — taking the view that it’s a ticket out of the stresses of modern life."

Yes don't submit to it women. Just leave your kids in the street and soon enough Papa's gonna realise he needs to pull his socks up. Women aren't unquestioningly buying the male line, they're unquestioningly buying the "wrong to neglect your child" line. And thank fuck somebody does!

"In each of these ways mothers prop up their inequality, reinforcing stereotypes and preconceptions rather than working to break them down. In so doing, we become only more securely imprisoned within the domestic realm."

So the way to liberate ourselves from this is (1) paste on a smile over the post-natal depression and pretend everything's ok, (2) do all the unpleasant work and then whoop with delight when your husband spends half an afternoon watching them sleep through Football Focus, (3) don't submit to it, make a fuss, stand up for your rights (p.s. If rule 3 contradicts any of the other rules you be sure and let me know huh?).

"Only by challenging our own attitudes, as well as those of others, do we have the power to reverse our descent into unhappiness and create a life with which we are truly content."

Confucius also say: woman who shit in own backyard probably not need dachshund. What a load of toss. If the problem of the overburdening of women with parental care could be solved by positive thinking we would have been hanging around in the cavemouth shouting "hey gorgeous, y'know that giraffe-skin loin cloth would look great with a dab of gooey turd on it". But that doesn't work!! DOES NOT WORK.

What we need - and you actually fucking said this before you accidentally dropped your intellect into the blender with the fairtrade bananas - is three things: a change in cultural norms, a change in government policy and a change in employer practice. And one more for good luck: a serious reduction in women-blaming bullshit from Britain's worst national newspaper.


Medea said...

This is an awesome blog post! =D Good work, I really enjoyed it. That AND I agreed with it, so you get double-points!
It's quite depressing how so many women are willing to accept that everything is their fault.
H x

Edward Lockhart said...

I guess you missed this?

I note the Daily Mail version redacted the T-shirt slogan....

Louisa Parry said...

My T-shirt is stiff with stale breast milk. What has happened to me?"

You don't wear heels and mascara to breast-feed your baby in the night? Personally I pop on something from Stella McCartney's wipe-clean-nightwear-with-velcro-tit-flaps collection.

Interestingly in the version of this article that appeared in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, she went into a little more detail about her t-shirt:

My T-shirt, an old Fawcett Society number, is stiff with stale breast milk. I look down. Among the stains it is possible to pick out a slogan. It reads: This Is What A Feminist Looks Like.

Cruella said...

Wow - good spot Ed and Louisa - so in fact it emerges that the nasty tone of the piece is basically the invention of the Daily Mail editorial team. I did wonder why a former Women's Hour editor was writing such an overtly anti-feminist piece. But of course she's not. The piece as edited by the Guardian is all about how Britain needs to look at how successful other countries have been in extending paternity rights and easing the load on new mothers. The 'Fail have taken a piece about maternal welfare and inequality and done a 180 degree switch-round to turn it in to a piece about why women are to blame for their own problems. Eww.

Loraine Despres said...

In the UK men get a two-week leave after a baby is born! That's wonderful. In the US moms don't even get paid leave unless they work for an "enlightened" company. And if they do take off using a combination of short term disability, sick leave, or vacation, they can't depend on the job being there when they want to go back to work. Anyway, Kate, your take on the old "blame the woman" logic is laugh out loud funny.

sianandcrookedrib said...

wow, the daily mail have really done a number on that article, which when it appeared in the guardian and was really interesting, sensitive and i think a lot of women felt their own stresses and worries were reflected and felt able to talk about it.

if you read No Sleep to Brooklands guest post by a woman who spoke to the daily mail and then had a legal battle over the resulting misrepresentation of her, we can see a pattern emerging.

i think your breakdown of the daily mail version is great, but it is a shame that the mail have wrecked and re-spun an article that originally made good points.