Why the Daily Mail's Right Minds fails to deliver

No, it's not the politics or the 55-deck shrill headlines that disappoint.

I don't think Right Minds is for me. This isn't a tremendous surprise given my political leanings, but it's not that. I'm used to reading the Mail and being infuriated by their columnists, or irritated by their 55-deck shrill headlines about benefit cheats, gypsies and single mums, but it's not that either.

No, for once, it's rather sad to note that the Mail have gone through with something and haven't done it very well.

It's not often that the Mail are behind the curve on something, but here it is: their attempt at a multi-authored Huffington Post-style brains trust, to rival Telegraph Blogs, Comment is Free, the Spectator Coffee House and others went live today.

Already nicknamed the "Heffington Post" because of Simon Heffer's editorship, I was expecting the trademark Mail slickness to set a new benchmark for the rest of us to have to strive for. But no. It's a bit of a mess, and that's rather disappointing.

The Mail may be many things to many people, but the one adjective I never thought I'd use about it was "amateurish". There's a sticky-back-plastic cobbled-together feel of Right Minds which goes against everything the Mail stands for in terms of quality. There's a giant photo of Richard Littlejohn at the top of the page, for example, that beams out at you in that mildly terrifying way he does, but it's been blown up so much it's gone fuzzy; and Norman Tebbit's name is spelt wrong -- the sort of mistakes that the Mail just doesn't make.

The title page is littered with so many choices it's like one of those baffling restaurant menus that you end up staring at for half an hour rather than choosing something to eat. Where to begin? Where to end? Why to bother?

You're overwhelmed as a punter, drowning in a soup of content, struggling to navigate your way around the competing articles. Perhaps the idea is that you flounder around and end up clicking on stuff as you try to get your bearings; perhaps it's a case of "more is more" and they're just trying to deluge us with as much content as possible so we couldn't possibly not find something to read.

But it doesn't seem very Daily Mail to me. With the Mail the newspaper - and its staggeringly popular website about Kim Kardashian in a bikini with various less important news articles tacked onto the side - you might dislike or even despise the content, but you always have to admire the professionalism; you might not like what they're doing but you have to begrudgingly give them their dues for the standards they set. But that's not the case with Right Minds, and I find that a bit of a let-down. I'm not the Mail's biggest fan by any stretch of the imagination, but this is just rather disappointing.

That said, what did I find to enjoy? Well, I had fun with this Q and A on spiders with Craig Brown (including a rather delightful line about "Arachnid Correctness gone mad"), and, as is so often the case, the Mail's leader column provides the kind of consumer champion voice over banking that cuts right through party affiliation, backed up by this article from Alex Brummer.

I looked in vain for a "token leftie" but all I could find was Roy Hattersley, and he was droning tediously on about HP Sauce so that didn't help. Perhaps it's just the way that things have fallen as the venture starts out, but there seems to be a preponderance of men v women. The links don't really add much either -- Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale, John Redwood, it's the same old usual suspects, the kind of thing that someone just starting out as a Tory blogger would put on their blogroll.

I'm sure it'll get better. And it's wrong to imagine that the "Heffington Post" will fail, because it has such huge resources at its disposal that it can't possibly fail. Doubtless a top team have been behind the scenes working out how to drive as much traffic as possible to the site, and it will boost the Mail's ever-growing website presence.

But I had hoped for something a bit more market leading, a bit less safe, a bit more worthy of admiration, even if I didn't agree with the politics.

 

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Meet the hot, funny, carefree Cool Mums – the maternal version of the Cool Girl

As new film Bad Moms reveals, what the cool girl is to the diet-obsessed prom queen, the cool mum is to the PTA harpy.

I suppose we should all be thankful. Time was when “mum’s night off” came in the form of a KFC value bucket. Now, with the advent of films such as Bad Moms – “from the gratefully married writers of The Hangover” – it looks as though mums are finally getting permission to cut loose and party hard.

This revelation could not come a moment too soon. Fellow mums, you know all those stupid rules we’ve been following? The ones where we think “god, I must do this, or it will ruin my precious child’s life”? Turns out we can say “sod it” and get pissed instead. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore said so.

I saw the trailer for Bad Moms in the cinema with my sons, waiting for Ghostbusters to start. Much as I appreciate a female-led comedy, particularly one that suggests there is virtue in shirking one’s maternal responsibilities, I have to say there was something about it that instantly made me uneasy. It seems the media is still set on making the Mommy Wars happen, pitching what one male reviewer describes as “the condescending harpies that run the PTA” against the nice, sexy mummies who just want to have fun (while also happening to look like Mila Kunis). It’s a set up we’ve seen before and will no doubt see again, and while I’m happy some attention is being paid to the pressures modern mothers are under, I sense that another is being created: the pressure to be a cool mum.

When I say “cool mum” I’m thinking of a maternal version of the cool girl, so brilliantly described in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl:

“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.”

The cool girl isn’t like all the others. She isn’t weighed down by the pressures of femininity. She isn’t bothered about the rules because she knows how stupid they are (or at least, how stupid men think they are). She does what she likes, or at least gives the impression of doing so. No one has to feel guilty around the cool girl. She puts all other women, those uptight little princesses, to shame.

What the cool girl is to the diet-obsessed prom queen, the cool mum is to the PTA harpy. The cool mum doesn’t bore everyone by banging on about organic food, sleeping habits or potty training. Neither hyper-controlling nor obsessively off-grid, she’s managed to combine reproducing with remaining a well-balanced person, with interests extending far beyond CBeebies and vaccination pros and cons. She laughs in the face of those anxious mummies ferrying their kids to and from a multitude of different clubs, in between making  cupcakes for the latest bake sale and sitting on the school board. The cool mum doesn’t give a damn about dirty clothes or additives. After all, isn’t the key to happy children a happy mum? Perfection is for narcissists.

It’s great spending time with the cool mum. She doesn’t make you feel guilty about all the unpaid drudgery about which other mothers complain. She’s not one to indulge in passive aggression, expecting gratitude for all those sacrifices that no one even asked her to make. She’s entertaining and funny. Instead of fretting about getting up in time to do the school run, she’ll stay up all night, drinking you under the table. Unlike the molly-coddled offspring of the helicopter mum or the stressed-out kids of the tiger mother, her children are perfectly content and well behaved, precisely because they’ve learned that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Mummy’s a person, too.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, just how well this works out. Just as the cool girl manages to meet all the standards for patriarchal fuckability without ever getting neurotic about diets, the cool mum raises healthy, happy children without ever appearing to be doing any actual motherwork. Because motherwork, like dieting, is dull. The only reason any woman would bother with either of them is out of some misplaced sense of having to compete with other women. But what women don’t realise – despite the best efforts of men such as the Bad Moms writers to educate us on this score – is that the kind of woman who openly obsesses over her children or her looks isn’t worth emulating. On the contrary, she’s a selfish bitch.

For what could be more selfish than revealing to the world that the performance of femininity doesn’t come for free? That our female bodies are not naturally hairless, odourless, fat-free playgrounds? That the love and devotion we give our children – the very care work that keeps them alive – is not something that just happens regardless of whether or not we’ve had to reimagine our entire selves to meet their needs? No one wants to know about the efforts women make to perform the roles which men have decided come naturally to us. It’s not that we’re not still expected to be perfect partners and mothers. It’s not as though someone else is on hand to pick up the slack if we go on strike. It’s just that we’re also required to pretend that our ideals of physical and maternal perfection are not imposed on us by our position in a social hierarchy. On the contrary, they’re meant to be things we’ve dreamed up amongst ourselves, wilfully, if only because each of us is a hyper-competitive, self-centred mean girl at heart.

Don’t get me wrong. It would be great if the biggest pressures mothers faced really did come from other mothers. Alas, this really isn’t true. Let’s look, for instance, at the situation in the US, where Bad Moms is set. I have to say, if I were living in a place where a woman could be locked up for drinking alcohol while pregnant, where she could be sentenced to decades behind bars for failing to prevent an abusive partner from harming her child, where she could be penalised in a custody case on account of being a working mother – if I were living there, I’d be more than a little paranoid about fucking up, too. It’s all very well to say “give yourself a break, it’s not as though the motherhood police are out to get you”. Actually, you might find that they are, especially if, unlike Kunis’s character in Bad Moms, you happen to be poor and/or a woman of colour.

Even when the stakes are not so high, there is another reason why mothers are stressed that has nothing to do with pressures of our own making. We are not in need of mindfulness, bubble baths nor even booze (although the latter would be gratefully received). We are stressed because we are raising children in a culture which strictly compartmentalises work, home and leisure. When one “infects” the other – when we miss work due to a child’s illness, or have to absent ourselves to express breastmilk at social gatherings, or end up bringing a toddler along to work events – this is seen as a failure on our part. We have taken on too much. Work is work and life is life, and the two should never meet.

No one ever says “the separation between these different spheres – indeed, the whole notion of work/life balance – is an arbitrary construct. It shouldn’t be down to mothers to maintain these boundaries on behalf of everyone else.” Throughout human history different cultures have combined work and childcare. Yet ours has decreed that when women do so they are foolishly trying to “have it all”, ignoring the fact that no one is offering mothers any other way of raising children while maintaining some degree of financial autonomy. These different spheres ought to be bleeding into one another.  If we are genuinely interested in destroying hierarchies by making boundaries more fluid, these are the kind of boundaries we should be looking at. The problem lies not with identities – good mother, bad mother, yummy mummy, MILF – but with the way in which we understand and carry out our day-to-day tasks.

But work is boring. Far easier to think that nice mothers are held back, not by actual exploitation, but by meanie alpha mummies making up arbitrary, pointless rules. And yes, I’d love to be a bad mummy, one who stands up and says no to all that. Wouldn’t we all? I’d be all for smashing the matriarchy, if that were the actual problem here, but it’s not.

It’s not that mummies aren’t allowing each other to get down and party. God knows, we need it. It’s just that it’s a lot less fun when you know the world will still be counting on you to clear up afterwards.  

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.