We should all hate the passive-aggressive martyrdom of "me time"

Why is it that mothers end up having their lives marketed back to them, piece by piece, as "me time"?

One of the many things you learn upon becoming a mother is just how important “me time” is. Believe me, it’s really, really important. Without it no mum would ever survive.

In case you’re wondering what “me time” is, it’s what other people call “time” or, to give it its full name, “time when you’re not at work in which you do other stuff”. This is not to be confused with “free time,” that is, time in which you do anything you like (i.e. get drunk). “Me time,” or “time” as it was once known, is filled with activities which are kind of okay. You wouldn’t go so far as to call them interesting but hey, they help while away the hours. It’s stuff like having a bath, washing your hair, doing some sit-ups, walking the dog. Fine, but not exactly noteworthy. Unless, of course, you are a woman who has had kids. Then it’s a different story.

Then it’s “me time”! Yay! Hooray for “me time”! Aren’t you really, really grateful it exists? For this is one of the first rules of motherhood: be pathetically, ostentatiously thankful for any time whatsoever which isn’t spent wiping arses or cleaning behind the fridge. For lo! You have been granted some “me time”! Rejoice! Whether you spend these precious “you” moments drinking a cup of tea or shaving your pubes, never forget to do it with a beatific smile on your face. For you are so, so lucky! All that stuff other people, including fathers, just do — well, for you, it’s now a bit selfish to do it. But go on, we’ll let you. As an extra-special treat.

This evening I arrived home from work (not “me time”) to be greeted by my children (still not “me time”). While clearing away the dinner (STILL not “me time”) I came across a free copy of the Primary Times and started to flick through it (magazine reading! Sound the “me time” alert!). In amidst all the adverts I found an article on “me time” (how meta-“me time” is that?). Taking a further look I discovered that this time of year is particularly “me time”-tastic:

As October half term, with its round of bonfire and Halloween parties, comes to a close, perhaps now is the time for mums to claim back a little bit of that “me time” they have been promising themselves for so long.

Here that, ladies? Fire up the Ladyshave and get me-timing! That’s assuming, of course, that you’ve spent the half term giving your kids the kind of social life you only see in a Waitrose advert (if not then I’m sorry but you just haven’t earned it yet).

So what does proper, hardcore “me timing” involve? Lots of expensive spa treatments in the Gloucester and Bristol area, apparently. But there are other, cheaper activities such as “doing gentle breathing exercises in the bathroom, doing a yoga posture while waiting for the kettle to boil or taking it in turns with partners and friends to look after the children while the others get to do something fun” (NB I’m not sure who “the others” are. They creep me out, so I’m sticking to doing the downward-facing dog while waiting to make a cup of tea).

The importance of “me time” cannot be stressed enough. Whereas normal people have “time” just because it’s there and you’ve got to do something in it, mummies have “me time” because without it they’d be total bitches from hell. According to “professional bodyworker and yoga teacher Cheryl Jenkins”:

Children and loved ones have a fantastic knack of knowing how to press our buttons to make us over-react. […] When we’re over-stressed, that is exactly what we’ll do, only to regret it later. If we’re relaxed, we’re much more likely to respond to pressures in a measured way rather than allowing our frustrations to spill out.

We’re also much more likely to stop and really appreciate those special little moments, like when your child says something hilarious or you see their eyes sparkle as they experience something for the first time. After all, it’s these fleeting but magical moments that make parenthood so fulfilling.

Hmm. So there is clearly a link between having your nails done in Cabot Circus and being Mummy of the Year. Oh well. I think I’m out of the running but still, I do appreciate those special little moments. I wouldn’t say they were all that fulfilling but children talking bollocks are good value when you’re in need of something to tweet about (tweeting counts as “me time” so when you think about it that one’s a virtuous circle).

It’s not that I hate bubble baths or reading or going for a walk. It’s not even that I don’t consider some of these things to be a treat. Even so, the “me time” labelling is getting on my nerves. It’s not just laden with gender-based assumptions — “while the role of serving your family is vital, it’s still just part of the whole you” — it’s also heavily based on undertaking activities to improve your appearance. And then there’s the pathetic, passive-aggressive martyrdom of the whole thing. Oh, look at me and my “me time”. I might be in a hydrotherapy pool in an expensive spa in Wiltshire but mentally I still haven’t removed my sackcloth and ashes.

Why can’t we all just have “time”? Why is it that mothers end up having their lives marketed back to them, piece by piece?  Why can’t I just have a sodding bath without hearing an “ooh, mum’s having a night off from all the chores!” voiceover in my head? And this – blogging about “me time” – is that also “me time”? “Ooh, mum’s on her soapbox again!”

I despair, I really do.

This post first appeared on the Glosswatch blog.

Taking some "me time" to relax and read a book. (Photo: Getty)

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

Photo: Wikimedia Commons and Getty
Show Hide image

“Rise like lions after slumber”: why do Jeremy Corbyn and co keep reciting a 19th century poem?

How a passage from Percy Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy became Labour’s battle cry.

“If I may, I’d like to quote one of my favourite poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley,” Jeremy Corbyn politely suggested to a huge Glastonbury audience. The crowd of nearly 120,000 – more accustomed to the boom of headline acts than elderly men reading out romantic poetry – roared its approval.

“Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number!” he rumbled. “Shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep had fallen on you: ye are many – they are few!”

The Labour leader told the crowd that this was his favourite line. It’s the final stanza of Shelley’s 1819 poem, The Masque of Anarchy, written in response to the Peterloo Massacre earlier that year, when a cavalry charged into a non-violent protest for the vote.

Though it was not published in Shelley’s lifetime – it was first released in 1832 – the poem has become a rallying cry for peaceful resistance. It has been recited at uprisings throughout history, from Tiananmen Square to Tahrir Square.

Corbyn’s turn on the Pyramid Stage was not the first time he’s used it. He recited the stanza during his closing speech on election night in Islington, and the audience began quoting along with him:


It was also used by comedian and celebrity Labour supporter Steve Coogan at a rally in Birmingham:


During Corbyn’s second leadership campaign, his ally Chris Williamson MP told a public meeting that this part of the poem should be “our battle cry” . He delivered on this the following year by reciting the poem to me in his Renault Clio while out on the campaign trail in England’s most marginal constituency (which he ended up winning).

You can hear it echoed in Labour’s campaign slogan: “For the many, not the few”.

Corbyn’s election guru, James Schneider, told the Standard at the time that “it would be a stretch” to say the slogan was taken directly from the poem, but that “Jeremy does know Shelley”. Yet even he took the time to recite the whole stanza down the phone to the journalist who was asking.

Corbyn is famously a fan of the novelist and author Ben Okri. The pair did a literary night at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank in July last year, in which the Shelley lines came up at the end of the event, as reported by Katy Balls over at the Spectator. Okri announced that he wanted to recite them, telling Corbyn and the audience:

“I want to read five lines of Shelley . . . I think there are some poems that ought to be, like you know those rock concerts, and the musician starts to sing and the whole audience knows the lines? And sings along with them? Well this ought to be one of those, and I’d like to propose that we somehow make it so that anytime someone starts with the word ‘Rise’, you know exactly what the lines are going to be.”

Which, of course, is exactly what Corbyn did at Glastonbury.

“We have this huge, abundant literature on the left and it’s hardly known”

The former left-wing Labour leader Michael Foot loved the poem and recited the lines at demos, and Stop the War – the campaign group Corbyn supports and chaired – took a line from it as the title of its 2014 film about anti-Iraq War action, We Are Many.

So why does the Labour left rally around some lines of poetry written nearly 200 years ago?

“It’s a really appropriate poem,” says Jacqueline Mulhallen, author of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary (Pluto, 2015). “Shelley wrote a poem about the fact that these people were protesting about a minority taking the wealth from the majority, and the majority shouldn’t allow it to happen.

“He was writing at the beginning of industrial capitalism, and protested then, and 200 years later, we’ve still got the same situation: food banks, homeless people, Grenfell Tower, more debts – that’s why it has great resonance when Corbyn quotes it.”

“Shelley said there’s loads of us, it’s just a little corrupt crew – well, of course that applies now”

Michael Rosen, the poet and former Children’s Laureate, also describes the poignancy of Shelley’s words in Corbyn’s campaign. “You’ve got a sense of continuity,” he tells me. “Shelley was campaigning for freedom, for free thought, for free love. He was campaigning for a fairer society; it was a time of incredible oppression. He said there’s loads of us, it’s just a little corrupt crew – well, of course that applies now.”

Rosen celebrates the poem’s place in the Labour movement. “When any of us from the left quote people from the past, we’re saying that we have traditions... We’re making a claim on our authenticity,” he says. “Just in the same way as the right and the establishment draw on the pageantry of the Queen, or talk about Parliament or quote Winston Churchill. These are our traditions, which are different. You hardly ever come across it, either in newspapers or history lessons or anything.”

Rosen, a friend of Corbyn’s, believes his speech brings a left-wing tradition alive that is often forgotten. “We have this huge, abundant literature on the left and it’s hardly known. What’s great about Jeremy calling on it is to remind us . . . This stuff sits in old museums and libraries, gathering dust until it’s made active and live again. It’s made active and live particularly when being used in an environment like that [Glastonbury]. He was making the words come alive.”

Read more: 7 things we learned from Jeremy Corbyn on The One Show

The Masque of Anarchy’s final stanza has been recited at high-profile protests throughout history – including at the 20,000 garment workers’ strike in 1909 in New York, the student-led demo in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, anti-Poll Tax protests, and at Tahrir Square in Egypt during the Arab Spring, according to Mulhallen. The way civilians were treated by the authorities in many of these protests echoes what happened at Peterloo.

So does Corbyn’s penchant for the verse mark a similar radical turning-point in our history? “It’s indicating a change in attitude that people should start thinking about redistributing the wealth again,” says Mulhallen. “People are becoming much more aware.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496