My new campaign: Feminists For Yummy Mummies

If feminists are truly interested in representing all women, we can't just laugh at the idea of the "yummy mummy".

I’m launching a new campaign to support much-maligned sector of society. Everyone, I give to you: Feminists For Yummy Mummies!

Now it might sound like I’m being sarcastic but actually, I’m not. I’m deadly serious. If there’s one group which suffers due to a very specific form of sexism which is rarely identified, let alone challenged, then it’s … Well, to be honest, there are many such groups. But well-kept upper-middle-class stay-at-home-mums (SAHMs) definitely form one of them. It’s about time we did something about it.

If you are a mum, you will probably despise any sentence that starts with “if you are a mum”. But the chances are you’re also aware that almost all mummies – no matter who they are or what they’re doing – are perceived to be a bit rubbish. Forget all this crap about motherhood being greatly admired. It is, but only if people are talking about some abstract, perfect mummy and comparing her to rubbish old you. For instance, I am a mum who’s also the main earner in her household and works full-time. Therefore I am rubbish when compared to the noble SAHM, busy doing “the hardest job on earth”. But wait! Were I to give up my job and become a SAHM, I’d then be a scrounger who “doesn’t work”, watching Jeremy Kyle on my crappy estate. I mean, I do actually live on a crappy estate, so I’m halfway there. Perhaps it’d help if I lived somewhere nicer and didn’t claim benefits? Sadly not, since if my partner were rich, I’d still be fucking useless, an airhead MILF swanning about in my4x4. Everyone in the entire cosmimegaverse would resent me – if not for being rich, then for being superfluous and annoying. In fact, the only acceptable form of motherhood is frugal, just-getting-by heterosexual SAHM-dom. This is the kind of motherhood where you’re with a male partner who earns a bit but not much, hence you’re financially dependent on him and spend your whole life stuck at home or at baby group. That form of motherhood’s just great. Mummies you can praise from afar but don’t actually have to see out and about. All the more space in which to ogle those who haven’t yet bred, eh, Daily Mail?

The Guardian has featured a piece by Rowan Davies in defence of the rich type of rubbish mummy, called "What is people’s problem with yummy mummies?" It’s written in response to a café owner blaming said yummies for the closure of cafés in Primrose Hill, since the latter don’t purchase food:

The yummy mummies just want somewhere to settle their prams and have a mummies’ meeting, so anywhere with coffee and a table is in demand, and people are supplying it, but it’s not helping the area.

Is it just me, or is there real derision in a term such as “mummies’ meeting”? Certainly Davies detects it too. She sees it as capturing a form of resentment reserved just for affluent mums – but not dads. She identifies it – correctly, in my view – as an unwillingness to accept mothers in public space unless they are sufficiently poor, downtrodden and self-effacing:

Mothers, in ever-greater numbers, are demanding more space, in all senses. The age-old choice between domestic and professional is being rejected; maybe it’s time we were allowed to do both. Maybe we can take the cash that we earned in a well-paid job and spend it on lattes during our maternity leave. Maybe we can have loud conversations about childbirth in public places. Maybe we can express opinions about politics, technology or art while wiping someone’s nose, and expect to be taken seriously. Maybe we don’t care as much as our grandmothers did about the good opinion of passersby, because we are much less dependent on our neighbours’ approval; we have sources of power and influence that are entirely our own. Maybe none of these things should bother people half as much as they do.

Now I’ll admit, the paragraph I’ve just quoted reeks of class entitlement and smugness about one’s own good fortune. I still think Davies has a point. Wealth may not be distributed fairly, but the spending of money should not be seen as more ostentatious and offensive when it’s done by mothers – mothers who, unlike the anyone else with cash to spare, still have to engage in frequently dull, lonely work while they’re spending it (and okay, they have might nannies – but why is outsourcing labour considered a job when you’re in the office yet shirking when you’re at home?).

I am middle class and educated. I am not however wealthy. Sometimes I resent those who seem to fall into the rich SAHM category. This is particularly likely to happen when I visit my parents, since my mum – for reasons she’s too ashamed to reveal – has a subscription to Easy Living. Every month the magazine includes a godawful feature called School Runway, a feature which exists solely in order for rich mummies to show off about what clothes they’ve got. Seriously, that is all it does. Usually there’s one mummy who’ll boast about how frugal she is because she likes to “mix it up with one key designer piece together with some vintage”. And if the women are in paid employment, they tend to either work for Easy Living or as designers you’ve never heard of (although they’re guaranteed to be wearing one of the pieces they designed). Some of them do not even appear to have children yet they still just “are” yummy mummies. I hate, hate, hate School Runway. Hate it with a vengeance. And yet…  And yet I do not believe cultural oddities such as this can justify the sheer venom and misogyny directed at the average wealthy mother – and by extension, all mothers who dare to seen in public without looking sufficiently miserable.

Here are some of the comments which follow Davies’ Guardian piece:

Stepfords in their 4 x 4s

(That’s the whole thing. Eloquent, no?) And then there’s this:

these women are obnoxious and inconsiderate. they act like they’re the first people to give birth.

No, they don’t. They act as though becoming a parent is a massive deal, and it is. If they seriously believed they were the first people to give birth, they’d be literally in your face the whole time, yelling “LOOK! This little person CAME OUT OF ME!! What the FUCK???” Or something similar. Anyhow, it would involve more that sitting around in Starbucks with a Bugaboo. Oh, but that’s a bad thing, too:

When my kids were little (and I did at least half of the childwork) we’d take them in a folding buggy (which we folded when we got on the bus) if we were using public transport and a pram (which we left outside any retail establishment) when we went shopping or for a walk in the park. If we wanted to hang out drinking tea and yakking, we went to friends’ houses.

Well, good for you. I cannot seriously believe that in 2012 people want to question whether women who’ve had babies should feel entitled to sit in cafés with said babies. Seriously, I can’t.

Surely these particular woman attract resentment because they are wealthy and don’t have to do paid work. They have therefore got a lot more leeway in terms of throwing their weight about than most of us who have to answer to the boss and/or the benefits office, and are likely to have an elevated sense of entitlement. Their hubbies out at work probably do have to answer to the boss and therefore have retained their ability not to go round acting like they own the place.

Yeah, all you women who don’t do paid work! You totally act like you own the place! It’s not as though no longer having your own source of income and wiping shitty arses several times a day is remotely humbling. Not at all.

You just have to overhear a snatch of one of their conversations to understand why this particular group is so universally and rightly reviled.

Again, this is unfortunately the whole comment. So perhaps we’ll never be told what not to say while breastfeeding one’s baby over a latte, at least if one wants to avoid universal, righteous revulsion.

These comments appall me and they’re not even directed at “my type” (presumed-to-be-regretful feminist who farms out her babies while heading to the office). It’s a level of nastiness that’s completely unwarranted, an expression of outrage at the fact that some women are not sufficiently diminished or broken by motherhood. So having children isn’t enough to put the privileged woman in her place. Well, why should it be? And why would that be fair? Social justice is not achieved by ensuring that motherhood pushes all women a few notches down the social scale.

If feminists are truly interested in representing all women, I think we need to engage with this. The yummy mummy type is seen as an embarrassment to us all, but should privilege really provide a little pocket where people feel entitled to indulge their misogyny unchecked? It affects all of us, this resentment of women taking up too much space (“using ridiculous buggies the size of a bubble car” – because of course, women do that for FUN! It’s worth all the inconvenience just to piss people off!). The yummy mummy types should not be the only kind of parent who is seen; she should not be the only one at liberty to care for her young without facing extreme hardship. These are feminist concerns, but so too is straightforward sexist bullying. Hence Feminists For Yummy Mummies. Join me (no vintage pieces allowed).

This post first appeared here on glosswatch.com. Glosswitch is a feminist mother of two who works in publishing.

Stay at home mums are women too. Photograph: Getty Images

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

Alison McGovern
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Forget universal basic income - this is how we can include voters in economic growth

The links between economic growth of the country and that of the people, families and towns have broken. The state can fix them again. 

Economic policy is always boring, until it’s too late.

Pensions. How they are funded, who they cover, what happens if they fail. Boring. Until it was too late.

Mortgages. Who has them, who needs one, who should have one. Boring. Until it was too late.

Finance. Capital markets, their products, their structure, their risk profile. Boring. Until it was too late.

You see the point I’m making. It’s easy to look away from numbers. The data doesn’t necessarily tell us an obvious story. And then one day, a catalyst sparks an unforeseen, if, with hindsight, predictable event, and we all wonder why we didn’t see it coming.

Something similar happened with the Brexit vote. Of course, it was a perfect political storm: an overconfident Prime Minister calls a referendum that he only needs to have to pay off his right flank, safe in the knowledge that the mainstream voters and the leadership of the Labour party will carry him through. Except he forgets that there is someone more despised than even his right flank - him. 

But beneath all of that, the Brexit vote revealed a divided country. Between those who felt that Britain as it was before the referendum offered them a decent enough – if imperfect - future, and those who felt it offered them nothing of the sort. 

Could we have seen it coming? Perhaps we could. Take two graphs.

Real wages are still, today, on average below what they were in 2008, nearly a decade ago. At the point of the referendum, average wages were yet to return to the level they hit eight years earlier. The difference between real and nominal wages is inflation. People have watched prices steadily drift up while their wages have remained stubbornly flat. Not an overnight shock, but a long drawn out crisis all the same.

Vast numbers of pensioners (over 60 per cent of them) voted to leave the European Union, and pensioners incomes have not seen the same fall as incomes for the working age population (in fact they rose by 19 per cent in real terms in the last 10 years). But it is important not to overinterpret the data with hindsight. After all, there are nearly 32m British people of working age. That surely should have been enough to carry the vote, had far too many people had so little reason to back the status quo.

In the years running up to the crucial Brexit vote, the economy was, by and large, moving ahead. But in the case of the most crucial, most noticeable, economic transfer - a person’s wages - the economy was not moving ahead at all. In fact between the crash and the 2015 general election, wages largely only fell, and since then, pay has struggled to make up ground, against a picture of an otherwise ‘growing’ economy.

Worst of all - nearly 4m households in measurable (and therefore known) poverty include someone at work. Of the 17m Brexit voters, some were wealthy retired voters who always hated Brussels. But how many more simply had too little to lose, and couldn’t stand David Cameron?

The problem with all this though, and the reason we didn’t see it coming, is that no one’s life is a graph. I mean, we are all data points. But no one feels like a data point. And people are notoriously bad at providing logical, graph-like, mathematical reasons for their political judgements. "My individual wages have failed to keep pace with growth in the economy at large," said no person on no doorstep, ever. Unhappiness with what is on offer manifests itself in lots of different ways but it isn’t likely to be an analysis of the macro-economy.

We all know of course that people are much more likely to connect with politics (and politicians) emotionally. That is how we make our choices. But our emotions are informed by the facts of our life and are responses to the facts we see. So, whilst the graphs above cannot tell us all we need to know about why Remain lost, they do tell us about some facts likely to impact on the choices we make.

The challenge is to work out how we can change the trends shown on the graph, and how this in turn will affect those who lost out over the past decade. What can be done to repair the link between economic growth and economic growth for all?

This challenge is to create "inclusive growth". Or as I think of it, making sure there is a hard chain which links growth in the economy overall to the growth of wages and incomes of the many. When the country rises, so must all within it.

The hard links in the chain are what should have kept our country together. They are the rules that should have meant that the British economy doing better meant individuals, families, towns, cities all doing better too. You can see from the graphs above that the rules worked between 1997 and about 2005. Our country grew, and we all grew in capacity with it. But then the model stopped working. And 11 years later people were asked to vote for the status quo, even though the status quo was clearly failing the many.

We will never be able to see the trends until it is too late. We need rules that shape our markets, including the labour market, to achieve an outcome that people can see and feel in their pockets. Analysis of the past is only any good if it can help shape the future. 

It’s not enough to say that somehow our economy is rigged against people, as if this was one great fiddle. Rather, we should remember that policy choices have consequences. 

Now some people suggest that the correct response to falling wages, and precarious work, is some sort of universal benefit, or citizens’ income. But recent Fabian Society research demonstrated that the vast majority of people – about 80 per cent - feel positive about their work even despite the story told here about wages. So even if it were practical for government to raise taxes in order to transfer something in the region of the state pension to every person in our country, it hardly seems like it would be popular. 

If people, in general terms, actually like their work, the problem is then making sure they get paid enough and get promotions. It means recognising what the past decade has taught us: that the growth of the economy must mean economic growth for all within the economy, or else there will be consequences.

So, the question remains: what are the hard links in the chain between the economic growth of the country as a whole, and economic growth of the people, families and towns within it?

Unfortunately, this is where the boring stuff still matters. You can get paid more if you have better prospects. That means a buoyant labour market, and the skills to participate in it.

Now the government say that they are addressing the challenges in our economy by investing in infrastructure, through an industrial strategy. And along with buzzy new ideas like universal basic income (where citizens are guaranteed a certain income), everyone in politics loves announcing campaigns for new railway lines (me included). Trains are big, fast, expensive and showy. But travelling to work by train tends to be the preserve of those who already have a high-skilled job and are commuting some distance. We should worry a little more about those who get the bus to work.

Then take those who work in low-pay sectors like care, retail, hospitality, or construction. Each sector has its own challenges, but one thing that unites of all these sectors is the likelihood of people working in them to be working below their potential skill level. Hopefully our new metro mayors will be able to provide better education opportunities for those at or near the minimum wage. But what about in those areas without mayors? Do they fall even further behind? Skills transfers matter much more for future growth than a massive financial transfer like universal basic income.

And in case anyone should think that I have forgotten, with less than 15 per cent of people in the private sector represented by a trade union, it is little wonder that workers have insufficient power to command better wages. Our labour market leaves too many people on their own, without the strength of collective bargaining to get them a good deal.

Universal basic income fails for another crucial reason. It would fail for the same reason that tax credits were economically effective but open to political challenge. For most people, the part of government, of the state, that they wish to defend are the things they can see, they can touch, emotionally engage with. The hospital their child was born in, that cared for a sick parent, the school they went to, the park they played in with their grandchild. They prefer to earn their wages, and do a job they enjoy. Transfer payments from the state are always harder to defend, as the history books attest. 

So for me, truly inclusive growth means making the most of the institutions we already have – colleges of further education for example – and building new ones like universal quality childcare. Many members of our workforce are prevented from returning to work after the birth of a child, simply because of the cost of childcare. Universal free childcare would allow many more women to go back to work or have the time to gain more skills, should they want to. Moreover, good quality childcare would benefit all of our children by narrowing the attainment gap. These hard links in the chain - the links that ensure that growth in Britain involves economic growth of all of those people and places within it - are, in fact, the institutions of the state. 

These are the platforms Labour governments have built for ordinary people to stand on. But these are the very institutions under attack from current government policy. If we’re going to rebuild the chain, then the government must change tack. We need to develop new ideas and solutions and the all-party parliamentary group on inclusive growth can be a place to bring people together across the party divide. Theresa May has spoken about an economy that works for all. Now’s the time to protect the institutions that can deliver that economy and inclusive growth, before it is too late.

The APPG on Inclusive Growth's 'State of the Debate' event with the OECD, World Economic Forum, RSA and IPPR is on Tuesday 21st February at 6.30pm at Parliament. See www.inclusivegrowth.co.uk for full details.

Alison McGovern is Labour MP for Wirral South.