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.

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Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women

After decades as an MP, Diane Abbott finally spoke out about the racist and sexist abuse she faces. But she's not alone. 

“Which STD will end your miserable life?” “This is why monkeys don’t belong here.” “I hope you get lynched”. These are just some of the many messages Seyi Akiwowo, a Labour councillor in Newham, told me she has been sent over the past three weeks. Akiwowo has received reams of violent and racist abuse after a video of her suggesting former empires pay reparations to countries they once colonised (and whose resources they still continue to plunder) went viral. She doesn’t expect everyone to agree with her, she said, but people seem to think they’re entitled to hurl abuse at her because she’s a black woman.

The particular intensity of misogyny directed at black women is so commonplace that it was given a name by academic Moya Bailey: misogynoir. This was highlighted recently when Diane Abbott, the country’s first and most-well known black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary, spoke out about the violent messages she’s received and continues to receive. The messages are so serious that Abbott’s staff often fear for her safety. There is an implicit point in abuse like this: women of colour, in particular black women, should know their place. If they dare to share their opinions, they’ll be attacked for it.

There is no shortage of evidence to show women of colour are sent racist and sexist messages for simply having an opinion or being in the public eye, but there is a dearth of meaningful responses. “I don’t see social media companies or government leaders doing enough to rectify the issue,” said Akiwowo, who has reported some of the abuse she’s received. Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, agreed. “The advice from social media experts is not to feed the trolls, but that vacates the public space for them," she said. But ignoring abuse is a non-solution. Although Onwurah notes the police and media giants are beginning to take this abuse seriously, not enough is being done.

Akiwowo has conversations with young women of colour who become less sure they want to go into politics after seeing the way people like Abbott have been treated. It’s an unsurprising reaction. Kate Osamor, shadow secretary of state for International Development, argued no one should have to deal with the kind of vitriol Abbott does. It’s well documented that the ease and anonymity of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have changed the nature of communication – and for politicians, this means more abuse, at a faster pace and at all hours of the day. Social media, Onwurah said, has given abuse a “new lease of life”. There needs to be a concerted effort to stop people from using these platforms to spout their odious views.

But there is another layer to understanding misogyny and racism in public life. The rapid and anonymous, yet public, nature of social media has shone a light on what women of colour already know to be a reality. Dawn Butler MP, who has previously described racism as the House of Commons’ “dirty little secret”, told me “of course” she has experienced racism and sexism in Parliament: “What surprises me is when other people are surprised”. Perhaps that’s because there’s an unwillingness to realise or really grapple the pervasiveness of misogynoir.

“Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get someone to understand the discriminatory nature of peoples’ actions,” Butler explained. “That itself is demoralising and exhausting.” After 30 years of racist and sexist treatment, it was only when Abbott highlighted the visceral abuse she experiences that politicians and commentators were willing to speak out in her support. Even then, there seemed to be little recognition of how deep this ran. In recent years, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been ridiculed for having a relationship with her in the 70s, as if a black woman’s sexuality is both intriguing and laughable; people regularly imply she’s incompetent, despite having been in Parliament for three decades and at the last general election increasing her majority by a staggering amount; she has even been derided by her own colleagues. Those Labour MPs who began the hashtag #PrayforDiane when she was off work because of illness spoke to a form of bullying that wouldn’t be acceptable in most workplaces.

These supposedly less obvious forms of racism and sexism are largely downplayed or seen as unrelated to discrimination. They might be understood through what influential scholar Stuart Hall called the “grammar of race”. Different from overtly racist comments, Hall says there’s a form of racism that’s “inferential”; naturalised representations of people - whether factual or fictional - have “racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions”. Alongside the racist insults hurled at black women politicians like Abbott, there’s a set of racialised tropes that rely on sexualisation or derision to undermine these women.

The streams of abuse on social media aren’t the only barrier people of colour – and women in particular – face when they think about getting into politics. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of people in the black community who put themselves forward to stand for office, you only have to look at when positions come up the list of people that go for the position,” Claudia Webbe, a councillor and member of Labour's ruling body the National Executive Committee told me. As one of the few black women to hold such a position in the history of the Labour party, she knows from her extensive career how the system works. “I think there is both a problem of unfair selection and a problem of BME [black and minority ethnic] people sustaining the course." Conscious and unconscious racial and gender bias means politics are, like other areas of work in the UK, more difficult to get into if you’re a woman of colour.

“The way white women respond to the way black women are treated is integral,” Osamor says, “They are part of the solution”. White women also face venomous and low-lying forms of sexism that are often overlooked, but at times the solidarity given to them is conditional for women of colour. In a leaked letter to The Guardian, Abbott’s staff criticised the police for not acting on death threats, while similar messages sent to Anna Soubry MP resulted in arrest. When the mainstream left talks about women, it usually means white women. This implicitly turns the experiences of women of colour into an afterthought.

The systematic discrimination against women of colour, and its erasure or addendum-like quality, stems from the colonial racial order. In the days of the British empire, white women were ranked as superior to colonised Asian and African women who were at different times seen as overly sexualised or unfeminine. Black women were at the bottom of this hierarchy. Women of colour were essentially discounted as real women. Recognising this does not equate to pitting white women and women of colour against each other. It is simply a case of recognising the fact that there is a distinct issue of racial abuse.

The online abuse women of colour, and black women specifically, is an issue that needs to be highlighted and dealt with. But there are other more insidious ways that racism and sexism manifest themselves in everyday political life, which should not be overlooked. “Thirty years ago I entered parliament to try and be the change I wanted to see,” Abbott wrote. “Despite the personal attacks and the online abuse, that struggle continues.” That struggle must be a collective one.

Maya Goodfellow researches race and racism in Britain. She is a staff writer at LabourList.