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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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.