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.

Getty
Show Hide image

We're racing towards another private debt crisis - so why did no one see it coming?

The Office for Budget Responsibility failed to foresee the rise in household debt. 

This is a call for a public inquiry on the current situation regarding private debt.

For almost a decade now, since 2007, we have been living a lie. And that lie is preparing to wreak havoc on our economy. If we do not create some kind of impartial forum to discuss what is actually happening, the results might well prove disastrous. 

The lie I am referring to is the idea that the financial crisis of 2008, and subsequent “Great Recession,” were caused by profligate government spending and subsequent public debt. The exact opposite is in fact the case. The crash happened because of dangerously high levels of private debt (a mortgage crisis specifically). And - this is the part we are not supposed to talk about—there is an inverse relation between public and private debt levels.

If the public sector reduces its debt, overall private sector debt goes up. That's what happened in the years leading up to 2008. Now austerity is making it happening again. And if we don't do something about it, the results will, inevitably, be another catastrophe.

The winners and losers of debt

These graphs show the relationship between public and private debt. They are both forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced in 2015 and 2017. 

This is what the OBR was projecting what would happen around now back in 2015:

This year the OBR completely changed its forecast. This is how it now projects things are likely to turn out:

First, notice how both diagrams are symmetrical. What happens on top (that part of the economy that is in surplus) precisely mirrors what happens in the bottom (that part of the economy that is in deficit). This is called an “accounting identity.”

As in any ledger sheet, credits and debits have to match. The easiest way to understand this is to imagine there are just two actors, government, and the private sector. If the government borrows £100, and spends it, then the government has a debt of £100. But by spending, it has injected £100 more pounds into the private economy. In other words, -£100 for the government, +£100 for everyone else in the diagram. 

Similarly, if the government taxes someone for £100 , then the government is £100 richer but there’s £100 subtracted from the private economy (+£100 for government, -£100 for everybody else on the diagram).

So what implications does this kind of bookkeeping have for the overall economy? It means that if the government goes into surplus, then everyone else has to go into debt.

We tend to think of money as if it is a bunch of poker chips already lying around, but that’s not how it really works. Money has to be created. And money is created when banks make loans. Either the government borrows money and injects it into the economy, or private citizens borrow money from banks. Those banks don’t take the money from people’s savings or anywhere else, they just make it up. Anyone can write an IOU. But only banks are allowed to issue IOUs that the government will accept in payment for taxes. (In other words, there actually is a magic money tree. But only banks are allowed to use it.)

There are other factors. The UK has a huge trade deficit (blue), and that means the government (yellow) also has to run a deficit (print money, or more accurately, get banks to do it) to inject into the economy to pay for all those Chinese trainers, American iPads, and German cars. The total amount of money can also fluctuate. But the real point here is, the less the government is in debt, the more everyone else must be. Austerity measures will necessarily lead to rising levels of private debt. And this is exactly what has happened.

Now, if this seems to have very little to do with the way politicians talk about such matters, there's a simple reason: most politicians don’t actually know any of this. A recent survey showed 90 per cent of MPs don't even understand where money comes from (they think it's issued by the Royal Mint). In reality, debt is money. If no one owed anyone anything at all there would be no money and the economy would grind to a halt.

But of course debt has to be owed to someone. These charts show who owes what to whom.

The crisis in private debt

Bearing all this in mind, let's look at those diagrams again - keeping our eye particularly on the dark blue that represents household debt. In the first, 2015 version, the OBR duly noted that there was a substantial build-up of household debt in the years leading up to the crash of 2008. This is significant because it was the first time in British history that total household debts were higher than total household savings, and therefore the household sector itself was in deficit territory. (Corporations, at the same time, were raking in enormous profits.) But it also predicted this wouldn't happen again.

True, the OBR observed, austerity and the reduction of government deficits meant private debt levels would have to go up. However, the OBR economists insisted this wouldn't be a problem because the burden would fall not on households but on corporations. Business-friendly Tory policies would, they insisted, inspire a boom in corporate expansion, which would mean frenzied corporate borrowing (that huge red bulge below the line in the first diagram, which was supposed to eventually replace government deficits entirely). Ordinary households would have little or nothing to worry about.

This was total fantasy. No such frenzied boom took place.

In the second diagram, two years later, the OBR is forced to acknowledge this. Corporations are just raking in the profits and sitting on them. The household sector, on the other hand, is a rolling catastrophe. Austerity has meant falling wages, less government spending on social services (or anything else), and higher de facto taxes. This puts the squeeze on household budgets and people are forced to borrow. As a result, not only are households in overall deficit for the second time in British history, the situation is actually worse than it was in the years leading up to 2008.

And remember: it was a mortgage crisis that set off the 2008 crash, which almost destroyed the world economy and plunged millions into penury. Not a crisis in public debt. A crisis in private debt.

An inquiry

In 2015, around the time the original OBR predictions came out, I wrote an essay in the Guardian predicting that austerity and budget-balancing would create a disastrous crisis in private debt. Now it's so clearly, unmistakably, happening that even the OBR cannot deny it.

I believe the time has come for there be a public investigation - a formal public inquiry, in fact - into how this could be allowed to happen. After the 2008 crash, at least the economists in Treasury and the Bank of England could plausibly claim they hadn't completely understood the relation between private debt and financial instability. Now they simply have no excuse.

What on earth is an institution called the “Office for Budget Responsibility” credulously imagining corporate borrowing binges in order to suggest the government will balance the budget to no ill effects? How responsible is that? Even the second chart is extremely odd. Up to 2017, the top and bottom of the diagram are exact mirrors of one another, as they ought to be. However, in the projected future after 2017, the section below the line is much smaller than the section above, apparently seriously understating the amount both of future government, and future private, debt. In other words, the numbers don't add up.

The OBR told the New Statesman ​that it was not aware of any errors in its 2015 forecast for corporate sector net lending, and that the forecast was based on the available data. It said the forecast for business investment has been revised down because of the uncertainty created by Brexit. 

Still, if the “Office of Budget Responsibility” was true to its name, it should be sounding off the alarm bells right about now. So far all we've got is one mention of private debt and a mild warning about the rise of personal debt from the Bank of England, which did not however connect the problem to austerity, and one fairly strong statement from a maverick columnist in the Daily Mail. Otherwise, silence. 

The only plausible explanation is that institutions like the Treasury, OBR, and to a degree as well the Bank of England can't, by definition, warn against the dangers of austerity, however alarming the situation, because they have been set up the way they have in order to justify austerity. It's important to emphasise that most professional economists have never supported Conservative policies in this regard. The policy was adopted because it was convenient to politicians; institutions were set up in order to support it; economists were hired in order to come up with arguments for austerity, rather than to judge whether it would be a good idea. At present, this situation has led us to the brink of disaster.

The last time there was a financial crash, the Queen famously asked: why was no one able to foresee this? We now have the tools. Perhaps the most important task for a public inquiry will be to finally ask: what is the real purpose of the institutions that are supposed to foresee such matters, to what degree have they been politicised, and what would it take to turn them back into institutions that can at least inform us if we're staring into the lights of an oncoming train?