In defence of Megan Fox

Hiring a night nurse doesn’t make Megan Fox neglectful of her child – she’s just a woman trying to survive in the patriarchy like the rest of us.

Until today, the only thing I knew about Megan Fox was that she starred in the first two Transformers movies and that she may or may not have been fired from the third for calling the director Michael Bay a misogynist. It's hard to say if she walked or was fired as Fox is keeping a dignified silence whilst Bay, and her former co-star Shia LeBoeuf, are bad-mouthing her at every opportunity. Whatever actually happened, Fox is clearly a better person than either Bay or LeBoeuf; although that isn't the best compliment since I've eaten carrots that had more empathy than Bay. Suffice it to say, I'm on Team Fox.

Today, I learned that Fox is now married and has a very new baby. 

I learned about Fox's new baby from an op-ed piece in the Independent which effectively accuses Fox, but not her husband, of child neglect for hiring a night nurse. I have no idea who the writer Susan Elkin actually is, above her very basic biography attached to the article, but it's been a while since I've read a piece written by a woman who so clearly hates other women. 

Because there is no excuse for what Elkin has written. 

There is no excuse for the Independent to have published the op-ed piece. 

But, you know what, I would like to thank Megan Fox for publicly acknowledging that she has hired a night nurse. 

Because what really pisses me off is the culture of "motherhood" that requires "celebrity" women to pretend that they do everything all by themselves after having a baby. That is what is harmful to all women: the idea that a woman who has just given birth must immediately lose all their baby weight, baking 250 cupcakes for the school fete, going back to work full-time at six weeks whilst simultaneously looking immaculate in their immaculate house. Celebrity women who try to exist outside this narrow and punitive construction of mother are punished by the likes of Perez Hilton calling them fat and Hello mag making snide remarks about their lack of make-up.

So, power to Megan Fox for being honest about something that was going to result in her being bullied. How freaking brave is she?

And, that shit about whether or not Fox breastfeeds, well that's none of our business. The culture which pushes formula feeding unnecessarily onto new mothers and which sexualises women's breasts to the point that women can not breastfeed publicly without feeling uncomfortable is the problem. The culture which believes that women's bodies belong to their husbands and that a man's rights to access his possession's breasts are more important than a new infant is the problem. The culture which defines any woman who has given birth as unfuckable until they lose all their "baby weight" is the problem. That is what we need to address.

We won't create a breast-feeding friendly culture when women write shit like this:

Babies are born to women – whether some feminists like it or not and wish it otherwise – and nature provides the baby’s food in the form of breast milk. That milk, and suckling it from the mother’s breast, is the child’s entitlement. Direct access to its mother’s breast milk is, in my book, every child’s human right.

That doesn’t mean extracting it with a pump and handing it over to someone else to pour into the child either. It means proper tactile feeding from the breast and all the bonding which goes with that. Everyone knows that there is nothing better than breast milk for a baby’s health and, there are benefits for the mother too – not least, it is much easier to lose the baby weight if you breast feed than if you don’t. It is also considerable less hassle – at a time when you’re tired and maybe stressed – than fiddling about with bottles which have to be sterilised. And you have it with you, on tap as it were, wherever you and the child happen to be.

If you hire a night nurse the child may be losing out on part of this and I regard that as a form of neglect.

Now, I get that Elkin is clearly trying to flog some book that no one actually wants to read but, unless you are actually stupid, no one would think the above was going to increase the number of women breastfeeding exclusively for six months. It just isn't. All it does is make women feel like failures if they don't. As for the hyperbole of child neglect, well, I'd suggest that Elkin wasn't the most effective teacher on the planet if that's her definition of child neglect.

Plus, Elkin doesn't actually understand the mechanics of breast-feeding. It's not the breast-feeding which changes the shape of women's breasts. That's the result of the weight gain during pregnancy and the subsequent loss of weight thereafter. Not breastfeeding will do nothing to prevent a woman's breasts from changing. Pregnancy changes women's breasts.

And women shouldn't be policing other women's bodies. We should be standing up for other women being forced by Patriarchal structures into making "choices" they do no want for fear of reprisal. 

In many ways, this article is just spiteful. It's just the kind of spiteful that the Patriarchy loves: pitting women against women. Normally, I'd veer on the side of ignoring, however insulting a woman who has just given birth and making her personally responsible for the decisions of a thousand other women isn't kind. 

Megan Fox may be a very privileged woman but she is still a woman. She doesn't deserve this kind of treatment. 

Megan Fox is just a woman trying to survive in the Patriarchy; just like the rest of us.

Louise Pennington is a feminist activist, historian and writer. Her personal blog My Elegant Gathering of White Snows is part of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network. This piece originally appeared on her blog here and is crossposted with her permission.

Megan Fox may be privileged, but she is still just a woman trying to make the best of things. Photograph: Getty Images

Louise Pennington is a feminist activist, historian and writer. Her personal blog My Elegant Gathering of White Snows is part of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network.

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What kind of Christian is Theresa May?

And why aren’t we questioning the vicar’s daughter on how her faith influences her politics?

“It is part of me. It is part of who I am and therefore how I approach things,” Theresa May told Kirsty Young when asked about her faith on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in November 2014. “I think it’s right that we don’t sort of flaunt these things here in British politics but it is a part of me, it’s there, and it obviously helps to frame my thinking.”

The daughter of a Church of England vicar, Rev. Hubert Brasier, May grew up an active Christian in Oxfordshire. She was so involved in parish life that she even taught some Sunday school classes. She goes on in the Desert Island Discs interview to choose the hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross sung by a chapel congregation, and recalls being alone in church with her parents, kneeling and singing together.

Despite her intense attachment to local CofE life, Theresa May’s role as a Christian in politics is defined more by her unwillingness to “flaunt” (in her words) her faith.

Perhaps this is partly why, as a Christian, May avoided the scrutiny directed at Lib Dem leader and evangelical Christian Tim Farron over the past week of his stance on homosexuality and abortion.

As Farron wriggled – first saying he didn’t want to make “theological pronouncements” on whether or not being gay is a sin (and then, days later, announcing that it isn’t) – May’s critics scratched their heads about why her voting record on such matters isn’t in the media spotlight.

She has a socially conservative voting record when it comes to such subjects. As the journalist and activist Owen Jones points out, she has voted against equalising the age of consent, repealing Section 28, and gay adoption (twice).

Although her more recent record on gay rights is slightly better than Farron’s – she voted in favour of same-sex marriage throughout the process, and while Farron voted against the Equality Act Sexual Orientation Regulations in 2007 (the legislation obliging bed and breakfast owners and wedding cake makers, etc, not to discriminate against gay people), May simply didn’t attend.

May has also voted for the ban on sex-selective abortions, for reducing the abortion limit to 20 weeks, abstained on three-parent babies, and against legalising assisted suicide.

“Looking at how she’s voted, it’s a slightly socially conservative position,” says Nick Spencer, Research Director of the religion and society think tank Theos. “That matches with her generally slightly more economically conservative, or non-liberal, position. But she’s not taking those views off pages of scripture or a theology textbook. What her Christianity does is orient her just slightly away from economic and social liberalism.”

Spencer has analysed how May’s faith affects her politics in his book called The Mighty and the Almighty: How Political Leaders Do God, published over Easter this year. He found that her brand of Christianity underpinned “the sense of mutual rights and responsibilities, and exercising those responsibilities through practical service”.

May’s father was an Anglo-Catholic, and Spencer points out that this tradition has roots in the Christian socialist tradition in the early 20th century. A world away from the late Victorian Methodism that fellow Christian Margaret Thatcher was raised with. “That brought with it a package of independence, hard work, probity, and economic prudence. They’re the values you’d get from a good old Gladstonian Liberal. Very different from May.”

Spencer believes May’s faith focuses her on a spirit of citizenship and communitarian values – in contrast to Thatcher proselytising the virtues of individualism during her premiership.

Cradle Christian

A big difference between May and Farron’s Christianity is that May is neither a convert nor an evangelical.

“She’s a cradle Christian, it’s deep in her bloodstream,” notes Spencer. “That means you’re very unlikely to find a command-and-control type role there, it’s not as if her faith’s going to point her in a single direction. She’s not a particularly ideological politician – it’s given her a groundwork and foundation on which her politics is built.”

This approach appears to be far more acceptable in the eyes of the public than Farron’s self-described “theological pronouncements”.  May is known to be a very private politician who keeps her personal life, including her ideas about faith, out of the headlines.

“I don’t think she has to show off, or join in, she just does it; she goes to church,” as her former cabinet colleague Cheryl Gillan put it simply to May’s biographer Rosa Prince.

The voters’ view

It’s this kind of Christianity – quiet but present, part of the fabric without imposing itself – that chimes most with British voters.

“In this country, given our history and the nature of the established Church, it's something that people recognise and understand even if they don't do it themselves,” says Katie Harrison, Director of the Faith Research Centre at polling company ComRes. “Whether or not it’s as active as it used to be, lots of people see it as a nice thing to have, and they understand a politician who talks warmly about those things. That’s probably a widely-held view.”

Although church and Sunday school attendance is falling (about 13 per cent say they regularly attend Christian religious services, aside from weddings and funerals), most current surveys of the British population find that about half still identify as Christian. And ComRes polling in January 2017 found that 52 per cent of people think it’s important that UK politicians and policy-makers have a good understanding of religion in the UK.

Perhaps this is why May, when asked by The Sunday Times last year how she makes tough decisions, felt able to mention her Christianity:  “There is something in terms of faith, I am a practising member of the Church of England and so forth, that lies behind what I do.”

“I don’t think we’re likely to react hysterically or with paranoid fear if our politicians start talking about their faith,” reflects Spencer. “What we don’t like is if they start ‘preaching’ about it.”

“Don’t do God”

So if May can speak about her personal faith, why was the nation so squeamish when Tony Blair did the same thing? Notoriously, the former Labour leader spoke so frankly about his religion when Prime Minister that his spin doctor Alastair Campbell warned: “We don’t do God.” Some of Blair’s critics accuse him of being driven to the Iraq war by his faith.

Although Blair’s faith is treated as the “watershed” of British society no longer finding public displays of religion acceptable, Spencer believes Blair’s problem was an unusual one. Like Farron, he was a convert. He famously converted to Catholicism as an adult (and by doing so after his resignation, side-stepped the question of a Catholic Prime Minister). Farron was baptised at 21. The British public is more comfortable with a leader who is culturally Christian than one who came to religion in their adulthood, who are subjected to more scrutiny.

That’s why Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May can get away with talking about their faith, according to Spencer. “Brown, a much more cultural Presbyterian, used a lot of Biblical language. Cameron talked about it all the time – but he was able to do so because he had a vague, cultural, undogmatic Anglicanism,” he tells me. “And May holds it at arm’s length and talks about being a clergyman’s daughter, in the same way Brown talked about his father’s moral compass.”

This doesn’t stop May’s hard Brexit and non-liberal domestic policy jarring with her Christian values, however. According to Harrison’s polling, Christian voters’ priorities lie in social justice, and tackling poverty at home and overseas – in contrast with the general population’s preoccupations.

Polling from 2015 (pre-Brexit, granted) found that practising Christians stated more concern about social justice (27 per cent) than immigration (14 per cent). When entering No 10, May put herself “squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people”. Perhaps it’s time for her to practise what she preaches.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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