What's the point of a "feminism" which attacks mothers?

If feminism winds up assuming “someone else” will raise the kids while “we” get on with the real work, it's just become what it was fighting.

One man attacks another man on the grounds that his failure to reproduce betrays a lack of investment in the future. Niall Ferguson, you’ve been a fool, but at least you’ve admitted it this time (sort of). Now all that remains is for the debate about who’s the most self-centred – parents or non-parents – to become more and more about mothers, in the way that any debate about “parents” does. Has that happened already? Ooh, excellent.

I’m a parent and I’ll be honest: I did not have children for altruistic reasons. Yes, I could lie and say that the only reason I gave birth was so that my children would be around to pay the taxes that support feckless child-free folk in their old age, but that would be bollocks (as would, to be fair, any suggestion that I only had them in order to get nine months’ maternity leave and the right to use parent parking at Sainsbury’s). I had them because I got broody. It’s not a very detailed or helpful reason but that just about sums it up. In my defence – and that of all selfish parents – I don’t think we parents have a monopoly on failing to do things for the right reasons. I strongly suspect more people don’t have children due to a lack of broodiness than because they’re committed to saving the planet. It’s just one of those things. Those of us who’ve been able to respond to our broodiness or lack of it (as opposed to enduring forced pregnancy or infertility) have to admit we’re the lucky ones, selfish or not. 

Unless we’re Julie Bindel, that is. Bindel has taken one look at Ferguson’s dismissive, homophobic  depiction of John Maynard Keynes, and spun it into a full-on diatribe against selfish, unproductive parents – or, let’s be honest, mothers. It’s nothing incredibly unfamiliar. For women in particular, judgments based on whether or not you reproduce are so extreme and unforgiving that it’s not surprising these buttons get pushed. Women who – shock! – do not have children have to deal with intrusive comments and off-base assumptions on a daily basis. Mothers, meanwhile … well, they’re just mums, aren’t they? Like proper people, but somehow not. The Daily Mail-driven face-off between the barren harpy who’s “left it too late” and the smug, porridge-brained mummy who’s “let herself go” might not be taken seriously but it’s seeping into the general consciousness all the same. The spectre of Motherhood makes all women vulnerable. Far easier to reach for off-the-peg insults, courtesy of Femail, than deal with the deeper inequalities which these stereotypes mask. 

Overall, Julie Bindel’s “mothers are selfish” rant isn’t a patch on one of Liz Jones’s (my favourite of hers being “no, I don’t hate all mums – just middle-class ones over 30”. Like me. *glows with pride*). I find Bindel’s more problematic, though, because of the misguided links she makes with feminism. You get the impression that for Bindel, having children really does represent a form of selling out. After all, it limits your freedom of movement and your ability to have influence in a society which is not focussed on the needs of unpaid carers. I’d say this was a feminist issue, and Bindel would agree – but only, it appears, insofar as all this caring can make a woman a crap feminist compared to those less encumbered. Those such as Bindel herself, for instance:

My legacy – what I leave behind – will not be my DNA but my contribution to the emancipation of girls and women.

To be honest, I’m not sure how implicitly excluding mothers from having any agency as feminists contributes to the emancipation of women, but what would I know? I should be out slut-walking and instead I’m stuck at home wiping noses and the occasional arse. 

Bindel is dismayed at the apparent lack of activism by feminism mothers:

I have seen the most passionately committed feminist activists go gaga once they give birth. All the promises such as "I'll still come on that march/go to that conference/burn down that sex shop" disappear when they sprog.

Reading this, I can’t help thinking of Alan Sugar having another of his rants about useless bloody women screwing up his profit margins by swanning off to have children. Should feminist activism work along the same lines? Does Bindel actually expect feminists to adopt the mindset of dinosaur patriarchs who see no value in any human being who has domestic and familial responsibilities? The truth is, if feminism, of all movements, can’t call for a different approach, I don’t know what will. If feminist activism is structured in a way that necessarily assumes “someone else” is looking after the kids/washing the dishes/caring for the elderly while “we” get on with the real work, then it really has adopted the very mindset it claims to challenge. 

Feminism has to recognise its investment in motherhood. Not all women are mothers, not all women want children and not all women become mothers by giving birth. Those who can physically bear children are more than their wombs. Cis womanhood is not a mere waiting room, defined by the tick of the biological clock. Even so, it doesn’t follow from this that any woman who has children holds such a reductive view of herself and others. Nor does it mean that choosing motherhood means bowing out and accepting secondary status as a human being. Motherhood is neither an embarrassment to feminism nor an all-embracing definer of female power. It’s part of some women’s lives and not others, but prejudices about it restrict us all.

1958: "Mr and Mrs C Baker and family of Cambridge take part in a march from Trafalgar Square to Aldermanston Atomic Weapons Research Establishment". Photograph: Getty Images

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

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The UN declares the UK’s austerity policies in breach of international human rights obligations

The UN are “seriously concerned” by the state of inequality in the UK.

In a damning new report, the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has confirmed that the UK government’s austerity measures and social security reform are in breach of their obligations to human rights.

Drawing on evidence from Just Fair, the report considers a number of factors in its decision, including increased reliance on foodbanks, unemployment rates, the housing crisis, mental health care, and discrimination against migrants. The committee reminds the government of their obligations and calls upon them to make changes.

The UN committee said it was “seriously concerned” about “the disproportionate adverse impact that austerity measures” are having on disadvantaged and marginalised individuals and groups.

It also emphasised problems with welfare reform, saying it was “deeply concerned” about “the various changes in the entitlements to, and cuts in, social benefits”, including the reduction of the household benefit cap, the four-year freeze on certain benefits and the reduction in child tax credits. It added that these changes adversely affect “women, children, persons with disabilities, low-income families and families with two or more children”.

It said that these issues and others meant the UK government are failing “to meet their obligation to mobilize the maximum available resources for the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights”.

The report also expressed concerns over:

  • Unemployment, which, despite a small rise in the employment rate, continues to disproportionately affect people with disabilities, young people and people belonging to ethnic, religious or other minorities.
  • The high incidence of part-time work, precarious self-employment, temporary employment and the use of zero hour contracts.
  • The “persistent discrimination” against migrant workers.
  • The challenges faced by asylum seekers due to restrictions in accessing employment and the insufficient level of support provided through the daily allowance.
  • The national minimum wage, which “is not sufficient to ensure a decent standard of living in the State party, particularly in London, and does not apply for workers under the age of 25”.
  • Increases in the inheritance tax limit and value added tax, and reductions to corporation tax, in encouraging “persistent social inequality”.
  • The new Trade Union Act (2016), which limits the right of workers to undertake industrial action.
  • Sanctions in relation to benefit fraud and the absence of due process and access to justice for those affected by the use of sanctions.
  • The limited availability and high costs of childcare and the lack of involvement of men in childcare responsibilities.
  • Persistent underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions in the public and private sectors.
  • Violence against women with disabilities.
  • The increased risk of poverty for people with disabilities, people belonging to ethnic, religious or other minorities, single-parent families and families with children.
  • The persistent critical situation in terms of availability, affordability and accessibility of adequate housing (in part as a result of cuts in state benefits), the lack of social housing, and lack of adequate access to basic services, such as water and sanitation, for Travellers.
  • Reforms to the legal aid system and the introduction of employment tribunal fees, and the resulting restriction of access to justice, in areas including employment, housing, education and social welfare benefits.
  • The significant rise in homelessness.
  • The country-wide reliance on foodbanks.
  • Discrimination in accessing health care services against refugees, asylum-seekers, refused asylum-seekers and Travellers.
  • The lack of adequate resources provided to mental health services.
  • Persistent serious shortcomings in the care and treatment of older persons, including those with dementia.
  • Significant inequalities in educational attainment, especially for children belonging to ethnic, religious or other minorities and children from low-income families which has the effect of limiting social mobility.
  • Increasing university fees, which affect the equal access to higher education.
  • Lack of corporate regulation.
  • The way international development funds are used overseas.
  • The announced plan of replacing the Human Rights Act of 1998 by a new British Bill of Rights.
  • The criminalisation of termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland.
  • The lack of effective measures adopted by the State party to promote the use of Irish Language in Northern Ireland.
  • The lack of involvement and participation of Northern Ireland in this review process, and the limited information available on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in the British Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.