I dream of Christine: Mme Lagarde at the IMF headquarters in Washington. Photo: Getty
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“So much love for Christine Lagarde”: why girl crushes are a straight thing

Girl crushes are 75 per cent respect, 24.999 per cent idolatry and 0.001 per cent something nebulously sexual. It’s more about wanting to be someone than wanting to do them.

Girl crushes. Straight women have them; gay ones don’t. Confusing? Let me attempt to explain the ubiquitous “girl crush”. Women as various as Beyoncé and Hillary Clinton have been “crushed” on by straight women, somewhere. The first known girl crush was had by Eleanor of Aquitaine and it was on the lesser-known Brenda of Marseilles. Possibly.

“ZOMG,” announces @StraightChick77, on Twitter, “so much love for Christine Lagarde #GirlCrush.”

What you have to understand is that @StraightChick77 isn’t romantically interested in the besuited IMF doyenne. She wants to have skinny lattes with her and effuse about what a role model she is to all the women, ever.

Girl crushes are 75 per cent respect, 24.999 per cent idolatry and 0.001 per cent something nebulously sexual. It’s more about wanting to be someone than wanting to do them.

Girl crush recipients are usually formidable women, the kind of grandes dames who’d look at home riding panthers into battle against an army of patriarchs. Lindsey Hilsum, Oprah, Mary Beard. Either them or Cara Delevingne.

Formidable Woman transcends the world of glass ceilings and economic woe. Formidable Woman is so awesome that a small part of Straight Woman wants to achieve congress with her in the hope that she’ll consume her essence, quadruple in size and become an unfettered feminist giant. So why doesn’t @StraightChick77 just tweet “I think Christine Lagarde is extremely good”? The answer is simple: girl crushes are all about being a lesbian ironically.

We’re at a point in time and space where we do things ironically without even realising. We love Bonnie Tyler and dance furiously to “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. We eat ironically in bathos-themed restaurants such as Burger and Lobster and Bubbledogs (the one that serves champagne and hot dogs).

Sorting the lesbians from the “lesbians” does require some level of expertise. @StraightChick77 returns home from a gruelling day of doing whatever it is that heterosexuals do, to find Christine Lagarde in her bed, wearing nothing but a document on public expenditure reform and a string of pearls.

@StraightChick77 needs to clarify to her the nuances of the girl crush – and fast.

“I see,” says Christine Lagarde, putting on her clothes. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m delivering a speech on sub-national credit risk in Geneva, in 15 minutes. Maybe you should think before you use the word ‘crush’, non?”

“Wait!”@StraightChick77 cries: “Let’s do coffee! Tweet me! Christiiiiiiiiine!”

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 01 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The Islam issue

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How can London’s mothers escape the poverty trap?

Despite its booming jobs market, London’s poverty rate is high. What can be done about it?

Why are mothers in London less likely to work than their counterparts across the country, and how can we ensure that having more parents in jobs brings the capital’s high child poverty rates down?

The answers to these two questions, examined in a new CPAG report on parental employment in the capital, may become increasingly nationally significant as policymakers look to ensure jobs growth doesn’t stall and that a job becomes a more much reliable route out of poverty than it is currently – 64 per cent of poor children live in working families.

The choice any parent makes when balancing work and family life is deeply personal.  It’s a choice driven by a wide range of factors but principally by what parents, with their unique viewpoint, regard as best for their families. The man in Whitehall doesn’t know best.

But the personal is also political. Every one of these personal choices is shaped, limited or encouraged by an external context.   Are there suitable jobs out there? Is there childcare available that is affordable and will work for their child(ren)? And what will be the financial gains from working?

In London, 40 per cent of mothers in couples are not working. In the rest of the country, the figure is much lower – 27 per cent. While employment rates amongst lone parents in London have significantly increased in recent years, the proportion of mothers in couples out of work remains stuck at about 12 percentage points higher than the rest of the UK.

The benefits system has played a part in increasing London’s lone parent employment rate. More and more lone parents are expected to seek work. In 2008, there was no obligation on single parents to start looking for work until their youngest child turned 16. Now they need to start looking when their youngest is five (the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would reduce this down to three). But the more stringent “conditionality” regime, while significant, doesn’t wholly explain the higher employment rate. For example, we know more lone parents with much younger children have also moved into jobs.  It also raises the question of what sacrifices families have had to make to meet the new conditionality.  

Mothers in couples in London, who are not mandated to work, have not entered work to the same level as lone parents. So, what is it about the context in London that makes it less likely for mothers in couples to work? Here are four reasons highlighted in our report for policymakers to consider:

1. The higher cost of working in London is likely to play a significant role in this. London parents are much less likely to be able to call on informal (cheaper or free) childcare from family and friends than other parts in the country: only one in nine children in London receives informal childcare compared to an average of one in three for England. And London childcare costs for under 5s dwarf those in the rest of the country, so for many parents support available through tax credits is inadequate.

2. Add to this high housing and transport costs, and parents are left facing a toxic combination of high costs that can mean they see less financial rewards from their work than parents in other parts of the country.

3. Effective employment support can enable parents to enter work, particularly those who might have taken a break from employment while raising children. But whilst workless lone parents and workless couples are be able to access statutory employment support, if you have a working partner, but don’t work yourself, or if you are working on a low wage and want to progress, there is no statutory support available.

4. The nature of the jobs market in London may also be locking mums out. The number of part time jobs in the capital is increasing, but these jobs don’t attract the same London premium as full time work.  That may be partly why London mums who work are more likely to work full time than working mums in other parts of the country. But this leaves London families facing even higher childcare costs.

Parental employment is a thorny issue. Parenting is a 24-hour job in itself which must be balanced with any additional employment and parents’ individual choices should be at the forefront of this debate. Policy must focus on creating the context that enables parents to make positive choices about employment. That means being able to access the right support to help with looking for work, creating a jobs market that works for families, and childcare options that support child development and enable parents to see financial gains from working.

When it comes to helping parents move into jobs they can raise a family on, getting it right for London, may also go a long way to getting it right for the rest of the country.