The Duchess of Cambridge carrying her own son, rather than getting a nanny to do it. Photo: Getty
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No, the Duchess of Cambridge is not ripping up the royal rule book – but that’s not her fault

Kate has been declared a rebel for daring to carry her own child. What?

Once again, the Duchess of Cambridge has been caught ripping up “the royal rule book”. This time it’s for carrying baby George rather than allowing a nanny to do it. This is really out there, isn’t it? Go Kate! Fuck them, don’t do what they told ya!

I’m old enough to remember when Diana brought that same breath-of-fresh-air sense of rebellion to royal motherhood. It’s as strained and artificial then as it is now. Sure, Kate seems to love motherhood in the same way Diana did, which is nice, but the way the tabloids and glossies try to big this up as a dramatic shift establishment mores is painful. Seriously, your son is cute and I’m glad you don’t hate him but I still want to see a republic asap.

It doesn’t take a great deal of critical though to see how ridiculous the whole Kate the Rebel construct is. Nonetheless, it’s such a common trope – see a woman doing a traditional woman-y thing and present it as something radical – that I’m fast losing the will to live. Baking cakes! Selling sex! Being a stay-at-home mum! Refusing the vote! It’s all totes counter-cultural. Indeed, if you judge by the cover of Closer and Heat, just being a woman who dares to have a body is pretty darn edgy. You left the house with thighs like that? High five, sister!

Now I’ve nothing against choice or rebellion or baking cakes. But let’s be honest: this is bullshit. We are women! We are still oppressed as women! We remain mere cogs in the patriarchal machine so can we please stop pretending we’re each our own personal Joan of Arc?

The feminism of the 1970s and 1980s – the first feminism I encountered – proposed that women need be defined neither by motherhood nor by the male sexual gaze. Good idea, right? Yet the opportunity not to be defined in this way has never really come along, although we’ve had so much time to think it over – so much time in which it’s been claimed by those who withhold it that we do have choice and agency – that we almost believe the opportunity came and went. It’s a kind of false memory syndrome. Oh yes, we thought about doing things differently but look, thirty years down the line and we’re not! Must’ve chosen this route. But come on: we just didn’t.

To make matters worse, if you hold the view that previous feminist battles are over (and that old feminism won) then you could argue that a rejection of the things previous feminists fought for is a rejection of the status quo. I mean, it’s not a very good argument, but it’s there every time a new rebel feminist comes out the likes of this (from a Frisky article by Jessica Wakeman):

Feminists need to accept the fact that some people, many of them women, feel happier and more fulfilled in a domestic arena than they are by office culture.

Or this (from Jodie Marsh):

I earn money from lads mags. I'm in control. I'm holding the power. I'm a feminist, a modern day one (the very best kind)

Woo-hoo! Go you! Tear up the Feminist Rule Book, why don’t you? It’s almost like equality actually happened!

The trouble with all this is, if it’s not a real choice – if there’s not an actual rule book but you’re just selling the same old shit back to yourself, tied up in an empowerment bow – you might be happy as an individual but the overall conditions are likely to be just as woeful as they were before. It’s not that your choice is wrong, it’s that it was non-existent. Rather than kicking back against a now-irrelevant feminist orthodoxy you’re fighting a straw man while your life remains defined by someone else’s needs.  You’re Kate and Diana, bravely hugging your children like the revolution depended on it, all the while propping up the same old thieving establishment with your free spirit PR. This is not to say that women such as Marsh are unhappy or that they don’t, as individuals, have control over their lives. It’s to say that, when it comes to making a broader point about “modern day” feminism, they’re talking utter bollocks.

If some feminists criticise pornography or traditional gender roles it’s not because they see nudity or stay-at-home motherhood as inherently wrong. It’s not because feminism is now so mainstream that glamour models and SAHMs are outsiders who scare the life out of your traditional women’s libber. Glamour models and SAHMs are routinely undermined and deserve better treatment. But outsiders? Hell, no. They’re right at the centre of things.

Take stay-at-home mothers, for instance (by which I mean normal, not royal, ones). The presumption that women take on the majority of unpaid domestic work is fundamental to how capitalist patriarchy functions. What stay-at-home mothers experience in return is not rejection, but a shocking lack of appreciation. This is not accidental. Capitalist patriarchy does it because it can and it will keep on doing it as long as “rebellion” is pitched as standing up to those nasty careerist feminists who don’t see what a brilliant job you do, unlike, say, Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail. This isn’t rebellion against the feminist orthodoxy. It’s pissing in the wind (or maybe even pissing with it).

In The End of Equality Beatrix Campbell explains what a real domestic revolution would consider:

Nowhere have men en masse been persuaded to share power, time, money, resources and respect equally with women. […] Global fiscal policies do not audit the unpaid work that makes the world go round: the un-priced and priceless work of care, estimated at between one-third and half of GDP. Feminist scholars Sue Himmelweit and Hilary Land spell it out: to treat care as just a cost, to withdraw support from care is the ‘transfer of resources (unpaid labour) from women to relieve taxpayers, disproportionately men’.

To change this would not depend on some abstract idea of inclusion. It’s about real, measurable things: time and money. It’s not about representation nor about how caring work is marketed to the masses; it’s about what we take from the women who do it and how they are rewarded in return. It’s not about patting women on the head or flattering their egos by telling them they’re so damn edgy that prudish, anti-maternal old-style feminism can’t cope. It’s about finally taking a deep breath and saying “stop stealing my stuff!”

Of course, it’s very hard to do this when we’re constantly told that we’re already in the midst of a great cultural free-for-all. A member of the royal family carries her own baby! A woman with big tits gets them out for the lads! Choose your friends, choose your low-paid job, choose your hair-removal method! Can things GET any more radical?

Not to be dismissive of Rebel Kate’s efforts, but I’d like to think they could.

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

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Meet the hot, funny, carefree Cool Mums – the maternal version of the Cool Girl

As new film Bad Moms reveals, what the cool girl is to the diet-obsessed prom queen, the cool mum is to the PTA harpy.

I suppose we should all be thankful. Time was when “mum’s night off” came in the form of a KFC value bucket. Now, with the advent of films such as Bad Moms – “from the gratefully married writers of The Hangover” – it looks as though mums are finally getting permission to cut loose and party hard.

This revelation could not come a moment too soon. Fellow mums, you know all those stupid rules we’ve been following? The ones where we think “god, I must do this, or it will ruin my precious child’s life”? Turns out we can say “sod it” and get pissed instead. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore said so.

I saw the trailer for Bad Moms in the cinema with my sons, waiting for Ghostbusters to start. Much as I appreciate a female-led comedy, particularly one that suggests there is virtue in shirking one’s maternal responsibilities, I have to say there was something about it that instantly made me uneasy. It seems the media is still set on making the Mommy Wars happen, pitching what one male reviewer describes as “the condescending harpies that run the PTA” against the nice, sexy mummies who just want to have fun (while also happening to look like Mila Kunis). It’s a set up we’ve seen before and will no doubt see again, and while I’m happy some attention is being paid to the pressures modern mothers are under, I sense that another is being created: the pressure to be a cool mum.

When I say “cool mum” I’m thinking of a maternal version of the cool girl, so brilliantly described in Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl:

“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot.”

The cool girl isn’t like all the others. She isn’t weighed down by the pressures of femininity. She isn’t bothered about the rules because she knows how stupid they are (or at least, how stupid men think they are). She does what she likes, or at least gives the impression of doing so. No one has to feel guilty around the cool girl. She puts all other women, those uptight little princesses, to shame.

What the cool girl is to the diet-obsessed prom queen, the cool mum is to the PTA harpy. The cool mum doesn’t bore everyone by banging on about organic food, sleeping habits or potty training. Neither hyper-controlling nor obsessively off-grid, she’s managed to combine reproducing with remaining a well-balanced person, with interests extending far beyond CBeebies and vaccination pros and cons. She laughs in the face of those anxious mummies ferrying their kids to and from a multitude of different clubs, in between making  cupcakes for the latest bake sale and sitting on the school board. The cool mum doesn’t give a damn about dirty clothes or additives. After all, isn’t the key to happy children a happy mum? Perfection is for narcissists.

It’s great spending time with the cool mum. She doesn’t make you feel guilty about all the unpaid drudgery about which other mothers complain. She’s not one to indulge in passive aggression, expecting gratitude for all those sacrifices that no one even asked her to make. She’s entertaining and funny. Instead of fretting about getting up in time to do the school run, she’ll stay up all night, drinking you under the table. Unlike the molly-coddled offspring of the helicopter mum or the stressed-out kids of the tiger mother, her children are perfectly content and well behaved, precisely because they’ve learned that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Mummy’s a person, too.

It’s amazing, isn’t it, just how well this works out. Just as the cool girl manages to meet all the standards for patriarchal fuckability without ever getting neurotic about diets, the cool mum raises healthy, happy children without ever appearing to be doing any actual motherwork. Because motherwork, like dieting, is dull. The only reason any woman would bother with either of them is out of some misplaced sense of having to compete with other women. But what women don’t realise – despite the best efforts of men such as the Bad Moms writers to educate us on this score – is that the kind of woman who openly obsesses over her children or her looks isn’t worth emulating. On the contrary, she’s a selfish bitch.

For what could be more selfish than revealing to the world that the performance of femininity doesn’t come for free? That our female bodies are not naturally hairless, odourless, fat-free playgrounds? That the love and devotion we give our children – the very care work that keeps them alive – is not something that just happens regardless of whether or not we’ve had to reimagine our entire selves to meet their needs? No one wants to know about the efforts women make to perform the roles which men have decided come naturally to us. It’s not that we’re not still expected to be perfect partners and mothers. It’s not as though someone else is on hand to pick up the slack if we go on strike. It’s just that we’re also required to pretend that our ideals of physical and maternal perfection are not imposed on us by our position in a social hierarchy. On the contrary, they’re meant to be things we’ve dreamed up amongst ourselves, wilfully, if only because each of us is a hyper-competitive, self-centred mean girl at heart.

Don’t get me wrong. It would be great if the biggest pressures mothers faced really did come from other mothers. Alas, this really isn’t true. Let’s look, for instance, at the situation in the US, where Bad Moms is set. I have to say, if I were living in a place where a woman could be locked up for drinking alcohol while pregnant, where she could be sentenced to decades behind bars for failing to prevent an abusive partner from harming her child, where she could be penalised in a custody case on account of being a working mother – if I were living there, I’d be more than a little paranoid about fucking up, too. It’s all very well to say “give yourself a break, it’s not as though the motherhood police are out to get you”. Actually, you might find that they are, especially if, unlike Kunis’s character in Bad Moms, you happen to be poor and/or a woman of colour.

Even when the stakes are not so high, there is another reason why mothers are stressed that has nothing to do with pressures of our own making. We are not in need of mindfulness, bubble baths nor even booze (although the latter would be gratefully received). We are stressed because we are raising children in a culture which strictly compartmentalises work, home and leisure. When one “infects” the other – when we miss work due to a child’s illness, or have to absent ourselves to express breastmilk at social gatherings, or end up bringing a toddler along to work events – this is seen as a failure on our part. We have taken on too much. Work is work and life is life, and the two should never meet.

No one ever says “the separation between these different spheres – indeed, the whole notion of work/life balance – is an arbitrary construct. It shouldn’t be down to mothers to maintain these boundaries on behalf of everyone else.” Throughout human history different cultures have combined work and childcare. Yet ours has decreed that when women do so they are foolishly trying to “have it all”, ignoring the fact that no one is offering mothers any other way of raising children while maintaining some degree of financial autonomy. These different spheres ought to be bleeding into one another.  If we are genuinely interested in destroying hierarchies by making boundaries more fluid, these are the kind of boundaries we should be looking at. The problem lies not with identities – good mother, bad mother, yummy mummy, MILF – but with the way in which we understand and carry out our day-to-day tasks.

But work is boring. Far easier to think that nice mothers are held back, not by actual exploitation, but by meanie alpha mummies making up arbitrary, pointless rules. And yes, I’d love to be a bad mummy, one who stands up and says no to all that. Wouldn’t we all? I’d be all for smashing the matriarchy, if that were the actual problem here, but it’s not.

It’s not that mummies aren’t allowing each other to get down and party. God knows, we need it. It’s just that it’s a lot less fun when you know the world will still be counting on you to clear up afterwards.  

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