An English Defence League protest against Ukip in Gateshead, 23 April 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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The Guardian's claim that racism is "on the rise in Britain" is a little bit misleading

The longer-term average is slightly more hopeful than the initial statistics may appear.

Staffers over at the Guardian could be forgiven for seeing Ukip's election gains as evidence that Britain is indeed in the middle of a transformation into the rainy fascism island is has always threatened to become - yet the stats behind its pearl-clutching front cover splash today are a bit odd. Based on the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey from think-tank NatCen, the paper leads with this:

The proportion of Britons who admit to being racially prejudiced has risen since the start of the millennium, raising concerns that growing hostility to immigrants and widespread Islamophobia are setting community relations back 20 years. 

New data from NatCen’s authoritative British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, obtained by the Guardian, shows that after years of increasing tolerance, the percentage of people who describe themselves as prejudiced against those of other races has risen overall since 2001."

NatCen has been running its survey since 1983 (although only annually since 1998), giving us a wealth of information about the British public and its attitudes towards other races, nationalities and sexualities. The nationwide trend in people self-declaring prejudice comes from this graph:

This a chart specifically of self-reported prejudice, with people being asked the following question: "How would you describe yourself … as very prejudiced against people of other races, a little prejudiced, or not prejudiced at all?" Answers of either "very" or "little" are grouped together to give the value used in the above graph. The sample size was 2,149 people, which, given that the most recent ONS estimate for the population of the UK is 63,705,000 for mid-2012, means that we know this survey has a margin of error of (roughly) +/-2 per cent. That's relatively standard for a national poll.

The Guardian argues that, after a slow but steady fall over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, the story of the last decade (or at least, post-9/11) was an equally-paced reversal, with one exception: the massive drop from 34 per cent to 24 per cent in 2012, which is attributed to the feel-good factor of the Olympics. The rise back to 30 per cent is a reversion to the overall trend.

But the thing is, that graph above is one the Guardian did itself. The graph that's in the actual report looks like this:

(Thanks to @danbarker for tweeting this).

The purple line is the same as the red line in the Guardian's graph - and the light blue line is the five-year average of annual results. An average like this is important for a survey like this, as we're most interested in the long-term trend and less interested in occassional strange results that might give a misleading impression (like, for example, the Olympics, or 9/11).

It's immediately obvious that the Guardian is right to say that the trend over the 1980s and 1990s was downwards, and over the 2000s upwards - but it should also be clear that this graph is a lot less alarming than the one without the averages. Not only did self-identifying prejudice peak at a lower level than it started in the 1980s, it looks like it's started going down again since 2009 or 2010. It makes the headline claim - that "racism is on the rise in Britain" - misleading, going by the BSA survey.

The survey is still interesting and useful, though, because it includes breakdowns of regional and demographic attitudes between 2014 and 2001. London has scored lower for levels of prejudice, while there is a clear trend where increased distance from the capital correlates with larger increases in prejudice score (Scotland and Wales having had double-digit increases). Men are more prejudiced than women; manual labourers and semi-skilled service workers have become more prejudiced since 1991, while white collar professionals have become less so. There's much here that chimes with analysis of Ukip's rise as being driven by the disenchantment of groups that feel they've been left behind by "metropolitan elites".

But perhaps the most interesting question should be: what does it mean to consider oneself "prejudiced"? We don't know if the numbers of people considering themselves "very" prejudiced has decreased while "a little" prejudiced has increased the same amount. It's also worth asking if the meaning of the word prejudice, and the word racism, has changed over the last 30 years. Racism is much more complicated, and manifests in many, many institutional ways, that aren't reflected in the BSA survey.

I'm a mole, innit.

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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.