Monday, 9 February 2009

Grrr...Observer Woman

The Doctor's away, the car alarm has mulfunctioned, Littleboy 2 has just had the mother of all tantrums. And I'm feeling just a little bit indignant, so I'm going to post this now, before I get over it....

Finally getting the chance to look at my copy of Observer Woman last night, as the Littleboys were splashing chaotically in the bath, I noticed that there was an article by the journalist Rachel Cooke, entitled 'Dummy Mummy'. Oh, that'll be interesting, I thought. Rachel Cooke is a journalist whose stuff I usually enjoy; she writes witty, incisive reviews, and did a brilliant intervew with Peaches Geldof recently, in which she managed to imply what a nightmare the girl is without actually saying it.

Anyway, Rachel has this week written the following article, which I suggest you read, but if you can't be bothered here is a summary: mothers these days are smug, obsessed with their offspring and can't talk about anything else. They do 'mad' things like 'post chummy comments on the Alpha Mummy blog', bore on about their children at parties and obsess about which stroller to buy. (No doubt spending their time blogging about parenthood would be regarded as equally crazy). They can't talk about anything except breastfeeding, Annabel Karmel, baby gates and In the Night Garden.

Now Rachel does not have children, nor does she wish to. And that is absolutely fine. I don't blame anyone for not wanting kids; with an over-populated planet, it's frankly a good thing.

But I've got to take issue with what she says. Yes, we all know that there are parents who are baby bores. Who obsess about every detail, worry that little Harry might eat something not organic, drive everyone nuts with their rigid adherence to Gina Ford-type routines. And yes, they can be incredibly irritating to the childless; I have heard of one couple who insisted that their childless friends find, and put up blackout curtains for their baby when they came to stay at their house.

And yet I still found this a strange attack, smacking of a lack of thought about her fellow females; those of us who have chosen to have children. Rachel cites one friend who told her that she 'doesn't get to see films any more' now that she's had kids. Well, neither do I. And there's a good reason for this. When you have to pay a baby sitter £8 an hour in order to go out with your partner, the last thing you want to do is go to the cinema, sit there not talking to each other for a few hours, and then come out to find all the restaurants are shut because it's 11pm, and anyway, your baby sitter needs to go home.......no. You wait for the DVD.

She says that when she goes round to see friends with newborns, she waits to see whether they 'ask me a proper question (and really listen to the answer), or make mention of the outside world and their own temporary absence from it' - only then, she says, will she know that they haven't turned into a total nutter who posts comments on Alpha Mummy. Well, yes. It is like that. But when you've just been through labour, which may well have been the most traumatic experience of your life so far, and are just about coming to terms with sleep deprivation, a baby who won't feed and a Stasi-like health visitor, you don't particularly want to discuss last night's episode of Spooks or your friend's love life. Littleboy 1 was born during the 2005 General Election. I normally love elections, but after three nights in the postnatal ward from hell l I was just too damned tired, stressed out and brain-dead to take in any of the coverage. But bear with your friends, Rachel. They will recover.

Also in the line of fire are women writing reviews of buggies and strollers on mothers' websites (which she seems to hold in particular contempt). Back in her mum's day, she argues, there were just two brands and you got on with it. Well, I am sure that is true. But the world has moved on. There is so much choice now over everything we buy - whereas our mums could have gone to Littlewoods or M&S for their clothes, we have a bewildering array of retailers to choose from. They couldn't buy olive oil - we can choose from about 40 brands. Yes, we live in a consumerist society where we have everything and, as Rachel says, half the world starves. But are mothers any worse than anyone else?

And with buggies (even the cheap ones, Rachel) costing hundreds of pounds, simply picking one randomly out of the Mothercare catalogue is not realistic. If you were buying a new TV or stereo system, you would probably read some reviews first, so why not have reviews of pushchairs? Hell, we read book reviews before buying a £5.99 paperback (and you write them, Rachel). Why not get worked up about the different brands? After all, you're going to spend the next three years of your life pushing the damn thing around, you might as well get something you like.

I could go on. But I won't. Becauase next to this article is another one, by Polly Vernon, in defence of her desire not to have children. Polly (who is NOT a hack whose work I generally admire) also complains about what she calls 'the pampering cult of Bugaboo-wielding, Mumsnet-bothering masses'. From a woman who usually writes mind-numbingly dull articles about her obsession with ripped jeans, rockstars or diets (she once wrote an incredibly obnoxious piece on how she loves being thin) I find this bizarre. We've all got to obsess about something, love. And when, for a few years, your whole life is taken up with child-rearing, it's no wonder you want to talk about it with other women on web sites. Why is it any different from posting bitchy comments about Lily Allen on Popbitch?

Being a parent is bloody hard work. Rewarding, yes, I love my children desperately and I'd never have chosen otherwise, but it's tough, it does overtake your whole life, at least for a few years, even if you still work, as I do. That's why women 'bore on' about it. It's not because they had kids late and are just sodding grateful. It's not because they are smug and self-obsessed. It's a fact of life. So stop tearing a strip off mothers, Rachel and Polly. We're an easy target, so save your vitriol for someone else and have some feminist fellow-feeling.

Anyway, I must go now; got to post chummy comments on Alpha Mummy, bore my friends about childbirth and discuss strollers....

37 comments:

Tara@sticky fingers said...

Do you know what NVG, these sorts of things don't bother me in the slightest because you said it from the get go, she doesn't have children.
I'm pretty sure she is her own sort of bore and if the worst that can be levelled at me is I talk about my kids all the time then I'll take it with good grace.
As a former journo I know that most of these columns are aimed at being provocative anyway, so it's probably an extreme view anyway.

But all I thought when I read her words was, so what? Then I thought maybe you should get a life with a bit more meaning that means you don't feel the need to attack others who don't share your interests. Just because they are your interests doesn't make them any better or worse than ours.

The Dotterel said...

Can't better that, except to add that next time they're tempted to yawn when someone baby-bores them, they should remember who'll be paying their old-age pension!

Dumdad said...

I thought her article rather mean-spirited and she misses the whole point because she hasn't had children. It's as simply as that.

"Being a parent is bloody hard work . . . it does overtake your whole life."

Indeed it does. Going to the cinema is a case in point and one you counter well. My wife and I love movies but watch most of them on DVD. The last time we went to the cinema was about four weeks ago to see Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona (oh, haven't you seen that yet, Rachel Cooke? Not released in the UK yet. No excuse, get a life!)

I could go on but I won't. Ultimately, Ms Cooke is the sad one.

Jaywalker said...

This article - and Polly Vernon's - - was sooo lazy, I thought. Lazy and provocative and aggravating. Also, Polly Vernon's "Don't hate me because I'm thin" spiel pushes my buttons every time. No. Must calm down. Is deliberately provocative so must not react. Breathe breathe Emma.

Did you ever spot that "We hate Observer Woman" blog? It's defunct, but it was very funny, especially about PV.

Nota Bene said...

LOL...I didn't get beyond the first paragraph of Rachel Cooke's pitiful article...and I'm not even a mummy!

We all talk about the things that interest us most and occupy our time. And why not?!

Home Office Mum said...

Fully agree with you Nappy Valley. I know a mother who does nothing except talk about her children. You could be discussing any subject - anything - and she'll find a way to segue back to her children. This annoying woman aside, I think these two journalists need a slap and the chance to babysit some of their friend's childrens. Perhaps then they'll realise why parents do talk about their children.

Wife in Hong Kong said...

Well said NVG! What happened to freedom of choice in this post-feminist era?

Elsie Button said...

Bloody well said, and a thoroughly enjoyable rant!

by the way, when i go to friends' houses i take my own blackout curtains with me. is that as bad?

Expat mum said...

I'm with Tara. I couldnt give a hoot about these women because I know that I wouldn't like them if I met them at a party. The stuff a lot of these journalists write about is absolute mindless drivel; at least when we bloggers post drivel we're not expecting anyone else to pay for it. (I'm referring to myself of course!)

Potty Mummy said...

Ranting is the new black NVG, and you wear it VERY well. Who are these women? Personally I suspect they are just hot under the collar because we can't be bothered to listen to their trite drivel anymore. And if they think we spout trite drivel in return, that's fine too - let's just leave each other in peace and get on with it.

(Am particularly touchy on this matter having just spent an evening with a childless friend that turned into a one-woman badly written sitcom about her life. Would love to post about it and can't as she reads my blog - bring back anonymity!)

nappy valley girl said...

Tara - yes, we journos all know what it's like when the ed. briefs us to write something provocative. But I get the feeling RC's piece is pretty heartfelt.....and I know I should just ignore it, but to be honest, this morning I was feeling exhausted and in the mood for a rant!

The Dottorel - good point - and seeing as our generation have screwed up our own finances so badly, our kids will be paying the price for years to come.

Dumdad - too true. But it's as if she's deliberately putting aside any attempt at empathy. (The last film I saw was Slumdog Millionaire - we asked the Doctor's Auntie to babysit as I was desperate to see it...)

Jaywalker - going right over to look at I hate OW blog now...it does have a very sneery tone about it, somehow, and it's a total Grazia rip off.

NB - it goes for Dads too, and she doesn't even mention them!

Home office mum - Oh well, she says she loves her friends' chidren, who are 'cleverer and funnier' than other children...obviously.

Wife in HK - there does seem to be an anti-mothers backlash at the moment...it's not the first time I've seen a piece like this.

Elsie - taking your own curtains sounds absolutely fine to me! But asking other people to provide baby stuff is going a bit far.....

Expat Mum - you're so right. I would hate to meet them at a party...but obviously don;t go to any as I am far too boring.

PM - thanks. No doubt they would never read this post, as blogging about motherdhood is presumably beyond the pale - but I've sent my post off to the magazine in an email just to make myself feel better!

Jaywalker said...

I couldn't resist. HAD to post about it too. Damn them!

http://belgianwaffling.blogspot.com/2009/02/letters.html

Madbikeboy said...

Well, she did need to fill a page with copy, perhaps the pressure of being creative was too much?

I'd love to have kids, but women in NZ are to busy having careers...

mothership said...

I also posted on this yesterday because it was so bloody offensive. And not in the main because she doesn't get it about being a parent. Nobody does until they ARE a parent. I can forgive that. I also don't care who has children or not - it's not mandatory nor is it a preferred option.
I was mainly hugely offended because it was such a CRAP ARTICLE, badly written, I won't say poorly researched because there was no research, and most of all because she's deepening the divide between women while ostensibly flying the feminist flag.
Unforgivable.
Thank you for speaking up too.

Mud in the City said...

It does reek a little of jealousy, much as those journos woudl deny it.

Many childless women are jealous of those with a happy marriage and 2.4 children. This can either turn into a kind of harmless envy (which I certainly have and shows itself by my ability to spoil friends' children rotten and want to spend time with them) or the other extreme, tremendous vitriol.

She needs to get a life!

A Modern Mother said...

Great post.

I guess I won't invite her to join British Mummy Bloggers ;-)

It's the same issue I had with Lionel Shriver and her Kevin book. She doesn't have kids and she just doesn't get it.

Anonymous said...

This is funny. The very existence of this blog validates Rachel Cooke's comments!
Only a self-regarding, self-obsessed mummy could possibly think that the level of mundane detail written here would be of ANY interest to anyone else.
Cooke's article was spot on - her gripe wasn't that being a parent is life-changing or hard or incredibly time-consuming.
No, her gripe was that some mothers have a constant need to go on and on about it, can't see outside of their own baby-dominated existence, and can't exercise their brain enough to be able to engage with the outside world in any way that doesn't include references to their motherhood.

rose22 said...

Well said. Whatever else I may do (and I work and write a politics/motherhood/faith blog in addition to trying to preserve some remnants of my pre-baby life), my son is a 24-hour preoccupation. And frankly, I had no idea how hard it was to have a child until I had one!
I have Karmel and Ford-obssessed, you're-not-giving-him-biscuits-are-you, competitive mummy acquaintances, and d'you know what, I find them boring too.
Equally, I find that friends without kids often start conversation with me by asking about my son - hard not to mention him under those circs. While some have no wish to have them, most eventually tell you that they'd have them themselves if presented with the right circumstances. I've no idea if that's Cooke's situation too - but it might be?
So I think my non-parent friends will forgive me for my current interest in first shoes, sleep disorders and childcare policy. In return I'll forgive them only reading chick lit in all that free time they have, celebrity obsession and believing money and promotion are the surefire routes to happiness...

Jennifer said...

nappyvalleygirl, saw your link on Alpha Mummy. Good points about the consumerist thing. I hadn't seen the Polly Vernon piece so will check it out. sounds delightfully enraging. - Jen

Laura - Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy? said...

Love it. Brilliant rant.

Will be going over there to look at the article, though I think you described it so well I don't need to!

nappy valley girl said...

Jaywalker - loved your letter, (especially the idea of PV being chased by angry pram pushers)

Madbikeboy - so hasn't work/life balance hit the southern hemisphere yet?

Mothership - you're right, there was no research. What really gets me is that she could have written a legitimate article about annoying parents, but the things she picked on were fairly innocent 'crimes' that every parent is probably guilty of. Will nip over to look at your blog now.

Mud - I don't reckon she is jealous, actually. I totally accept that some people don't have a maternal urge. But that's no reason to slag the rest of us off.

A modern - thanks. I actually thought Lionel Shriver's idea was really interesting, it was just the execution that I didn't like. It wasn't believeable.

Anonymous - kind of you to leave your comments, and I see you're so proud of them that you didn't care to leave your name. Unfortunately, the fact that you are the ...ooh, er, 17th person to comment on the post suggests that you are blatantly wrong in saying that it's of no interest to anyone. There are thousands of blogs about all kinds of subjects, and each is of is interest to the audience it's aimed at. You are clearly not my audience, although I welcome debate.

Rose, I agree, people always ask me about my kids, so it's difficult not to talk about them. Yes, there can be a conversational gulf between women with kids and without them - but we should try to be sisterly about it and bridge the gap.

Jen - thanks, and yes you must read PV on babies (if you want to explode with pure rage).

Dad Mzungu said...

Dad's can be just as "boring", I am sure. I know I am.
As a single parent, I watched my two off-spring grow up and fly the nest. Now I now have a new partner and two small children. And believe me, if you get me started on my two little cherubs, I will bore you to tears!

A Confused Take That Fan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A Confused Take That Fan said...

OK, So I have deleted my last comment as, having read the piece now, I feel I can make more of a balanced comment. I think she is being quite fair. She isn't slagging off all mothers, but just the overly obsessive ones, who get on my nerves too, I'm afraid. I love children, but I don't like talking about them ALL the time. I don't obsess over makes of buggy's, I don't really like how people use buggy's as a status symbol. I also think she is right in having babies later has created this generation of competitive mums, who read everything they can about being perfect mummy. But, they are, as I am, just trying to do the best for their children. And what's wrong with that? She doesn't have to listen to it if she doesn't want to. Alpha Mummy is not a website aimed at her, so what does she care what people are saying on it? Anyway, off to watch a programme about children Boys And Girls Alone...so shoot me now!

nappy valley girl said...

Laura - thanks for the support!

Dad Mzungu -you make a good point, Dads can be just as obsessive about their children....and these women don't even mention them.

CTTF - Do you know, I think that was the piece Rachel Cooke MEANT to write. The one that didn't slag off all mothers, only the obsessive ones. And that would have been a far more interesting piece to read. Heaven knows, I take the piss out of competitive mummies and baby equipment status symbols on my own blog. But somewhere along the line, that spun out of control and the things she actually complains about - that mums spend time on websites for mothers, that they can't act 'normally' when they've just given birth - are simply things that every parent experiences. So it was a wasted opportunity by RC, who is a good writer. (PV I couldn't give a flying fuck about.)

rivergirlie said...

rachel cooke is missing the point entirely - although i wouldn't expect anything else from her. what's really interesting is why new parents are so anxious and stressed that they end up becoming obsessive. we live in an extremely child-unfriendly society. we're probably the most inexperienced generation of parents ever. we often live far away from any extended families who could offer support. we're constantly bombarded with conflicting advice and with utterly unrealistic images of motherhood (usually from people trying to sell us something). and most of us are trying to work full time.
frankly, it would be weird if we weren't obsessed.
read 'the madness of modern families'. ok, so it was tongue in cheek, but it made perfect sense to me.

Tawny said...

Brilliantly said! She has totally missed the point, and heaven help her if she ever has children, I hope she is ignored by all and sundry for being pig ignorant.

I feel better now!

that girl? said...

Fantastic post and loving all the debate! You inspired me yesterday to saddle up the high horse and rant away! Think I need to check out the Polly Vernon thing too.

Mrs Trefusis said...

Loved your post - came to it late, having swapped vast amounts of ranty emails with Jaywalker about P and R and OW. Whither sisterhood, eh? though thankfully it appears to be alive and well on your blog. And shouldn't the Observer know better than to print this kind of anti-feminist nonsense, even in an entirely specious spirit of 'debate'... have we learned nothing? Have they forgotten the battles fought on the pages of the Guardian during the heady feminist days of the seventies? (erm, I'm not old enough to remember them in person, I hasten to add). I am sending Germaine round to the new offices in Kings Cross to give R & P a slap. Terribly sorry about the rant but your post reminded me of how irritated I was when I read OW. best, Mrs T

nappy valley girl said...

Rivergirlie - good point. Many new mothers now lack the family support networks that they had in the past - and that's another reason for the websites, blogs and everything else that RC and PV look down on so much.

Tawny - thanks. (I think if either RC or PV have kids now, they'll have to keep very quiet about it in print!)

Thatgirl - we all need a good rant now and then...

Mrs Trefusis - kind of you to visit, and think you should definitely get Germaine on the case...sisterhood seems to have turned into a Dynasty-style catfight in the media recently.

cartersmarter said...

I have been been mulling over Rachels article all week with a quiet anger...What irritated me was the Childless v With Child fire it is trying to stoke. I have 2 children under 3 and generally find my childless friends understanding of the lifestyle changes that inevitably happen when you have children. OF COURSE we don't get to go to the cinema! OF COURSE our lives are on hold for a bit! I think she does make some salient points - there are some over-obsessed parents out there but by and large most of us are trying our best to remain as un-isolated as possible in a pretty un-baby friendly world. As for Polly Vernons comment about resenting giving up the seat on the tube to pregnant people because 'they got themselves into that position' Since when was compassion and kindness only restricted to those that are completely blameless for their condition? What about the elderly, or infirm or crippled? Maybe we should have some kind assessment where you get given a star judging how much to blame you are for your condition. Elderly and out doing your food shop - gold star, permission to use the disabled bay and get a free seat on the bus. On crutches due to a skiing accident - black star, it's proably your own fault, you shouldn't have been going so fast and everyone knows skiing is dangerous - get to the back!

nappy valley girl said...

Cartersmarter - Oh, I'd forgotten PV's crass comments about pregnant women on the tube! What a silly cow....anyway, does she really want pregnant women fainting all over the place and harming their babies just so she can sit down for five minutes?

Iota said...

Loved your rant, and loved these comments. What a good read.

I agree with everything you wrote, echoed by others. Very narrow-minded anti-parent articles are the last thing we need.

On the other hand, I do know a lot of people (especially, but not exclusively, people dealing with infertility) who have been hurt when friends expect everyone to be fascinated in the latest antics of their offspring, and show no reciprocal interest in other people's lives. I had a colleague (and this was before I had kids of my own) who had a rule. If someone asked about his children, he would talk about them. Otherwise, he didn't, in the office. I thought that was rather a good rule for office life, and tried to adopt it myself.

PS I spotted a comment you left on oh, can't quite remember which other blog, about making mommy friends, and you asked about the experience of people in the UK/US. Yes, indeed I do have experience! If/when you know you are going, please do email me, and I will bore on about it for ages. (But not here, in case a passing journalist mistakes it for tedious mummy-speak.)

nappy valley girl said...

Hi Iota - I've been enjoying the debate too. (and can I just say to everyone, your comments have been fantastic and really well thought-out. Except for the rude Anonymous person, obviously).

I agree, some people can be insensitive to those who are infertile. I don't deny that the starting point for the Observer article had some justification - it was what she actually said that riled me!

And yes, I'd love all the advice you have on moving to the USA - we're going in mid May, so it's getting close now, and I will email you soon. x

V.inc said...

Oh I'm glad that there are gazillions of others out there equally infuriated by the unpleasant nonsense spewed out by Rachel Cooke and Polly Vernon last week. I can't quite decide on the bits of the articles that wound me up the most - was it Polly's reference to her 'darker moments' on the tube if she has to give up her seat to a pregnant woman? Or Rachel's unpleasant dismissiveness of all those women who take great pleasure in their children (rightly so, would she rather we were all beating them and locking them in cupboards?). A total lack of feckin' sisterhood from both of them. Horribly, horribly middle class and horribly individualistic.

Grrrrrrrrr.

Still ticking. Must stop being cross about it and make better use of my limited baby obsessed brain cells :)

Esther said...

Hi all - i thought that Rachel Cooke's article was good. And before I get attacked by an invisible swathe of buggies thrown at me, no I dont have children but I would like them one day. I too have many friends starting out in the scary world of parenthood. I think the point that resonates with me that she wrote about is the way that sometimes new mums forget to ask about someone else's life too and it can be a bit 'me me me', especially if you cant really say anything of interest back about breastfeeding! (because i really dont have a clue!) Unfortunately, there is a divide created between mums and non-mums because hell, it sounds a really hard task bringing a little one into the world. But please, everyone here that has blogged and called childless people 'them' think about the divide you create. We are all women, all of us need friends, and just remember that if you want to talk to us about baby sick then please let us talk about our recent issue at work - if we can all learn to listen sometimes then we can all remain good buddies :-)

Anonymous said...

bring on all the thin childless pollies, they save our world. Mothers are just brainless bores...