Viva the Mumsnet revolution

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My friend Hannah has decided to become an internet troll. What she means is that she’s going to wield her wit and fearsome way with words to hold politicians to task on everything from education and gender equality to energy saving and reducing sugar in our diets (she’s a dentist, so this last one’s a biggie).

And I pity anyone who gets in her way.

This is a woman who – while on holiday in Norwich – stood outside the city council building angrily snapping photos on her phone (her husband and children looking on), demanding to know why it was “lit up like a Christmas tree” at stupid o’clock at night.

Returning home she stumbled over a Tory leaflet that revealed it was pushing ahead with its plans to scrap the three-tier education system in Northumberland, even though the consultation on school reform has only just begun.

Cue the next round of angry emails. “Hell hath no fury like a middle-aged woman after a six-hour drive and no caffeine,” warns Hannah.

You’ve gotta love an activist mum. Say what you like about the Mumsnet brigade… these women get shit done.

Say what you like about the Mumsnet brigade… these women get shit done

What happens when you throw a group of highly-educated, under-utilised and fiercely-protective mothers together? You create everyday activists.

My faith in humanity was restored a little bit after I work up this morning to see that – thanks to the indignant mummies (and daddies) across Tynedale – a petition saying “no” to scrapping the three-tier school system in Northumberland has gained over 1,000 signatures.

This was mums doing what they do best in a crisis – sharing the fuck out of petitions in angry posts on Facebook and participating in rants on Whatsapp (most of us are a bit scared of Twitter).

Politicians, corporates and policymakers have come to know, respect and fear the power of Mumsnet, Netmums and other mummy warrior networking sites.

Politicians, corporates and policymakers have come to know, respect and fear the power of the cybermummies

Take Maclaren. It was condemned by Netmums, back in 2009, for recalling one million “hazardous” pushchairs in the US but leaving them on the market in the UK.

The suggestion that a buggy that was deemed unsafe for US tots was considered fine for UK toddlers had mums everywhere up in arms.

The founder of the Netmums website, Siobhan Freegard, said: “Mums are saying that the company is doing more for those in America because they are more likely to be sued over there.” Maclaren’s shareprice, brand and reputation all took a hit.

David Cameron, by contrast, had full respect for the power of cybermummies, signing up for a number of live webchats on Mumsnet.

In these forums he was asked about everything from his favourite biscuit and Cbeebies show to banking regulation and inheritance tax.

No-one does polite fury better than a middle-aged mummy. Actually scrap ‘polite’. We are women who shake our kids’ scooters at passing cars yelling at them to “slow the fuck down”.

We are women who shake our kids’ scooters at passing cars yelling at them to “slow the fuck down”

So the next time you see a gaggle of mums gossiping outside the school gates after drop-off, don’t assume they are talking about nice fluffy things like coffee mornings, baby weaning, tupperware or chick flicks.

In the immortal words of Dewey Finn (Jack Black’s character) from School of Rock, these women are too busy “sticking it to the man”.

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Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your stories about mummy activists

Such a nasty woman… and other ways women are minimised

Donald Trump Such A Nasty Woman GIF by Election 2016

When Donald Trump attacked Hilary Clinton in the final debate of the last US election, calling her a “nasty woman”, it became an infamous nickname and took on a whole new meaning for women everywhere.

It is associated with “gaslighting”, otherwise known as all attempts to silence and minimise women by depicting them as unhinged and angry when they refuse to toe the line.

It happens when women speak up about sexual harassment and domestic violence, when they express feminist views and call for gender equality, and in the workplace when they strive to rise up through the ranks.

It happens when they dare to do the things women have been conditioned not to do in polite society – to express emotion, opinion, to be tough and unapologetic.

Go on Twitter any day of the week and you’ll see the anti-feminist trolls out in full force, bullying and abusing women who shout too loud.

The notion that women who are not compliant are insane is one that’s been used to silence women for generations

“The notion that women who are not compliant are insane is one that’s been used to silence women for generations,” writes Jennifer Wright in Harpers Bazaar.

“Being told you’re acting insane if you are feeling upset is an absolutely surefire way to make you say something pleasant, even if you may be feeling angry. Which only makes women seem crazier.”

The mad woman in the attic

When women express anger with a situation they find unreasonable, too often they are described as crazy, aggressive and/or ugly.

I received these labels constantly when I left my ex.

Last January I collected my children from school on a day that he was due to pick them up. I had strong evidence he had been drinking.

At the time he was receiving legal help from a lawyer friend. He sent my solicitor an email saying my concerns about his inebriation were due to my “heightened imagination”, “irrational fears and prejudices” and “instability”. In short, that I was unhinged*.

He claimed my concerns were due to my “heightened imagination”, “irrational fears and prejudices” and “instability”… then asked if I was still taking my medication

The email went on to ask for assurances that I was continuing to take my medication (I take Sertraline for anxiety).

In the courts, as in every other corner of life, those trying to silence and minimise non-compliant women do everything to portray them as Charlotte Bronte’s mad woman in the attic. To dismiss them, diminish them and make them question their own sanity.

How #MeToo was a seachange

It happens in the workplace as well. While male executives who speak more often than their peers are deemed more competent in the boardroom, female executives who speak up are not welcomed, according to research from Cornell University.

“We’ve both seen it happen again and again,” wrote Sandberg and Wharton business school professor Adam Grant in the New York Times. “When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive.”

And yes, there is a time and place for emotion in the workplace. But being assertive in getting your message across is not the same thing as aggression.

When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive

Things are slowly changing. Partly as a backlash to the result of the last US election and partly due to the #MeToo campaign.

It is becoming less taboo to be an outspoken and emotional woman.

And there is a growing recognition that men also stand to benefit from embracing their emotional side.

Societal pressure to suppress emotions and “man up” is one reason why suicide has reached crisis proportions for men between the ages of 20 and 49.

Why it is a bigger killer than cancer, heart disease or road traffic accidents for men in that demographic. And why so many heterosexual men find it difficult to know how to respond to displays of emotion from their partners. Why there are so many “crazy girlfriend” jokes.

Certainly since #MeToo it feels like a societal correction is taking place with women able to talk about what is happening to them. They are being believed and not as easily dismissed.

So here’s to nasty women everywhere! I’m with you all.

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Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your views on gaslighting, whether it is something that has affected you and how you have dealt with it.

*There is a special place in hell for this “lawyer friend” of my ex’s. He recently pulled out of his own divorce mediation citing his soon-to-be ex wife’s “fragile state”!

Nobody fancies a feminist

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In her speech today marking 100 years since (some) women gained the right to vote, Prime Minister Teresa May spoke of her concern that public debate was “coarsening”.

“It is online where some of the most troubling behaviour now occurs… As well as being places for empowering self-expression, online platforms can become places of intimidation and abuse,” she said, speaking in Manchester, the birthplace and home of famed suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

100 years ago, much of the anti-suffragette propaganda focused on depicting suffragettes as embittered spinsters.

In an effort to offset these attacks on their personal appearance (that sought to undermine their message) Suffragettes deliberately dressed femininely – in billowing skirts, large hats and striking jewellery. To remind everyone that they were still women, mothers, wives…

The #MeToo backlash begins

Trying to wind me up the other day, my boyfriend reminded me that “nobody fancies a feminist”. I had been ranting (I sometimes rant) about the awful behaviour at the Presidents Club annual fundraiser, revealed that day by the Financial Times.

At times I have wondered whether to tone down my twitter activity, particularly on my work account, for fear of coming across as a “feminazi”. But then I remember I’m self employed and think, fuck it.

Today, my father emailed me a copy of an article in The Times, “MeToo feminism is victim culture, not courage”, in which the “most recommended” comments, mostly contributed by men, described the #metoo movement as:

  • “Fickle and dangerous”
  • “Culture of victimhood”
  • “Attention-seeking”
  • “Opportunistic self-advertising”

These were on the whole the polite, educated criticisms of Middle England’s broadsheet readers.

I’ve seen far worse online. The suffragettes came up against cruel cartoons, but these days women who shout too loud are trolled on social media.

When broadcast journalist Cathy Newman attempted (unsuccessfully) to “out” Canadian Professor Jordan Peterson as an anti-PC dinosaur on Channel 4 news she was relentlessly attacked on Twitter by his alt-right supporters.

The attacks were so abusive and worrying the television network was forced to call in security specialists, and Peterson himself intervened, pleading for it to end.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott received almost half the abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the run-up to last year’s bitterly-fought general election, according to Amnesty International. Among other things she was described as a “fat retarded black bitch”.

In her speech in Manchester today, Teresa May argued that online abuse is disproportionately targeted at female, minorities and LGBT people.

And writing in Huffington Post, Labour MP Harriet Harman observed that “misogynists now use the internet to threaten and abuse women under the cloak of digital anonymity”.

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The f-word

“If you voice feminist beliefs, people are going to call you lonely and undesirable, and ugly,” wrote Jennifer Wright, in Harpers Bizarre last year, after she had been a victim of trolling.

“They are going to tell you—in so many words—that no one could ever love you.”

She urged women to disregard it. Not to be silenced, or to self-censor, for fear of ending up alone.

“It’s a crazy dumb trick designed to make you shut up about wanting the world to be better for women.”

I for one am incredibly grateful to the suffragettes, to these brave women who fought for the right to vote 100 years ago. They endured imprisonment, torture and ridicule in the process.

I remember and honour them in remembering to exercise my right to vote, as should every other woman who is able. But while much has changed in the space of a century, the fight is not yet won and feminism – sadly – is still a dirty word in too many circles.