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.

So this is 41

comic-girl-sleeping-bed-pop-art-illustration-78832051Life as a working mother can be so glamorous! And today, my birthday, has so far been no exception. It began at 5.30am when my youngest daughter (who was, as usual, sleeping in my bed) urgently announced she needed a wee.

Go on then, I grunted. But she couldn’t get the door open, and then the cat started attacking her feet (does anyone else’s cats do this?) and by the time she got back to bed she was wide awake and plotting.

“Mummy, it’s your birthday! We’re going to make you breakfast in bed!”

I begged her not to. I pleaded. “Please just go back to sleep. That’s all I want. Mummy is very old now and needs her sleep.”

We cuddled and I dozed, and while I wasn’t paying attention she’d managed to go and wake her sister up.

The next thing I knew there was lots of banging and clattering coming from downstairs. All the lights were on – including the very bright one on the landing. Sleep was clearly not going to be an option.

Meanwhile, having left the puppy gate open downstairs, there was now an exuberant and hungry cockapoo bounding around the bedrooms. Turns out he also had a full bladder.

The next couple of hours were a blur of cleaning up puppy wee, eating soggy cereal in bed and drinking black tea (the rest of the milk having been sloshed around the kitchen). Exhausted from their early start and busy birthday endeavours, my children had resumed doing what they do best, fighting with one another.

Somehow we made it to school and I kissed them goodbye, responding to half a dozen work emails as I walked home with the dogs. I realised I hadn’t brushed my hair and that my socks were pulled over my trousers.

Walking through the back door I was faced with the catastrophe that was my kitchen.

I went to make a cuppa before heading to my desk. Remembered there was no milk and opened the packet of gin-infused sweets my big sister had sent me instead.

Would I change any of it? No, I wouldn’t change a thing!

41 may be a bit of a slog, but those sweet cuddles, the look of anticipation on my daughters’ faces as I opened their gift and as they presented me with my breakfast are too precious for words.

Time to call time on marriage?

It’s probably not a surprise that I’m not a huge fan of marriage, given my recent acrimonious divorce, however it is well documented that men benefit more from wedlock than women.

The presence of a wife may bring benefits for men in terms of household management and healthcare, whereas women are “more likely to feel stressed”

Interestingly and perhaps not surprisingly, this is not the case for same-sex marriage where marriage is mutually beneficial for LGBT couples from physical and mental health perspective.

In heterosexual relationships, studies show that married men have lower rates of depression, anxiety and suicide than never-married men. Meanwhile, married women have higher rates.

Moreover, men live longer when they are married, while their wives’ longevity is impaired.

This is because the presence of a wife may bring benefits for men in terms of household management and healthcare, whereas women are “more likely to feel stressed and find their role restrictive and frustrating,” according to Dr Caterina Trevisan at the University of Padova, who also notes that when men die, their widows often bounce back.

This does beg the question, should women bother getting married? And increasingly, they are not.

According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics marriage rates for women have dropped from a high of 60.5 per 1,000 in 1972, to 20.9 in 2014 (I’m not sure why they don’t have more recent numbers).

Figure 1b_ Marriages rates for men and women, 1934 to 2014

There are many reasons out there for the decline in popularity of marriage, including the increasingly punitive costs involved in walking down the aisle (the current average cost of a wedding in the UK is £27k, according to hitched.co.uk).

Another driver of the decline in matrimony is women deliberately choosing not to marry.

“We are living through the invention of independent female adulthood as a norm, not an aberration, and the creation of an entirely new population: adult women who are no longer economically, socially, sexually, or reproductively dependent on or defined by the men they marry,” explains Rebecca Traister in her book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation.

Where this leaves men is rather more worrying, according to The Good Men Project. Women are more likely to reach out for help when they need it and to maintain their support networks.

For men, their wife is usually their sole best friend. Moreover, men don’t tend to share with other men, certainly not on the same emotional level that women do.

“As men feel unable to meet women’s needs for economic, emotional, and social support, they feel more inadequate and distance themselves even more, often escaping into pornography, increased alcohol consumption, and compulsive work habits,” writes Dr Jed Diamond, author of The Enlightened Marriage.

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Choosing a marriage of equals

The decision not to marry is a bold one for women to take, but a decision that could result in them living longer, happier and healthier lives. But for those who do want to publicly commit to their partners, there is the option to choose a marriage of equals.

When I married my ex in 2008 I’ll admit to being carried away by the romance of it all and pushing most of my feminist ideals to one side.

However, even then I saw little point in changing what was a perfectly good name, one that I’d had all my life, and questioned why I should be “given away” by my father as if I was simply a man’s property.

Some women say they take their husband’s name because they want the same surname as their children. But if marriage is losing its appeal, perhaps children should start taking their mother’s surnames? But that’s a discussion for another day…

 

Shouldering the mental load

Since I split from my husband, my “happily married” friends seem more willing to share their frustrations about their husbands with me. I suspect they don’t feel the need to pretend their relationship is all rainbows and unicorns with someone whose marriage has failed and isn’t going to judge them.

So recently I’ve noticed these stories slipping out. Most have a similar flavour and speak to a deep, underlying dissatisfaction with the division of labour in many modern marriages.

They involve husbands not identifying (or choosing not to identify) when they need to step in and share the load… until it is too late and their wives are royally fucked off.

Husbands or partners needing to be told to entertain their children/bring in the shopping/get the dinner ready suggests these roles are still considered to be a woman’s domain. Even when both partners are working.

 

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Working mothers continue to shoulder more than their fair share of the “mental load” (described brilliantly here by French cartoonist Emma, illustrator of the above image), according to the Modern Family Index, a study commissioned by Bright Horizons Family Solutions.

And these household responsibilities only increase when it’s the woman bringing home the dough, with breadwinning mothers:

  • Three times more likely than breadwinning fathers to be keepers of their children’s schedules and responsible for them getting to activities and appointments (76% vs. 22%)
  • Three times more likely to volunteer at school (63% vs. 19%)
  • Twice as likely to make sure all family responsibilities are handled (71% vs. 38%).

It’s the little things that seem to add to women’s mental load, things that we often don’t even question doing: organising play dates and activities, packing school bags, buying gifts, organising holidays, sorting through clothes drawers. Even trimming fingernails and toenails (which is more challenging than it sounds) and regular bathing.

Much of the most valuable talent in the workplace is playing double duty as manager of family life as well

 

Even though my ex is more liberated and hands-on than many men I know in my circle, post-split I continue to feel unfairly lumbered. However, life is much easier now we have a shared care arrangement and both children are in school.

I don’t miss the daily grind of jumping straight from my home office desk into homework/meals/bedtime routine with barely a pause for breath. I did all this partly out of a sense of duty, a smidge of working mummy guilt and because once my working day was over, my ex assumed I would step in and relieve him.

After all, he’d had a busy day attending toddler groups, drinking coffee and chatting to other parents. Well that is how it felt, if I’m being brutally honest. It felt as though as the “stay-at-home parent” he had cherry-picked all the best parts of raising our little darlings, while I was left to do the grunt work… after I’d paid the bills and spent half the night breastfeeding!

Overhauling outdated stereotypes

I don’t have all the answers for how to overcome these issues. However, I have stopped trying to be superwoman and learnt how to ask for help. I pay a cleaner to come once a week, do my supermarket shopping via an app on my phone, never iron any clothes and (shock horror) sometimes send the girls off to school in the pinafore they had on the day before and shoes that haven’t been polished.

I prioritise and communicate. I’m learning a few mummy “hacks”, I cut every corner possible and empower my children to do simple chores themselves (although I am not beyond yelling at them to open their mouths whilst I frantically swish the toothbrush around before pushing them out the door to go to school).

I make fish fingers for tea, rather than something more ambitious/nutritious that my children will turn their noses up at. The school makes excellent cooked meals for their lunch so a straightforward, crowd-pleaser at dinner time is fine.

Ours unfortunately is a pioneering generation and hence, it is our marriages being put to the test. Not that this is an excuse for the dinosaurs out there. Working fathers need to step up to the plate, and parents raising boys need to teach them (through doing) that men and women are equally responsible for running a household.

Change is also needed in the workplace. The Modern Family Index blames outdated workplace cultures and stereotypes for failing to keep up with women’s professional strides. It suggests employers could do their part to ease the load.

“The fact is that for most employers, much of their most valuable talent in the workplace is playing double duty as manager of family life as well,” notes Bright Horizons CHRO Maribeth Bearfield.

“By creating environments where men are encouraged and valued for taking advantage of work/life supports as well, workplaces can start to catch up with the culture this generation of working families demands.”

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It started with a divorce…

It took the breakdown of my marriage to open my eyes to a what I believe is a growing problem for marriage and society: the curse of the breadwinner wife.

Women are now the main breadwinner in nearly half of UK households. Yet statistically, those marriages in which women earn more than their husbands are more doomed to failure.

It’s not simply that men can’t stomach the emasculation or that women are feeling stretched and resentful. Although these are common themes I hear and read about time and time again.

I started this blog in an effort to explore the challenges facing female breadwinners. I hope it will offer insight, support and comfort for those out there who are breaking the mould but feel society is pitted against them.

 

Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.