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Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Who’s the boss?

Hillary Clinton’s totally understandable response to being asked at a press conference in her capacity as Secretary of State has provoked reporting about her ‘extraordinary outburst’ (e.g. The Times). What’s extraordinary about it other than the fact that most government figures would not expect to be asked for their spouses views on an important matter rather than their own? It would never happen to Bill, or to any other male politician. I don’t think her response was anything other than a clear expression of how unacceptable the question posed actually was – if  I was Hillary it would drive me mad and – unlike Hillary – I would probably lose my rag and respond with the kind of hysterical response that she is being credited with. Extraordinary is that her response is a bigger deal to the press than the idiocy of the question.

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Political commentary is not really my thing on this blog, but I just cannot let the very public online spat between Harriet Harman and John Prescott go unremarked. Let me say at the outset that I’m not a member of any political party, although you may discern from this blog that I am generally leftish. I generally have quite a deal of respect for John Prescott and his determination but I am afraid he is not in my good books.

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This begins with Harriet Harman’s interview in The Times on Sunday (also here) . I take the point that Harriet’s turn of phrase that ‘men cannot be left to run things on their own’ sounds pejorative and is foolishly sexist. She does know how to put her foot in her mouth. But let’s look at the bigger picture. It is a fact that the business of politics and governance remains overwhelmingly male dominated and that HAS to change as a matter of urgency. As Harriet says – and this is plainly the thrust of what she says rather than the detail that detractors are homing in on – ‘it’s thoroughly bad to have  a men-only leadership’. The idea is that, even if women in government are outnumbered by men, things are still run in accordance with the principles of equality. To use the lingo this government is ‘striving to be’ an equal opportunities government (aka work in progress).

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I despair sometimes at ever being properly addressed by my given and chosen name. It’s only short but it causes oh so much trouble.

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Every time I attend an unfamiliar court I go through the motions when I sign in: I enunciate ‘Ms…Lucy…Reed…no it’s double E D…I’m counsel for the Respondent / Applicant…’ (it’s only four letters but 99% of people want to spell it Reid – my husband’s utterly unspellable name fortifies me against abandonment of both my principles and my surname for the sake of an easy life) and then I sigh as they write down ‘Miss Reed’. Even when the court staff don’t ignore what I say the judge inevitably does. As do most colleagues at the bar. I don’t even bother in my local court any more. Diversity training in the court service evidently covers the range of religious books upon which one might swear an oath, but not the respect for gender neutral nomenclature that one might wish to see from the machinery of justice.

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And I am steeling myself for the inevitable day when I realise I look too old to be a Miss anymore, and will be forcibly promoted to a Mrs. Depressing, but at least then it will accurately reflect my marital status, even though it’s nobody’s business but mine (and my other half’s).

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No doubt the BNP are hoping to capitalise on the general disillusionment with mainstream political parties in order to gain seats in the forthcoming european elections and further down the line. (I have received a rather unpleasant leaflet through the door myself, plastered with respectable white people and unpleasant slogans.) For anyone contemplating casting a protest vote in the direction of the BNP READ THIS FIRST: the BNP White paper on Family Law (nice pun) is a little something I came across last week quite by chance. I read it through spluttering expletives and general disbelief at almost every paragraph – I will spare you a blow by blow commentary as it really does speak for itself.

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I don’t usually post on Politics on this blog but this document is a detailed set of proposals about family law, including that residence decisions where parents are divorcing should be automatically be granted to the parent who successfully petitions for divorce on the grounds of adultery, repeal of the Civil Partnerships Act and banning of same sex adoptions, to give just three examples, along with a number of quite serious misrepresentations of the current law and its effect. Given the subject matter of this blog how could I not comment?

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The BNP would have you believe they are so much more than a bunch of xenophobic crackpots – well, if this document is anything to go by they are much much more:  they are also mysoginist, homophobic, regressive and revolting. What they are profundly NOT is at all child-centred. I’m not quite sure what the status of this document is, but although I note it is the work of one former F4J activist (and as such may be borne in part out of the narrow perspective of personal experience) it nonetheless seems to be well on its way to being a fully ratified policy document, and the BNP appear to be quite happy for it to be freely available on the internet associated with the BNP logo. As such it represents a surprisingly candid snapshot of the types of people who are actively involved in the BNP and the views that they really hold when not polished and dressed up as respectable by their more PR savvy leaders. If their views on immigration were not enough to turn you off, their apparent views on family law ought to be ample reason for you to cast your vote elsewhere.

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Who Cares?

At a wedding over the weekend my other half got chatting to the very pregnant lady on our table about parenthood. Overhearing him describe himself as the ‘primary carer’ to her provoked an unexpected reaction. It’s a term I throw about at work myself, and one which used in respect of my other half fairly describes the balance of care in our home set up, and yet…I didn’t like it. I use it myself at home, but out loud and in public? It barbed me to think that another mother might think of me as the ‘secondary carer’. I was suddently very conscious that the term implied some sort of hierarchy of parenting. I felt somehow diminished as a parent, guilty. Perhaps even potentially a little bit competitive. 

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This I suppose is the guilt of the working mother. But it’s also something more specific: we are all used to the scenario where both parents work to make ends meet and professional childcare is a necessity. That is one thing, but somehow when economics permit one parent to stay at home and it is the mother who goes to work, leaving the father holding the baby – it is harder for society to understand (in fact my other half works part time and we do use some childcare, but he is the one responsible for the balance of care in the working week and I flit in and out as my unpredictable job permits). I am, I now realise, torn between being incredibly proud of my other half for doing the ‘Mr Mom’ thing, proud of us as a couple for not feeling constrained by gender stereotyping, and subconsciously ashamed that people might think I have opted out of what I ‘ought’ to be doing, namely raising my child. Whatever I might think intellectually, as I inadvertently eavesdropped on the conversation between my other half and the pregnant woman I imagined her wondering what kind of mother would choose such an arrangement, and concluding that such a woman must be very selfish or somehow not a proper mum.

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Of course it’s not so straightforward. We set up our particular home arrangements because of what work was available to each of us and what made economic sense. It would have been financially foolish, indeed impossible, to have worked the roles the other way around. And one of us had to be reliably able to drop and collect at childcare – which is pretty much impossible in my line of work. So it’s not like I couldn’t be bothered. And as many fathers will tell you being the breadwinner is not an opt out of responsibility – I feel the weight of financial responsibility very heavily as I know my own father did when in my shoes. And it’s not like I don’t do the mummy bit either – of course I do my share whenever and wherever I can. But why do I feel the need to justify? Shouldn’t it just be ok that this is the way we do it in our family? Evidently it’s not quite so simple.

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I am clear in my own mind that I have nothing to feel guilty for, but it’s both impossible and undesirable to strip out the emotion from such issues – parenthood after all is about love and emotion not philosophy or intellectual argument. But I will be more aware in future when bandying about the term ‘primary carer’ that such terms can raise powerful emotions, and engage complex issues about how we still continue to understand and articulate our roles as mothers and as fathers and our value as parents through the prism of gender. We might use ‘primary carer’ as a gender neutral term to avoid the limitation of role inherent in traditional usage of the terms motherand father (is my other half the ‘mummy’ or just a daddy who does the majority of the care?) but those underlying social issues and prejudices are still there, even for those who have embraced non-traditional set-ups.

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Less is Moore

Yuk yuk yuk. What an obnoxious woman! I had the misfortune last night of watching ‘Mums who leave their kids’ last night on telly, a ‘documentary’ by Jane Moore a writer for the Sun. I say documentary, but in fact this was really just an opportunity for Jane Moore to pour forth a whole load of misogynist bull about women who do not conform to a particular stereotype of womanhood or motherhood – opinion without a balanced journalistic investigation to back it up.

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Family Units

Carol Sarler wrote a piece in The Times yesterday in which she questions the proposition that children need a father. She is clearly supportive of non-traditional family units, including same-sex two parent couples and rightly so.

The thrust of what she says is: that the modern notion of the role of a father is just that – a creation of relatively recent social scenarios. That historically, fathers have been absent or distant and children have been raised and nurtured by women. Hence the proposition that having fathers around might be desirable but is not necessary. Poor chaps.

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