Haha! Where am I going with this? I mean that’s quite a provocative opening isn’t it? And potentially quite a rich seam to mine.
Well, there’s childbirth of course. But that is really only bad at the time. Memories fade and get all fuzzy and rosy tinted with the passage of time. Just today I had to rate my birth experiense in a questionnaire between 1 and 10, with ‘1 being horrific and 10 being blissful’. I gave both of mine a 9. The LongSufferingHusband’s eyebrows shot up into his hair at this. He wisely didn’t contradict, although I think I heard him mutter something about perhaps asking the midwife to be third umpire on this one, ‘because I swear I remember you screaming at her at one point that it was just like going to war.’
Thank God for the power of postnatal hormones to blank out the memories, otherwise the GothicDaughter would be an only child, SparklyDaughter would not be in existence and I would have precious little to blog about.
But no, it’s not childbirth. Nor is it any of those little irritations of womanhood like waxing, or PMT, or the dogged persistence of the patriarchy, although they are all very annoying in their own way.
No, the worst thing, the VERY worst thing about being a woman is listening to another woman talking absolute total anti-woman baloney and trying hard to give her the benefit of the doubt.
I was brought up on the idea of the sisterhood. The worst crime for a feminist, I was taught, was to put down another woman. That was colluding with the patriarchy, sleeping with the enemy, letting the side down. And I try, I really try.*
But some days are harder than others. Any day in which I make the mistake of reading anything written by the unspeakable Melanie Phillips, for example, can be a very bad day indeed for supporting the sisterhood. Last month, in the aftermath of that crazy summer shopping-with-menaces-fad that swept the nation, The Unspeakable Ms P decided she knew which gender was to blame. Not, surprisingly, the male one, despite the fact that more than 90% of the rioters were male. No, silly reader. It was, of course, the fault of the women. All women, all the way back to poor old Eve, with her hand hovering over that shiny Granny Smith thinking, well, God can’t have been THAT bothered about me eating this or he’d have put it on a higher branch. But, more specifically, The Evil Single Mother.
Now I know quite a few single mums, and I guess you do too. And you know, like I do, that the stories leading up to becoming a single mum are hugely varied. Widowhood, abandonment, adultery, domestic abuse, accidental pregnancy, just the banally horrible everyday business of falling out of love.
And I guess that you, like me, often look on in admiration at the wonderful, amazing women and men bringing up children on their own, to a greater or lesser extent. We know, from our own lives and if we think about it, that Vicky Pollard is a media stereotype representing a tiny minority. You know, really, that she isn’t typical. The charity Gingerbread’s research tells us that 3% of single mothers are teenagers. The average age of single mothers is 37, and 55% of all single mothers had their baby in marriage.
Ms Phillips, like many social commentators, doesn’t stand for any of that kind of nuanced nonsense. Single mothers, you see, are Bad. She doesn’t let the complexity of actual real life get in the way of this powerful narrative. Never mind the widows! Never mind the long-suffering hard-working abandoned wives! The shared trying-hard-to-be-amicable-for-the-children parenting! What kind of narrative is that? It makes no sense at all. What kind of scapegoats do that lot make?
No, in Mel-land, all single mothers are Vicky Pollard: fat, lazy, stupid and feckless, leaping up the council house queue (haha) due to a delibarate impregnation.
(Actually I’m pretty damn sure Ms Phillips doesn’t believe her own poisonous vitriol. She’s just doing it for effect, and to sell newspapers. And that is why there is a special suite in hell reserved for her and all those other intelligent commentators whipping up hatred. Let’s hope the spikes there are particularly long and pointy.)
And this is what I know too, from my own life and from my teaching – there is nothing particularly magical or special about the nuclear two-parent family. Love and care and discipline and some more love – that’s what counts in a family and these things are – by no means – the monopoly of the two-parent family.
Those ‘stable’ families of the 1950s might look all cosy and fuzzy from here, but the truth was quite different. We all know that, back then, women had fewer choices. Many stayed married, even in violent or deeply unhappy situations, because they HAD to. Because they often couldn’t support themselves otherwise. The only people who might want to turn back the clock to that time are those who have never been in a situation where they felt trapped and utterly miserable, or who can’t imagine what that was like. The rest of us know it’s too high a price to pay for some notional idea of cultural stability.
I know you aren’t taken in by Ms Phillips. I know you aren’t sucked into believing that life in the 1950s was like one long episode of the Waltons. If you are a single parent, doing the best you possibly can to be the best possible parent that you can be, good luck to you and I hope you get a night out soon and maybe even a nice long lie in. Or, preferably, the first one swiftly followed by the second one.
And, sod the sisterhood. Next time I see Melanie Phillips I am going to poke with something sharp and pointy. Or bring her back to my house to do a bit of babysitting on her own for a bit.
That’ll teach her.
*Thatcher was an exception to this, in case you were wondering.