Sunday
10
February
2013

Breast is best – isn’t it?

 

 

 

Writing in today’s Observer about the latest development in the breastfeeding wars. Next week Professor Joan B Wolf is speaking at the University of Kent in Canterbury about her views on the science behind the “breast is best” health claims. I’m fascinated by the idea that a lot of the research done into breastfeeding is fundamentally flawed. In all the studies mothers are self-reporting (ie. scientists can’t actually monitor their feeding or know the content of the breastmilk or their diet). Plus, mothers who participate in the research have either chosen to breastfeed or chosen not to. There’s no random element and no placebo marker as there would be in most scientific studies. I’m not convinced this means we should hold back on promoting breastfeeding but it does mean we should be more wary about over-emphasising the health differences between breastfed and formula-fed babies.

Meanwhile hardcore breastfeeding fans (and, hey, who isn’t one?) may enjoy these previous outings: Let the breastfeeding rebellion begin (Guardian, July 2009); The joy of wet-nursing (Guardian, January 2007); Extended breastfeeding — past aged two… (Guardian, April 2005).

Thursday
07
February
2013

Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique: 50th Anniversary

 

 

Writing in today’s Independent about the anniversary of The Feminine Mystique which was published on Feb 19, 1963. So much has changed since then — and hooray for Betty Friedan! Big fan. She foresaw a lot of the problems that the women’s movement would experience. 

However, so much hasn’t changed — or has actually got worse. As I argue in the Independent piece, we’re gradually regressing back to 1970s sisterhood politics where you’re supposed to decide if you’re “One of the Girls” or “One of Them”. Beyonce is a case in point: she keeps getting criticised for not being a “good enough feminist” because she sings about sex and appears to enjoy being married to a man. But maybe – CRAZY IDEA – that is who she is.

This is what worries me about how far we haven’t come since Betty Friedan. We’re just as judgemental about the choices women make as we were when Friedan was complaining that women wanted to be more than wives and mothers. Until you get to do what you want with your life without it being seen as a good or bad thing for the sisterhood, feminism has not really worked at all. And that is a most unbootylicious fact.

Wednesday
30
January
2013

Hey, who needs childcare anyway!

 

 

Writing in today’s Independent about the announcement that the government will be “reforming childcare.” Of course, it will not be reforming childcare. Minister for Children Liz Truss has merely proposed that nurseries and childminders be allowed to increase their staff-to-child ratios from 1:4 to 1: 6 for two-year-olds and from 1:3 to 1:4 for one-year-olds.

First, this is just not radical enough for the crisis we’re facing where thousands of parents feel unable to work because of the cost of childcare. Second, it’s voluntary and the biggest nursery and childminder associations have already said they’re opposed to it and won’t do it because it’s detrimental to children. And, third and most deadly, it’s just a rubbish idea which parents will hate. Who wants their child to get less one-on-one attention?

It amuses me that the government got a woman to front this task. There are so few females in the Commons that they must have spent so long looking for one that they didn’t leave her any time to work out an actual policy. If there were more women in parliament, this issue would have been handled differently: with pressure, urgency and seriousness. Because childcare legislation affects women’s working lives. With 1:10 women to men MPs in both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, it’s hardly surprising they are clueless as to how to help families. If they like ratios so much, maybe they might want to take a look at that one.

 

Above: It’s another Wikimedia Commons baby! This one’s called Thomas.

Friday
25
January
2013

The mother of all expenses

 

 

 

Writing in today’s Independent about new research that claims it costs £220,000 to raise a child to the age of 21. Seeing as most children seem to live with their parents until they are about 57 nowadays this seems a conservative estimate. On the other hand, who are these people who are spending, as the Centre for Economic and Business Research suggests, £302 a year on electronic gadgets for three-year-olds? I would quite like to go and live with these people because they appear to be loaded. Meanwhile: keep using contraception, everyone else!

 

NB This picture is not my child. It is the child of Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday
03
January
2013

More apples for teacher

 

 

Writing in today’s Independent about the crisis in teaching revealed in the NUT’s latest poll. “Seven out of 10 teachers say morale has declined since the General Election in May 2010. Presumably, the remaining three out of 10 were too busy locking themselves in the stationery cupboard, weeping, to answer the question.”

A teacher friend messaged me to say: “The NUT surveys always attract the most whingey end of the profession.” Which I’m sure is true. But still.

Sunday
30
December
2012

Seeing Red: Angry, Me?

 

 

 

Let’s stop seeing red! From today’s Observer: Angry, me? How dare you? Writing about the cult of outrage and how it has become a language we’re all fluent in. Amusing to see conciliatory online comments for once: “Being in thrall to social media is like feeling compelled to listen to, comment on and get angry about the pronouncements of every single pub bore and nutter in the country.” “I will hold my hands up and admit that I sometimes come on here to make myself feel better about myself by beating someone else in debate.” “I find an evening out with Real Life Friends to be a wonderful antidote. Failing that reading a good book.” Read a BOOK? Real Life FRIENDS? What a preposterous suggestion. I am OUTRAGED.

 

Picture by Joel Dezafit, Galerie de Jef Safi.

Thursday
27
December
2012

Royal baby makes Muppets of us all

 

 

 

The Royal Baby has already made Muppets (and plebs) of us all. Writing in today’s Independent about what will surely be the biggest news story of 2013: The Royal Baby. I hesitate to add more column inches to the millions already dedicated to this subject. And the irony of saying “Stop talking about Kate and that baby” in a piece about Kate and that baby is definitely not lost. Which is why I have not used a picture of Kate Middleton to illustrate anything on here.

But I felt it needed saying. In early December we had no business knowing about a pregnancy of between five and eight weeks’ duration. Nor about her hospitalisation. Nor seeing the photos of her coming out of hospital. Nor of hearing about every cough, splutter and heave.

“The Palace must have decided that speculation would have been traumatic and widespread and, possibly, dangerous. Really? Worse than the feeding frenzy that resulted anyway? After everything that happened with Princess Diana, has no one learned anything?”

Friday
14
December
2012

Tales of the Homeland

 

 

 

From today’s Notebook in the Independent, Putin’s advice to Russians: have three children! “It’s always a brave move to suggest there’s an ideal number of children. It’s also rather foolish. If there’s one area of life where there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all, then family size is definitely it.”

And from the motherland to the Homeland… a rant about Claire Danes in Homeland and why women don’t necessarily make better undercover agents than men. One fictional portrayal of a woman doing something well does not mean the patriarchy is under threat… Nor do spurious assertions about wimmin being able to “multi-task” amount to anything more than lazy reverse sexism. You don’t need to be a spy to work that out.

Sunday
09
December
2012

The Christmas party starts here!

 

 

From today’s Observer, I’m not exactly proud of this but this is how it is. “For some people Christmas is a time for family, relaxation and calm. Not in this house. Here Christmas is the time for culinary excess, gargantuan effort and a great deal of self-indulgence. It is the time for making professional canapes in industrial quantities. It is the time for concocting grandiose plans involving homemade eggnog, the ultimate festive hot crab dip and complicated mince pie recipes with ground almond pastry, cranberry and apple mincemeat and pecan and pistachio toppings.” Comment has already been passed about how unappetising the crab dip sounds. I promise: IT WAS AMAZING.

Friday
07
December
2012

A dictionary of Britishness

 

 

 

With apologies to David Foster Wallace, writing in today’s Independent about the words and expressions used frequently in festive recessional Britain which appear to mean one thing but actually mean something quite different. Before he died Foster Wallace was compiling a dictionary of “what words really mean”. He particularly hated “utilise” and “pulchritude”. Worst culprits over here? “Tax arrangements” (arrangements to pay no tax) and “hyperemesis gravidarum” (mass media virus that causes communication outlets spontaneously to vomit made-up information about newly pregnant royals). 

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