Thursday, April 7, 2011

Family and Feminism - A-Z Blogging Challenge

There is an interesting article about Mum-Lit on the Guardian's website today. Christina Hopkinson has written a book about a woman whose husband has annoying domestic habits, and evidently a publishing house is very impressed, as she has signed a two-book deal for a reported quarter of a million pounds.

Personally at that point, I would be inclined to chill the frick out about the pile of clothes at the bottom of the stairs. I might even start a second pile and write another book about that one.

Hopkinson makes a very good point about the 'failure of feminism' (she doesn't call it that, which I instantly liked) - in order to 'have it all', western women are increasingly choosing to leave their children in the care of women from other parts of the world, who have to leave their own children behind in order to provide for them, rather than putting some of the domestic burden on men.

This doesn't mean that working mums are bad. They're not. It means that not enough is being done to ensure everyone in society has equal opportunities.

PS It also doesn't mean feminism has failed. It means we didn't get what we asked for and somehow that's our fault.

In spite of the fact I agree with Hopkinson about how society has failed to address childcare issues fully post-feminism, and in spite of the fact she sounds quite nice and I'm sure it's a good book, I also find the whole premise of the book a little insulting, not so much as a feminist, but as a woman.

Hopkinson says "Trying to control the home can be a form of eating disorder. When you're young, you identify yourself too strongly with your looks; when you're older, you identify yourself too strongly with your home."

Zoe Williams, the journalist writing the piece, adds "But only if you are daft, I feel is the unspoken but necessary postscript."

That may be a little harsh. People do pour their identities into all kinds of stupid things (take it from someone who tried to reinvent herself when she was a teenager by changing her handwriting), but I don't think it's the fault of the people around you (ie, the hapless husband) if you choose to do that. Deciding your identity hinges on your house looking nice is not sustainable (what if it burns down or floods?) but if you have small kids, then I'm with Zoe Williams. It's daft.

And the whole point of feminism is equality - as a feminist, I certainly don't believe women should only be presented in literature as perfect superwomen. If there are women out there who define themselves by how clean their house is, why not write books about them? They're real people. True feminism is about embracing everything that women, men and non-binary gendered people can be, and allowing them the chance to be anything. It's about demolishing roles that say 'You are male/female, you are allowed/forbidden to do this.'

However, it does bother me that there is an entire sub-industry out there devoted to spending fifteen years selling me books about meeting the perfect man, taming him, and finally settling down with him so he can reassure me about my fat thighs every fifteen minutes for the rest of my life, before switching to selling me books about why all men are shite and can't remember where the car keys are.

There is nothing wrong with any of the individual books that make up these genres. (Well, there probably is with some of them actually, no one is perfect). I'm not attacking the authors, who are mostly turning out good, entertaining books. I just don't like the fact that entire genres exist solely because people think I want to spend my twenties chasing after Prince Charming and my thirties yelling at him.


  1. Oh Ellen, thank you for that last sentence!

  2. You're welcome :) I enjoy good books in almost any genre but I don't like the fact that people seem to think I only want to read about certain things!

    I also prefer chick lit books where getting a bloke isn't the happy ever after - Bridget Jones' Diary and the Hating Game both spring to mind. The heroines have their own journeys to go on, and getting the right man would be the icing on the cake.

  3. I'm thinking of my mum as I read this! She had five kids in like 7 years, left the kids with lovely hubby to pursue her dream, returned when hubby died, left us to look after each other while she held down two and a half jobs and these days is quite scathing of our choices in relationships and careers and her lack of grandchildren!

    Oh if only she'd write all these down and be paid for it too!!

    Take care

  4. I agree with the other Sarah. The last sentence of your post was killer. *slow applause*

  5. The good news is that things go in cycles, sort of like TV shows. What was popular in the 50s is no longer popular. (I'm praying reality shows go in the dumpster soon.) Books are the same. There are trends that burst on the best-seller list, then go out of popularity. (I'm really hoping celebrity books die some time in the near future.)

  6. Kitty, your mother sounds like a very interesting woman - I recommend you buy her one of those 'write your life story' kits for Christmas!

    Sarah, glad you liked it :)

    Helen, that is a point - 'book club ifction' has been getting popular lately and a lot of that is aimed at women but isn't about the martinis-and-manolo-blahniks set. I think the trend I would most like to see the end of is vampires choosing to go to high school, though! Surely there are other ways to meet vulnerable, unique, offbeat girls?

  7. Interesting post! So the husband and father hating and mocking that has been on TV for the last 3 decades is moving to books? How sad. I have a husband who is not perfect. Big surprise women! Your husband won't be perfect. Neither are you, so shut up and grow up. Can you tell that the current rash of man-hating really bothers me? This is one book I won't be reading.

  8. Drives me mad too, Karen - saying 'oh, men are useless around the house' is just as bad as saying 'oh, all women are good for is minding kids and keeping house.' Nope. We're humans, we're imperfect but we're all capable of trying great things.

    It's not feminist to say men are useless. They're not!

  9. Totally awesome! FWIW, I did the same handwriting thing. My ex-SIL once complained that she left the clean towels on the stairs for DAYS and everyone just walked right past them. No one took them up the stairs. Well, neither did she! She didn't ask anyone to take them up, and she left them there herself. Why was she complaining? Since my brother did the cooking and grocery shopping and much of the cleaning, I'm sure he thought that she could handle carrying towels upstairs.

  10. :) That does sound a bit much! It's only fair that both partners do their share, but deliberately testing someone who is pulling their weight sounds a bit much.

  11. Your summing up, just summed it up. Go maith, Ellen.

  12. It's a long time since anyone said that to me Ann - go raibh mile maith agat!

  13. I love this post! So thoughtful and well-expressed. I think it's tough for women to have it all, but then, I think it's tough for anyone to have it "all" at once. It's just that women are more driven, for societal reasons, to succeed in multiple arenas whereas men usually have to cope with less pressure.

    I also think it's hard to overcome the culture you're in no matter how much you want to be feminist (whether male or female). When MJ was unemployed and I was working full-time, a male friend walked into our messy house and asked ME why I was such a bad housekeeper! Erm, because I'm not a housekeeper? I still feel judged, though, if our house is messy (but, we split our household chores 50/50, and I just suck it up because my marriage is more important than Martha Stewart perfection!). Love your line about the 20's chasing a man and the 30's yelling at him -- that definitely sounds like a horrible deal for all involved.

    I'll stop rambling in your comments section now... this is just an interesting topic to me. :)

  14. Glad you liked it!

    You might like this article, although personally it scared me:

    I especially liked how she noted that women who at first resented being forced into the domestic role ended up guarding it jealously, excluding the father from involvement with the baby or the home, and identifying strongly, if angrily, with their new role.

    It's interesting that your friend made that assumption when MJ wasn't working - says a lot about the world we still live in! And it is odd that more women than men feel embarrassed about how the house look, especially when chores are shared. . . I guess we have a way to go yet!

  15. You've just reminded me, it's been AGES since I reinvented my handwriting!

    *test-doodles assorted letters*


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