Sunday, February 08, 2009

Mothers: Know Your Place

Rachel Cooke has written a 2,000 word article in today's Observer Woman magazine about how boring it is when middle-class mums start telling her about their kids.

Rachel doesn't want kids, you see, and so she finds it boring when other people try to tell her about theirs.

Rachel thinks that people should be more sensitive to her feelings, and not engage her in conversation about things she finds boring.

Rachel would prefer it if you could talk to her about "books, or Michelle Obama, or Mad Men".

OK Rachel, I will talk to you about Mad Men. Mad Men is a television programme that portrays (among other things) misogyny and sexism in 1960s New York. In Mad Men, men lark about drinking whisky and copping off with their secretaries, while mothers are confined to the home, where they are neither seen nor heard.

I can see why this programme has struck a chord with you, Rachel, because you also seem to be quite keen on the idea that mothers should be confined to the home and neither seen nor heard.

According to you, not only should mothers not talk to you about their kids (which is fair enough), but they shouldn't talk to each other about their kids, either:

The other morning, while I was thinking about writing this piece, I logged on to one of the dozens of websites now devoted to all things baby-related. The discussion subject of the day - email us! - was the funny ways kids mispronounce words. Really. To which I say: new mothers, by all means, tell your own parents, or a close friend, about how your son said the word "bottle" and made it sound like "bottom". But don't be incontinent. Don't tell the entire world. Telling the entire world will make people, and not without reason, think that you have lost your mind.

Mothers: know your place. No matter how lonely or bored you get at home, do not seek out the company of other mothers on the internet. Do not ever discuss your baby's foibles, not even in an internet forum designed exclusively for mothers. Do not make friends with other mothers on the internet, not even if you don't know any other mothers in your real life. Not even if your own mother is no longer there to talk to about baby things. Not even if you use a pseudonym to hide your terrible shame.

Because Rachel Cooke might log on to Mumsnet and read what you say. And Rachel Cooke might find it boring, because Rachel Cooke doesn't want a baby.

But you don't hear her telling the entire world about it.

30 comments:

Terri Nixon said...

Thank you! Thank you for putting into words everything that was going through my head while I was reading it, and couldn't express in 140 on Twitter!

Spence said...

So I'm guessing she wouldn't want to hear the story of my daughter coming to me when she was about three and saying " I have a baby in my tummy and it's called Dave".......

Geoff said...

"Don't tell the entire world"???

Once again it's a journalist having a go at those of us who enjoy interacting with people on the internet. Just because anybody can read a discussion forum or a blog, we only choose the ones we're interested in.

Belladona said...

So now it's a bad thing that women no longer have to hide the fact that they are mothers as well as workers? I'm so behind the times...

Kirses said...

I was out last night with a friend and her friends, two of whom were mothers and one who is pregnant. I have no baby plans and while I had nothing to add to the conversation, it was still entertaining..can't say the same for the long conversation about mortgages and interest rates though (don't have one of those either).

Jayne said...

I'm afraid that, as with Observer Sport, the Observer Woman magazine goes straight into the recycling bin without its cover being opened. It's better for my blood pressure.

For the record, I've never wanted children either but it doesn't mean that I don't like other people's (hey, I can play with them then give them back when they become tired/fractious/smelly or need telling off). And I'm The Best Auntie In The World Ever. As voted by my nephews and nieces. So there.

cello said...

Oooh, righteous anger. Excellent.

At the time of the decision, I voiced my belief that the Observer should be the last title defining people's interests by gender. Nobody calls the Sport section 'Observer Men'.

I am insulted if they think that tawdry rag sums up me or any of the women I know/love. And I suspect thta its mere existence and the need to fill it engenders shit journalism like this.

John Cowan said...

Grandpa (who will not bore you at this time with anecdotes of his grandson, though really, what he is doing with the spoon while he sits in his clip-on high-chair is quite unspeakably cute) couldn't make it all the way through that article. Indeed, Grandpa wonders why (if not for the desire to fully understand Patroclus's truly righteous snark above) he bothered to read 80% or so of an article introduced by a paragraph proclaiming the writer's incompetence at anything but reading. Now Grandpa reads pretty well, and in fact found plenty of time to do so even while grandson's mommy was a baby. But from time to time he does other things, from changing diapers to programming computers, with a measured degree of quiet competence, thankyouverymuch.

Anyhow, bravo for the smashing rebuttal, O Patroclus Defender Of Mothers.

jill said...

Mmmm. News piece of genus: Deadline, species: Self-Righteous Prig Looking for Something to be Outraged by.

What WOULD one do, without the Internet? One might actually have to leave the house to seek out things to be outraged by.

Billy said...

I have no interest in children. Therefore I don't log onto websites and forums for parents.

I do okay.

patroclus said...

Terri: I take my hat off to anyone who can write a sensible critique of something on Twitter.

Spence: Does Dave know about this?

Geoff: That's exactly what I was trying to get at. There are still loads of journalists who think it's outrageous that 'ordinary' people should be allowed to write stuff on the internet. WITN and her sneery comment about 'pen pals' came to mind, as did our old friend Andrew Keen.

Bella: How can Rachel be so sure that her sprogged-up friends don't also go on to Mumsnet to talk about nappies and poo? I bet they do. It would be beautifully ironic if it had been one of her own irreproachable friends' comments that set her off.

Kirses: Yes, I don't think the fact that she once had a boring conversation with a stranger should lead automatically to the conclusion that no one should talk about babies ever. I expect her fellow party guest was equally bored by La Cooke's tales of her trip to Yemen.

Jayne: I don't usually read the Observer Woman, for the same reason. But today, ironically, I was pretending to teach the Kitten about feminism, and was looking for examples of female misogyny to show her. Oh, how I found some.

Cello: 'Tawdry rag' just about sums it up. It's the kind of supplement I'd expect to see in the Sunday Times, not the Observer. I hate to say it but the Sunday Telegraph's Stella is far better quality, and usually has pictures of really nice bras in it.

John: Sorry to have inflicted the article on you. Be thankful you didn't also read the companion article by Polly Vernon, which says exactly the same thing but in a slightly more unhinged manner.

Jill: Spot on. People on a parenting forum talking about their kids? It's a disgrace.

Billy: I think you should set up your own national newspaper, called the Daily Reasonable.

Valerie said...

Ms. Cooke obviously has some sort of problem with self-control. I mean, she deliberately logs into sites that make her grouchy — what's with that? There's clearly enough in everyday life that makes her grouchy as it is, but still she seeks it out. She may need some care.

Meanwhile, back at Data Point Ranch, I have no children, and no plans to have any, and find anecdotes about my friends' children quite entertaining. Cooke evidently needs a new hobby.

Smat said...

Thanks for that, reminds me why I don't read the Observer/Guardian (although are us lowly mothers actually allowed to read her newspaper? Surely that would mean we might get opinions on things, and then our brains would explode?)

Dave said...

'Does Dave know about this?'

He does now, and was about to comment, when he saw you'd already picked-up on the implications.

I never was a baby.

rockmother said...

I thought Cooke's article was knee-jerk, lowest common denominator, lazy journalism actually. Why log on to sites that irritate you? Not all mothers are irritating. I still remember how isolating having a baby is - it's not all coffee mornings and poo comparisons. I also remember thinking 'oh god - am I talking about the ginger child all the time? I must change the subject now and again'. I am sure Mumsnet has saved a few new mother's sanity here and there so don't knock it Cooke. It's ridiculous - in the same way (as a non-believer) I wouldn't log on to Jehovah's Witness forums - why would I - I would just get irritated! Finally I think the most disappointing slant of the article was it's over-riding derogatory nature - unneccessary and not particularly interesting.

Boz said...

Anger. Rising. Must. Not. Hate. All. Journalists. Gahhh.

And parents, of course, can't get enough of hearing about their single/childless friends wittering on about whether so-and-so fancies them or not.

Has she never heard, it's called 'conversation'. It goes both ways. I know! Amazing!

Henry Dandelion said...

After England's capitulation in the test match at the weekend I went onto a site called "rugbyloversuniteagainstcricketcoswehateit.com" to discuss the game and the implications for the rest of the series and the Ashes etc. However, everyone on there wanted to talk about the Six Nations, and I don't like rugby so I was really cross and I demand that website be closed down immediately and replaced with one that interests me.

Hope parenthood (and everything else) is going well btw...

Lisa Later said...

*jumps up from seat at the back of the stalls and applauds whilsy shouting 'brava, patroclus!'*

Lucy Diamond said...

Perfectly and eloquently put. RC's generalised mum-bashing was so patronising, smug and unnecessary, it really pissed me off when I read it. Grrrrrr.

chuffy! said...

Of course the other side of the coin is the thirtysomething journalist who has the first baby in the whole world *ever* (yes, Zoe Williams: I'm looking at you) and cashes cheques for the dullest shit imaginable about it week after week after week. (Yes, I know we don't have to read any of these articles but occasionally, as you say, you need to teach your daughters about female misogyny.)

Perhaps they should give Vernon/Cooke the opposite page in each Friday's Guardian to mercilessly slag off Williams junior, hopefully precipitating a three-way deathmatch tumbling Van Damme-style out of Kings Place into the Regent's Canal. Or the Pentonville estate.

Karen's Mouth said...

Crumbs. This my favourite bit 'I once heard a friend describe a certain buggy as being "too chavvy", a statement that was, and is, wholly baffling to me'

Which is basically 'Not only am I too superior to care about buggies but I'm so blind to class divisions I don't even know what "chavvy" means'

What a knob.

Annie said...

Oh, take no notice. Observer Woman makes me embarrassed to be female.

Marsha Klein said...

Crumbs! Mothers discussing their children with other mothers?! Whatever next? Women discussing their jobs/hobbies/love lives/favourite books and TV programmes with each other? Where will it all end?
I'm old enough to have produced my children before the advent of forums/messageboards for new parents, but oh, how I would have appreciated something like that (especially first time round).

Mrs. Chaucer's Pirate said...

that was exceptionally well-articulated. thank you.

rivergirlie said...

oh! oh! let me tell you something really cute!
i just tried to say rachel cooke and i mispronounced it 'total tw*t'. aren't bloggers adorable! xxx
(great post, p. she should be ashamed of herself - but i bet she isn't)

patroclus said...

Goodness, hello all. Glad it wasn't just me who got riled up by this article. I almost had to attend a joyshop with the angelic realms to calm down again.

rivergirlie said...

step away from the joyshop, step away NOW! xx

Malc said...

I read the first few hundred words and gave up - what an unpleasant bore she is.

It just reminded me why I never read the oh-so-smug Observer.

rob-sp said...

"...She is the kind of mother I talked to at a party the other night, who told me [...] about her ante-natal classes, in detail, for approximately eight minutes."

I read approximately 297 words of this article before realising I'd just read 297 words of some rubbish written by someone who's writing is a bit rubbish.

Let me know if you ever get to read a book again.

John Cowan said...

everyone there wanted to talk about the Six Nations

Huh. I never knew that the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois, to give them their more familiar French name) were a subject of such interest to the British, at least not these last two hundred years.