The “things I’ve been meaning to blog but job applications got in the way” round-up.

// 1 October 2009

Firstly we have this widely reported study, which concluded that children with working mothers have less healthy lifestyles than those with stay-at-home mothers. Yes, researchers actually designed a study seemingly* based on the infuriating and discriminatory idea that only working mothers have a responsibility to get that work/home balance right: obviously fathers can just go to work without anyone assuming that they should be at home feeding their children fruit, vegetables and water between meals. (Nevermind the fact that many couples and most single mums have no choice but to work in order to afford to feed their families.) The study does conclude that working ‘parents’ need more support, but the media has inevitably taken the blame the mothers / feminism stance.

Then there’s some more evo-psych nonsense from the authors of a book entitled ‘Why Women Have Sex’ (with men, obviously that goes without saying): apparently we make a trade-off when we have relationships with less attractive men because the George Clooneys of the world are all unfaithful and won’t provide us with the ‘resources’ us poor widdle helpless womens (all heterosexual, remember) need to survive in the big bad world. They even roll out the classic lipstick = big flashing ‘I’ve got a vagina’ sign.

Two young trans girls have had their privacy invaded and been the subject of sensationalist media coverage following their families’ decision to allow them to start the school year in their self-identified genders. It appears their schools failed to put the groundwork in with other parents and pupils in order to help protect them from bullying. The media coverage has repeatedly misgendered the two girls, rolled out the inevitable ‘he [sic] just loved pink and dolls and ribbons’ rubbish to ‘explain’ their ‘sex change’ and focused on the concerns of cis parents rather than the welfare of the children in question. Check out Mermaids for support for transgendered children, their families and carers.

In good news, home secretary Alan Johnson has announced plans to include domestic violence protection orders in the police and crime bill, meaning men arrested for domestic violence can be banned from returning to their home or immediate surrounding area for 14 days, so making victims safer without the need to wait for a conviction.

And finally, an interesting blog post I read with my Coco Pops this morning: Community Feministing contributor Stephie criticises Gordon Brown for his plans to place 16 and 17 year old mothers in supervised homes rather than giving them council houses.

*UPDATE: Please see this comment on the researchers’ actual motivations for the study, contrary to the way the research was presented in the press.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 1 October 2009 at 12:11 pm

Ah that age-old debate of whether or not working mothers are ‘bad mothers.’ Yet another study supposedly shows working women negatively impact on their children’s well-being. But we can ignore the innumerable studies showing working mothers does not negatively impact on their children. It is how both parents devise a system which does not mean the working mother is the one who is responsible for all ‘domestic duties’ including childcare etc.

Wonderful Gordon Brown – so you believe placing (deviant) teenage young women who become mothers into Magdalene Homes is better than providing them with suitable living accommodation. How about Gordon you start with educating teenage boys and older adult men with taking responsibility for not impregnating teenage young women. Remember pregnancy cannot occur without the male sperm!!

Ah so banning violent men from their own homes for 14 days will supposedly make the woman feel ‘safer!’ More window dressing which does not go to the root of the problem. How about banning men permanently from the female partner’s home – but that would be denying violent men their human rights would it not?

Why Women have Sex? More evolutionary nonsense dressed up as ‘science.’ Yes I’ve read the book and it is nothing less than a rehash of misogynistic and male-centered claims concerning female sexuality which conveniently fits into male-defined notions of what is and is not ‘real sex.’

Elmo // Posted 1 October 2009 at 12:17 pm

I was just reading about that “why women have sex” thing on the guardian website- its full of nonsense about our “instincts” etc, and suggests that a lot of women dont have sex for (heaven forfend!) love, or intimacy, but to get promoted, take revenge etc. apparently these are the most common reasons for having sex. well, THATS put us in a good light, thanks guardian.

i was also looking on the msn messenger home page, and discovered an article about the “battle of the sexes” which masqueraded as feminism by making a couple of good points about wage differences, but was rather ruined by the whole “its a war!” and “yes, you can read maps, but i can mutlitask!” argument, proceeded by whining “but wat about teh menz?” comments, including an absolutely disgusting one by a man called (apparently) Christopher p chicken, who thinks women who cant leave abusive partners should be allowed to be beaten to death. i mean, theres free speech, and then theres allowing blind hatred to be spewed all over the internet.

i just thought it was interesting how ive come across so much sexism and i only got up a couple of hours ago, and havnt left the house.

okay, maybe i should actually study now

mephit // Posted 1 October 2009 at 12:24 pm

It seems to me to be a policy aimed squarely at pleasing the ‘Daily Mail reader’ type from the talk about it.

According to the stats (or those used on today’s Wright Stuff anyway) only 700 young single mothers were moved into council housing in a year. So definitely about addressing a skewed perspective of a ‘problem’, I’d say.

Kristel // Posted 1 October 2009 at 12:50 pm

I too thought Gordon Brown’s suggestion was outrageous as well as incandescently stupid. What does he think this is, Magdalene Ireland or Victorian times? You can’t just force a pregnant teenage girl to go into a ‘home’ ffs! What a total winker. I’m sure it would be illegal under the Human Rights convention anyway. And as Jennifer Drew says, why not concentrate on educating boys and men to behave more responsibly? We’re not talking immaculate conception here.

I can’t bear to read the “study” about working mothers (when are we going to read one about “working” “fathers”?), because I can only take so much sexism in any day and, like Elmo, I haven’t even been out of the house yet.

Mary // Posted 1 October 2009 at 1:32 pm

I dunno about the last link. To me, it sounds like the kind of thing that will vary massively on how it’s implemented: whether they are well-funded, supportive places for teenagers with little familial support, or whether they’re coercive and punitive.

But I think it’s pretty awful that looked-after children are pretty much left to their own devices after 16, and I think the idea of just giving a sixteen-year-old woman a flat and leaving her to get on with it is dreadful. Sure, some young people are equipped to cope with life by themselves at that age, but they’re few and far between. In addition, pretty much every mother I know has found isolation a problem at some point in the first few months of their baby’s lives, and that’s people with partners and family around them. I think the idea of providing safe places for young pregnant women who don’t have family support and helping them adjust and move on to living independently is a brilliant one.

I definitely think the Magdalene laundries comparison is a bit over-blown: two of the awful things about the Magdalene laundries was the fact that it was very, very difficult for women to get out of them once they were in, and the fact that they were separated from their babies. I’m pretty sure the plan isn’t to institutionalise young women, and supporting them in the first few months or years after the birth of a baby and then helping them transition to living independently just isn’t in the same league.

Elmo // Posted 1 October 2009 at 1:36 pm

oh, yeah, i forgot to mention the whole “homes for young mothers” thing. sounds dead creepy to me-very Magdalene/Victorian workhouse. it seems to me to be vilifying young mothers. And of course-what about teh menz? didnt their sperm have something to do with this? should young fathers be put in homes? somehow i cant see anyone agreeing to that.

nick // Posted 1 October 2009 at 3:19 pm

Elmo – I read that article on MSN …

I thought it was misandrist tosh ……

I could not find the comment by Chris P Chicken …..but he has not got a clue …and hopefully he would have been soundly put down ….

I have no idea why boys cant be taught about sex and responsobilities at school …..there needs to be a better way of teaching boys/young men to behave, learn, respect, control their

lives for themselves and everyone they

come in contact with ………

Lara // Posted 1 October 2009 at 3:39 pm

I did see a programme about those homes and I they were more like shared accomodation you might have at University than a boarding school. Health visitors teach the girls about breastfeeding, sterilising, how to bath the baby etc. I think it is a really good idea if properly implemented and also given as another housing option rather than as something compulsory.

Laura // Posted 1 October 2009 at 3:54 pm

That does sound positive, Lara.

Kez // Posted 1 October 2009 at 4:08 pm

I think that does sound potentially positive as outlined by Lara, and is perhaps an example of how things can be twisted by the meeja into something different – taking something which is intended to be supportive, and turning it into, as Elmo describes, what sounds like “Magdalene/Victorian workhouse”. I really don’t think, or at least I sincerely hope there isn’t any intention to vilify young mothers or “put them in homes”.

I would disagree with it being compulsory – not all 16 and 17 year olds will need this level of support, but many will. As a recommended option it sounds OK to me.

In response to Elmo’s point – I would imagine that if very young fathers were carrying out the caring role for their babies, then the policy could also apply to them, but since they very rarely are, it would not be relevant. Of course, if it were in fact some kind of punitive measure, then it should equally be directed at the men involved. But I really don’t think that is the case.

Kristel // Posted 1 October 2009 at 4:20 pm

Mary, yes, the way you put it, it does sound so much better! If there were safe places and support provided for those young mothers who want and/or need it, that would be really good.

The Magdalene laundries comparison may have been somewhat extreme, yes. But the way Gordon Brown put it, he did make it sound punitive and coercive. If he meant the kind of thing you have outlined, I think he could have put it a LOT better than he did!

And there should definitely be more focus on and criticism of how a lot of boys and men behave, not the girls who are left holding their babies!

Elmo // Posted 1 October 2009 at 4:50 pm

kez- yes, i no in reality there wouldn’t be any point in putting boys in these homes- i just wish education would focus more on teaching boys that, if they impregnate someone, they should really have to take on some responsibility. speaking as someone who only left school a few months ago, sex ed mostly consisted of videos of very irresponsible teenage mums with STIs. the focus was never on the guys who had impregnated then abandoned them, and it just meant all the guys it my class sat there judging the girls and making nasty comments. as for the homes themselves, i read about it in the metro, which obviously wasnt particularly kind about the idea-they do sound positive from what Lara says, as long as they arnt compulsory. if they were, then i think that would be a step too far.

Researcher // Posted 1 October 2009 at 5:06 pm

On the working mothers unhealthy kids report, please could you clarify that the researchers did not design a “study based on the infuriating and discriminatory idea that only working mothers have a responsibility to get that work/home balance right”. The study does not come from a group looking at work patterns, or at gender roles in the home, and makes no claims at all as to who should be responsible, or provide any evidence comparing men and women. It comes rather from a group looking at obesity, in the knowledge that previous studies had shown maternal (specifically) obesity was a strong indicator of likely childhood obesity. So the group went on to study a variety of previously understudied factors, this being one of them, to see what about maternal behaviours might cause this, and so provide some evidence for policy intervention. Had paternal obesity been a better indicator of children’s obesity, men’s working patterns would have been studied. The worst that can be said is that in choosing to identify work it assumes that there may be a greater (or at least more studiable becasue of variations within women’s behaviour) link between women’s work and children’s diet than between men’s work and children’s diet. This though is an accurate, if very depressing and in need-of-change, fact supported by this survey and others’ looking at childcare responsibilities, and as such gives us no information on whether the researchers involved approve of it or otherwise.

It is typical that this study alone from the group should be picked up, twisted and thrown out to a world ready to attack working mums for all joint parenting decisions (and heartening this was a clear response on many blogs), typical too that such is newspapers’ appetite for this kind of story the Guardian ran it before reading the report at all (the raw data of which showed that working mums kids were actually healthier), and depressing that such is the guilt of many parents, and of women disproportinately, that the reporting threatened them so much. Typical too that even on this site necessity should be pleaded (no choice but to work-surely this isn’t the point, the point is there should be no debate at all about whether any one gender works and parents).

This study clearly has little policy use as yet, since it only leads to further questions (the most pressing being what childcare might be best then-paternal, nursery or other and how might it be encouraged, since this isn’t a woman’s responsibility). And there are, as always, criticisms that can be made of its methodologies and which would require further work to clarify. But it isn’t some lunatic right-wing thinktank supposition or pseudoscience , it’s from an EHRC-funded research group, one of the very few to be not only headed by a woman but to have predominantly female membership (which I know doesn’t mean they’re not sexist, but does make it all the more annoying that they should be falsely attacked for being so) You do its authors a gross disservice by failing to distinguish their motives from the evil of those who then wrote on it without thought or research into its origins and background.

Elmo // Posted 1 October 2009 at 5:11 pm

i just noticed i spelt “know” very badly wrong. its coz im spending 2 much time on teh internet.

Laura // Posted 1 October 2009 at 5:50 pm

Thanks for that, Researcher – I’ve linked to your comment in the original post.

Matt Wardman // Posted 1 October 2009 at 6:58 pm

On the “homes for teenage mums” comments from Mr Gordon, I was surprised that even New Labour could come up with that – it has the atmosphere of a late-1980s hardline Conservative from someone like Portillo in his “clear blue water” days, especially the implied compulsion.

If they really want to look at providing support, then perhaps “will be placed in a network of supervised homes” should be replaced with thoughts built on ideas of extended fostering, where we already have support systems in place. That needs unpacking, but to me it feels far more human than something more institutionalised.

I agree on the lazy media coverage of the “working mothers” paper, in morphing “unhealthier lifestyles” into “unhealthier children”. They can’t even blame it on the original press release.

I listened to 2 reports on Today, and they seemed to set it up with the aim of generating shoot-from-the-hip fireworks in advance of Nov 5, rather than trying to learn from an authoritive study on one aspect of data generated by a long term programme.

I’d take issue with one point – your original (updated – great) comment on the motivation of the study, as I didn’t see any information anywhere to justify that beyond your making an assumption.

Polly // Posted 1 October 2009 at 7:52 pm

Here’s what Gordon Brown actually said:

“It’s time to address a problem that for too long has gone unspoken: the number of children having children,” he declared.

”For it cannot be right for a girl of 16 to get pregnant, be given the keys to a council flat and be left on her own.

”From now on all 16- and 17-year-old parents who get support from the taxpayer will be placed in a network of supervised homes.

”These shared homes will offer not just a roof over their heads, but a new start in life where they learn responsibility and how to raise their children properly.

”That’s better for them, better for their babies and better for us all in the long run.”

He told delegates: “We won’t ever shy away from taking difficult decisions on tough social questions”

It sounds a lot like the workhouse to me! What is annoying is, of course that this will only apply to poor/unsupported women of 16 and 17. Anyone who’s affluent and/or has financial support from elsewhere will be exempt. And, what about the fathers? Are these children conceived immaculately?

Earwicga has a good post about this by the way

Liz // Posted 1 October 2009 at 10:01 pm

On Kez’s point above, concerning how the ‘media’ twists things, to be perfectly honest, the only coverage I’ve seen of the ‘young mothers’ proposal was the post on Feministing. And I found that very post to be twisting the issue into something it isn’t, so much so that I was pretty enraged at reading it. To me, Gordon Brown’s proposal would have been lauded as a fantastic, worthwhile project if a not-for-profit organisation were the ones implementing it. However, as soon as the government gets involved there are accusations of nanny state and institutionalising young women. So open minded.

Anne Onne // Posted 1 October 2009 at 10:23 pm

I did think that if teenage mothers (and other at risk groups who might be struggling with parenting) were offered (note, no shaming and forcing!) help and somewhere to live which would be a helpful environment with other people to help them and share the workload, it could be a very positive thing for many isolated young women living alone with the difficulties of raising a child. I do recall watching a programme where this kind of approach looked really beneficial to young mothers.

It’s a shame then that the proposal seems to be about shaming and forcing at risk young women who have gotten pregnant or had children.

And I agree with everyone on the ‘teenage boys/young men should have responsibility for pregnancies and sex, too’, front. I really hate when people (usually men) try to tell me that it’s no use bothering to try to make half the species take responsibility, because boys and men just aren’t ever going to be interested, apparently. Of course, it never enters their heads that by constantly giving boys and men a free pass to not give a damn, we’re validating this behaviour.

gadgetgal // Posted 2 October 2009 at 2:13 pm

I agree with most of the commentators here about the supervised homes, that done correctly (and voluntarily) they could be a good thing – check out the BBC article on Barking Foyer for an example of how something like this could work:

I wish they’d had one of these for singles as well as single mums when I moved out into the real world, then I wouldn’t have had to suffer spag bol and fish fingers for the first year or so (the only things I knew how to cook)!!

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds