Oh dear – Janet Street Porter seems to be upset about having been invited to a party to celebrate Mumsnet’s anniversary.
I’m a member- but not a regular user- of Mumsnet. Also of Netmums, and a couple of other parenting websites.
It’s a legitimate forum for parents to come together and share common experiences.
I have a bit of Boden in my wardrobe (not too much – Johnny seems to imagine that yummy mummies have breastfed so long that they have lost any semblance of cleavage so I can’t buy the majority of the tops). I thought the dresscode of “Boden” she mentioned was very funny, very knowing (as in that’s what they think of us shorthand irony). Yep, I wear it both to work and socially, but never to “hubbie’s office dinner” because – do you know what?- in our working lives to date, it’s been my jobs that have generated all the out of hours socialising-as-business events. And some of those have been black tie… ah, but those days are over now.
But then I’m problably the suburban middle class mother that JSP would despise.
The Mumsnet discussion of all this shows the diversity of the women involved. The common thread is motherhood but age, job other than parenting, marital status, location, interests, and frankly spelling ability and ability to articulate are hugely varied.
Yes, as with all online forums there’s an element of bullying. But I don’t find that there’s a received way of thinking – far from it (a debate with a politician felt like it got hijacked by the home-schoolers recently and while no one says why on earth would you do that, it was hardly a mainstream concern shared by all – but the questioners were about to make the points they wanted to and get a response on an issue that they could have spent years writing to DCSF about and not had anything as clear or direct).
And Mumsnet can’t be said to speak for all mums. My favourite stat is the if you had all the members together physically in one place, say a football stadium, rather than online no one could say that they should be overlooked- but of course the point is that you never could do all that and no one would expect them all to be friends or have a common view or purpose other than the specific one that’s brought them together. A bit like football fans actually.
But JSP is wrong to suggest that it’s the kiddie sick element of parenting that would form the main part of conversation at a party like that – if Mumsnet were inviting the sort of people that post it’d be so much more interesting than that. JSP herself says that it is likely to be “packed with high achieving women”.
And that’s the point. Mumsnet and other online forums can’t easily be dismissed as JSP points out because it is expected that women will be the swing voters in the coming election.
Talking about being parents is not enough though – if the high achieving women of Mumsnet are intelligent too, they are unlikely to be impressed simply with an “I’ve got a family too and I love them” approach by politicians (although I have to say that unless you’ve been a parent or raised a sibling etc. you really don’t know what it’s like to be one!) unless we’d got evidence that they too had had childcare logistical arrangement trauma, needed both parents to work to meet the bills, fought to get into the right schools and all the other little day to day dramas that parents deal with everyday but which I could not have possibly anticipated would be so complicated until actually faced with handling it.
(As an aside, I once asked a schoolfriend of mine who had three children and was pregnant with her fourth whether she’d gone back to work. Bless her, she didn’t actually cut of contact or shout at me but with just one I can now see how naive a question that was!)
I would have thought that – if women are to be the battleground – vocabulary like “swingeing” public sector cuts would be dropped given that that is more likely to affect women than men as they are more likely to be working in the public sector.
And far from calling it “smug”, why don’t we just acknowledge that women, whether SAHM (stay at home mums) or working like me, using their own little vocabs on the web like DH for darling husband (no worse than football fans, or car owner forums etc.), are a legitimate voting demographic?
Yes, so are the “women over 40, single and divorced” - interestingly JSP’s own demographic on and off- both are valid.
But that dones’t mean mums are irrelevant. And politicians
have found a direct way to talk with some of them, which both parties like (many politicians like to extrapolate from the specific to the general – Alan Johnson said on BBC4′s “The Great Offices of State” this week that he liked to get out and talk to policemen on the frontline rather than just read briefs compiled by civil servants, as if the specific expereinces of a few could be presumed to be similar to those of the whole – which is of course the basis behind sampling too).
But please, JSP, can you help celebrate that some women, and not just those working like men, or with lots of money, or for whom children didn’t happen and could focus wholeheartedly on careerbuilding at the crucial 20s-40s period and who have climbed the greasy poles are getting their voices heard too? It’s shouldn’t be either/or, it should be “yes! And now let’s make sure the next group can also be heard! ”
Mums, whether working or at home are voters too, and the politicians are recognising it. So the willingness of senior politicians to be participating in Mumsnet debates matters.
If it could be done in a non-patronising way that’d be great.