Books: Mother's little helper

Can women have it all? Christina Hardyment on Maureen Freely

What About Us? An Open Letter to the Mothers Feminism Forgot by Maureen Freely Bloomsbury, pounds 15.99

I started on this witty, iconoclastic, intensely personal book with high hopes. Mothers have long been in need of an articulate, presentable champion, and I remember Freely's first novel, Mother's Helper, as quite simply brilliant: a wickedly funny account of a liberated feminist mother who was enlightened, empowered, in control - and a monster. It was written, she now tells us, from personal experience of baby-sitting for such a woman while she was a student at Radcliffe in the early Seventies.

Now the tables are turned. With four children of her own aged between one and 17, and two step-children, she has returned to the subject of motherhood in an attempt to define why, despite her supportive partner and a busy career as a writer, she is not happy. Cash is short. Editors are unpredictable. From day to day her life as mother is a chaotic, roller- coaster ride. She has no clear idea of what she is doing or why; just this uneasy feeling that she isn't doing any of her jobs well.

Who to blame? Other women in her position have blamed men, childrearing experts, governments too mean to provide free day-care for all and, very occasionally, selfish children. Freely turns instead to bite the ideological hand that fed her: the "altermaters" of feminist folklore whose siren songs made her believe she could have it all.

The bulk of the book is devoted to a hatchet job on the entire pantheon of feminist theorists, which is made the funnier by such incidents as Freely's own experiences of being - er - matronised through Russian cigarette smoke by Marilyn French in the lounge of Claridges. Never in the history of feminist writing have so many been rubbished so fast. Friedan, Greer, Millett, Wolf, Dworkin, Paglia are all roundly lambasted for their appalling neglect of the egg-spattered, nappy-drenched realities of motherhood.

Freely is also spot on as she isolates - much embellished by her own distinctly eccentric experiences - the successive stages of the innocent young feminist's raised maternal consciousness; obsession with childbirth; frantic bonding sessions; the small tyrannies of the PTA. Her conclusion is that in face of the daily realities of the endless guerrilla war of domesticity, the second wave of feminism has pathetically little application. It has been merely "a daughter's revolution", defining itself as a rejection of the mother's influence, and therefore doomed to be unhelpful to mothers.

But ... but ... but. Freely has certainly caught a tiger by the tail, but she doesn't manage to do more than drag it to first base. An aggressive editor ought to have pointed out to her that she spends nearly 200 pages enumerating feminist sins of omission in increasingly fantastical metaphors, but offers only two pages of solutions: a list of directives that amount to no more than a synopsis for the book that I was hoping to find, that looked "at the larger picture, at what children need from their parents, and what parents need for themselves and for their children, at patterns of paid work and unpaid work, as they exist now and as they could be".

Moreover, the book may be called What About Us?; but it reads rather like What About Me? Autobiographical flashbacks are fine in a long work, but there are far too many here for a book of 215 pages. As one hilariously outrageous revelation follows the next, it becomes less and less likely that the average reader will identify with Freely. Would you hide your husband's wallet so he couldn't go out? Or blame everyone except yourself for the baby you had because you decided on impulse to fling your diaphragm across the bathroom floor? If this is making the personal political, it is, frankly, ridiculous.

Come on, Maureen. Let it go. Parenthood, like puppies, is for life, not just for Christmas. Leave those "childfree" feminists you feel betrayed you to ride their own hobby-horses into the sunset of a lonely old age, and get real: join the rest of the country's more or less philosophical mums galloping away on the Grand National of nurturing new lives. And next time, apply your unique talents to offering us something much more positive in the way of solutions.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all