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

Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?