International Women's Day 2015: Is the idea that mothers might be an asset really so laughable?

While you'd expect Nigel Farage's views to have emerged from a 1950s time warp, it's more disheartening when women undersell their own abilities

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The Independent Online

It does sound like the plot of a straight-to-video Sandra Bullock comedy, doesn’t it? MomI5: The Movie, starring our Sandy as a secret agent back on the job after maternity leave. She accidentally brandishes her breast pump at a Mossad agent and there’s a hilarious scene involving some baby sick smeared over secret KGB files. Not Oscar material perhaps, but the boys in marketing say it’s a big hit with female-skewed focus groups in the over-30s demographic.

In any case, amusement was the general reaction last week when select committee MPs recommended that MI5, MI6 and GCHQ recruit candidates on female-interest websites such as Mumsnet. The incredulity was most palpable on Mumsnet’s own topic thread, where users competed and commiserated with a string of self-deprecating jokes along the lines of this one from “gaggiagirl”: “It’s probably best that I don’t apply, I can’t keep my own piss in, never mind international secrets.”

Clearly, gaggiagirl is a wit to challenge the continence of even a Kegel fanatic, but is the idea that mothers might be an asset really so laughable? Or have we just been suckered into believing that the way things are at work is the way they must always be. It’s worth reiterating that, for most mothers, the biggest workplace challenge is not a lack of skills or “baby brain” or maternal guilt, but the extortionate cost of childcare. That and employers who are yet to wake up to the wonder of flexitime. There’s nothing biologically inevitable about inequality. It can change.

This is the point that Nigel Farage seemed to miss when he told the audience of Loose Women last week that mothers earning less than male colleagues is just “a fact of life”. That didn’t go down very well. It’s funny how Ukip’s best efforts to attract more female voters – or “sluts” as ex-MEP Godfrey Bloom likes to call us – always seem to go awry (note to Ukip head office: maybe try advertising on Mumsnet?).

While you’d expect Farage’s views to have emerged from a 1950s time warp, it’s more disheartening when women undersell their own abilities. Then again, maybe it’s an ingenious double-bluff. Take Loose Women panellist Linda Robson who prefaced her first question to Farage by saying, “I don’t really know much about politics…” then proceeded to skewer his “man of the people” act with an efficiency that straight news interviewers only dream of. The ability to calmly assert authority over a shouty show-off: I wonder if that’s a skill Linda honed as the mother of three small children?

Literature’s grey area

Bad-taste provocateurs needn’t bother blacking up this Halloween. No one will bat an eyelid. That’s because it’s only March and we’re all already agreed that 2015’s award for Most Inappropriate Fancy Dress Costume must go to 11-year-old Liam Scholes, from Sale in Greater Manchester. He attended his school’s World Book Day celebrations dressed as BDSM bad boy Christian Grey from erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, in a grey suit accessorised with a blindfold and bondage cable ties.

At least Liam and his mum grasped the basic principle behind World Book Day. That’s more than can be said for the many, many parents whose children went to school dressed as Disney cartoon characters.

Also, if we’re going to start banning book characters who’d make bad role models, then Christian Grey is the least of it. What about the Borrowers (unrepentant thieves)? Roald Dahl’s Oompa-Loompas (child torturers)? Or the junior psychopath Horrid Henry?

Then, of course, there’s James Bond, the hero of both Ian Fleming’s books and the Young Bond series by Charlie Higson. That’s who teachers suggested Liam Scholes might like to come as, instead of Christian Grey. Not ideal since, as Liam’s mum pointed out, James Bond is “a very promiscuous character who kills people… I don’t know who is worse of the two.”

Waist control

Downton actress Lily James has addressed claims that her improbably teensy waist in the new Cinderella film promotes an unhealthy female body image. Turns out it’s not digitally altered as many assumed, but it’s not exactly “natural” either. Her svelte look was achieved the old-fashioned way – with a corset.

Fortunately for our squidged innards, fashion no longer dictates that these torture devices be worn by women as a matter of course. It was therefore up to James to enlighten us all on one forgotten aspect of the corset experience: “If you ate food it didn’t really digest properly, and I’d be burping all afternoon in [co-star Richard Madden’s] face, and it was just really sort of unpleasant.” Burping in Prince Charming’s face? That’s one way to have your revenge on the patriarchy.

Rooting out tenants

These days, every self-respecting whimsical stand-up needs a serious social housing campaign to call his own. Russell Brand stood alongside residents of the New Era housing estate in east London and now Eddie Izzard is taking on a west London landlord who plans to replace low-cost housing with luxury flats.

Sadly, there’s one group of tenants yet to find celebrity support. For that past 15 years, miniature doors have been mysteriously appearing, screwed into the bases of trees in Somerset’s Wayford Woods and no one knows for sure where they came from. “It’s a very complex situation and nobody’s admitting that they’re evicting the fairies,” said trustee Steven Acreman, who has begun to take action. “It’s just that fairy control is required, otherwise we’d be covered in fairy doors.” You know the housing crisis has reached a peak when even unseen mythical creatures are on their uppers.

Spring notes

Take a look outside. A spring weekend like this one is the perfect occasion to appreciated the much maligned weather. True, our summers are brief and regularly marred by rain. And, true, white Christmases come along only about once in a lifetime, but a blah climate like Britain’s has its advantages. While East Coast America endures yet another week of dramatic freezing temperatures, isn’t it nice to live in a country where the biggest weather story of the week concerns a fictional flood on The Archers?