Vicki Woods: Mothers are to blame for all of society's evils – except, possibly, Iraq

Jordan, Nicola Horlick and every working mother face the same dilemma – if you try to do it all, something's got to give
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Since a woman's place is in the wrong (an 80-year-old quip usually attributed to James Thurber), I struggle hard not to point the jeering finger at women who are in the news for being annoyingly stupid. When I say "in the news", I mean in my morning tabloid (three minutes max before recycling). All year thus far I've managed to duck anything written about Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan or any other of the handbag-celebs, on the grounds that they're young yet, they're only girls, they'll grow up eventually.

Sometimes you need a Christ-like patience, though. Jordan caught me off-guard when she christened her latest Princess Tiaamii – a vomit-making name – and Jordan's not just an over-endowed celeb but a mother. And a widely-praised mother at that, adored for looking after her disabled son. She must know that mothers have to tread delicately on the path of life, because mothers – especially working mothers – are to blame for every one of "society's evils" apart from (possibly) the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Mothers" as a class let their children stay up all night watching telly, so they're too tired to do their schoolwork. Mothers are so bad at child-rearing that Britain's teenagers are the "worst in Europe" for drug use, drunkenness, violence and promiscuity. Mothers (conversely) coddle their children so that a fifth of them have never played outside unsupervised. Mothers subvert Jamie Oliver's heroic efforts to make children eat food instead of junk by openly putting KitKats in their lunch-boxes. Mothers nourish their children so badly that two-thirds of British teenagers are too fat to join the army.

And we're not just talking easy-target mothers on "deprived estates", who sit indoors all day smoking and eating their benefits. What we are talking is working mothers; the women with children and a job. The women who are constantly being told (by government ministers and most newspapers) that a woman is not fulfilled without work outside the home. The women who – like Nicola Horlick, the original Superwoman, who had a brilliant City finance job and brought up six – six! – children on the side. Yay! We all want to do that now. Whether or not we have time to feed our children on the side is where it gets tricky. It was this newspaper that broke the story about middle-class working mothers, in good, well-paid jobs, helping to fuel the current obesity epidemic. Children in childcare are apparently growing fatter by the day than children of stay-at-home mothers.

The point is that children have to be in childcare if their mothers work. And their mothers, God help them, have to work. Two-parent families have to work to support the mortgage/holidays/lifestyle; single-parent families have to work to support life. Government ministers tell them to work; other government ministers tell them not to work more than 16 hours a week or their benefits are cut – meanwhile, my morning tabloid (don't need to say which, I think) tells them to damn well stop at home and keep their children off the streets.

Most of all, even women who don't have to work to sustain life, want to work. Have it all. Be a Superwoman. By means of a) worktime for fulfilment of career, b) "me-time" for fulfilment of self with spa days and shopping, and c) quality family time for fulfilment of mothering instinct. And all 24/7 and via BlackBerry and WiFi. And this despite the fact that very few employers are "family-friendly", which is corporate jargon for mother-friendly.

Horlick, a City superstar herself, vigorously resists her "Superwoman" tag these days. "I blanch at it," she told Kirsty Young last week on Desert Island Discs. "Because I think that somebody who is in a really successful position and gets paid lots of money and has lots of help at home is not a superwoman." Yes! She also said that the tenor of her life, with its "frenetic building of a career" was in part an escape from the incurable illness of her eldest daughter, Georgie (who died in l998).

Frenetic is the word. I met Horlick for a magazine in the mid-Nineties: she was very busy being interviewed before work, and her nanny was was very busy laying breakfast, telling big ones to put their stuff in their gym bags, wresting car-keys from the smallest one's mouth and telling one big-eyed little boy to tidy his toys up. Blimey, I thought. I had four children at home myself back then and was forever beating myself up about doing two two jobs badly. I was thrilled to see that life chez superwoman was just as chaotic as mine.

* I wrote last week about my unfashionable dislike of the faking-it fashion industry. Unfashionable it certainly is right now, when Renée Zellweger and Jennifer Lopez are just loving their Chinese-copy bags and sunglasses. Me, I like owning the real deal, and Bond Street sales assistants grin broadly when they see me coming. I've always been surprised by the way the luxury fashion houses have tended to put up with the high street's new passion for (frankly) copying entire pieces right down to button detail. They've always said (in public, anyway): "I don't mind being copied – it's flattering." But now they're fighting back.

The hit yellow Chloe dress of this summer was copied so faithfully by Topshop that Chloe complained and the dress was withdrawn. Tamara Mellon has complained about a "Jimmy Choo" shoe that looked way too much like a Jimmy Choo. Mellon was spurred to take action by a woman who'd bought the real deal and was outraged to see a lookalike clip-clopping up and down the street. Why should I pay you £400 and find it on every other foot for £50?

Indeed. Now the Daily Mail is reporting that the Gucci/Prada/Vuitton knockoffs on your high street (a global black-market worth £14 billion) is bigger than the drugs trade. Fake designer-chic is the final link in a sinister crime-boss chain of extortion, prostitution, people-smuggling – and even terrorism. Terrorism! "So could Osama bin Laden himself be profiting from this counterfeit trade?" the Mail asked, thrilled at the possible links between Hollywood celebs and al-Qa'ida. Well, erm, hang on, maybe not. But I'd advise Zellweger to go to Barneys next time she wants a bag – she can afford retail.

Comments