Friday, 8 July 2011

in defence of the yummy mummy

LIKE most people who occasionally sneer at them, I'm still not really sure what a 'yummy mummy' is, apart from universally scorned. I vaguely think of them as women with blonde highlights (tick); sunglasses on top of their heads (um, tick); who don't work full time (oh dear, tick); are glamorously high maintenance (phew: this I'm not) and wear lots of Boden (never). And according to my former boss and now Times deputy editor Roger Alton, they also sit around drinking Fair Trade tea (um, tick) and eating organic shortbread and boycotting the News of the World, thus costing other people jobs.
What many women seem to have heard in Roger Alton's words was the old ugly inference that women in general and mothers in particular shouldn't have opinions or influence beyond the home - although having never been exactly short of opinions myself, and having worked happily for Roger for many years at the Observer, I don't buy that.
But leaving aside the tabloid ethics, since I've already said what I think about that, the bile heaped on yummy mummies intrigues me. It's partly about money, of course: yummy mummies usually accessorise with enviably rich husbands. But when the term is applied so sweepingly - here as shorthand for Mumsnet users, many of whom are far less privileged than the stereotype suggests - then I think the real envy (because nothing generates hatred like envy) is of what they have that so many of us don't: time.
Time to make their own organic shortbread, time to glam up for the school run, but also time to read the papers and get worked up about things: time to go online and wind their friends up about those things and - well, what might happen then? Because the thing about mothers and indeed fathers, yummy or otherwise, is that they do sometimes ask awkward questions.
You don't have to have kids to care about a fair deal for tea growers, or global warming, or about dubious commercial values. Parents have no monopoly on caring about other people: indeed, are sometimes too obsessed with their own little darlings to put other people's concerns in perspective.
But having children can also turn you from someone who merrily shoves all their recycling in the dustbin into someone at least vaguely concerned about the world in which they may grow up. You start signing petitions, worrying about stuff out of your control: threats to other people's children - from drought and famine to abusive parents - can't be so easily dismissed. You complain more, meddle more, are doubtless far more irritating, since the flipside of parental concern is nimbyism and hysteria.
But you also, occasionally and in small ways, do some good. You volunteer for stuff, even if only the school fete: because you now use public services more, you get involved when the library's threatened with closure or the hospital's going downhill. On maternity leave was the first time I became in any sense connected to the community I was ostensibly part of, but had previously left at 8am and returned to only after dark. Parenthood, and the sense of solidarity it brings with everyone else in the same knackered and sick-stained boat, is the first time many of us really understand the power and responsibility we might have as part of something bigger than ourselves. Easy to satirise: harder, I think, to dismiss.


  1. Gosh, how refreshing. This could in some ways, equally be a defence of 'middle glass do-gooding', of which I am (oft guiltily, but less so now) partial too.

  2. Great article. I too found a new sense of responsibility when I quit my high flying job, moved to the countryside and became a mother. And, I too have yet to resort to wearing a jaunty Boden print!!!

  3. Great post - by most people's definition I'm probably a yummy mummy - I like to dress nicely, wear make up, carry a smart handbag and so on but I do work full time outside the home so the whole getting dressed up thing is part of my routine

    And yes I am vocal and articulate about the issues I care about and I do make time to read the press

    I think it sort of ties in with my rant this week which is that by defining us as 'mummies' before all else we minimise the fact that we are intelligent, opinionated women and that does scare an awful lot of people

  4. Beatiful and very recognizable (except the moving to the country art, no way).

    And now let me think what am I going to do with thta pound of fresh rabarber from my mother-in-law garden. Any idea, anybody?