Wednesday, February 11, 2009

As a successful playwright this woman should have the world at her feet but at 36 she feels bitterly unfulfilled

Though I never thought I would be saying this, being a free woman isn't all it's cracked up to be. Is that the rustle of taffeta I hear as the suffragettes turn in their grave? Very possibly. My mother - a film-maker - was a hippy who kept a pile of dusty books by Germaine Greer and Erica Jong by her bedside. (Like every good feminist, she didn't see why she should do all the cleaning.) She imbued me with the great values of choice, equality and sexual liberation. As a result, I fought with my older brother and won, and at university I beat the rugby lads at drinking games. I was not to be messed with.

But, at nearly 37, those same values leave me feeling cold. Now, I want love and children, but they are nowhere to be seen. When I was growing up, I was led to believe by my mother and other women of her generation that women could 'have it all', and, more to the point, that we wanted it all. To that end, I have spent 20 years ruthlessly pursuing my dream of being a successful playwright. I have sacrificed all my womanly duties and laid it all at the altar of a career. And was it worth it? The answer has to be a resounding no.

Ten years ago, I wrote a play called Paradise Syndrome. It was based on my girlfriends in the music business. All we did was party, work and drink. The play sold out and I thought: 'This is it! I'm going to have it all - success, power - and men are going to adore me for it.' In reality, it was the beginning of years of hard slog, rejection letters and living on the breadline.

A decade on, I have written the follow-up play Touched For The Very First Time, in which the character of Lesley (played by Sadie Frost) is an ordinary 14-year-old from Manchester who falls in love with Madonna in 1984 after hearing the song Like A Virgin. She religiously follows her icon through the years, as Madonna sells her the ultimate dream - 'You can do anything, be anything, Go girl!'. Lesley discovers, along with Madonna, that trying to 'have it all' is a massive gamble. I wrote the play because so many of my girlfriends were inspired by this independent woman who allowed us to feel we could be strong and feminists and have careers and still be sexy. I still adore Madonna, and always will, but she has turned out not to be able to 'have it all'. The same goes for those of us who idolised her - and it's a huge disappointment.

I may be an extreme case. My views may not represent those of other women of my generation. Perhaps I am just a spoilt middle-class girl who had a career and who has now changed her mind about what she wants from life. But I don't think so. I would argue that women's libbers of the Sixties and Seventies put careerism at the forefront of women's lives and, as a result, the traditional role of women was trampled underneath their crusading Doc Martens. I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being a housewife or a mother hadn't been such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of those formative decades.

Increasing numbers of my strongly feminist contemporaries are giving up their careers and opting for love and children and baking instead. Now, I wish I'd had kids ten years ago, when time was on my side. But the essence of the problem, I can see in retrospect, is not so much time as mentality. It's about understanding what is important in life, and from what I see and feel deep down, loving relationships and children bring more happiness than work ever can.

Natasha Hidvegi, 37, who recently left her job as a surgeon in order to look after her son, told me: 'I don't want to judge other women in similar jobs, but I found it impossible to be both a good surgeon and a good mother. Giving up my career was a terribly hard decision, but I don't regret it.' It's one thing to give up your career and have children before it's too late with the right man, but it's another issue altogether if you haven't yet found that man. Because, as my generation have discovered to their cost, men don't appear to like strong women very much. They are programmed to like their women soft and feminine. It's not their fault - it's in the genes.

Holly Kendrick, 34, who holds a high-status job in theatre, agrees: 'Men tend to be freaked out if you work as hard as them,' she says. 'It's like being the smart kid in the class: no one likes them.' This is why many of my girlfriends are still alone. Perhaps men haven't accepted women's modernity. (By modernity, I mean being the strong alpha woman who never questions her entitlement to the same jobs, fun and sexual gratification as men.) And this is the crux of the problem. Modernity has made women stronger, and that consequently means that we have higher standards; we want more. I am extremely capable, I really don't need a man. Seriously - it scares me how much I don't need a man. But that doesn't mean I don't want one. I am lonely, and terrified of being alone.

I have tried everything to stop the clocks, to stall time and find my ideal partner. I've considered the whole 'Let's adopt a baby from an African orphanage' thing. I have even had my eggs frozen (yes, really!) in the hope that if I do meet the right man, I will be in a position to have the children I now long for.

The problem is this: now I have decided I am ready for a new relationship, I am well prepared and I am totally efficient at running my life. But efficiency is not a very endearing quality; men find me daunting, and I can see that. It's not as if I'm famous or anything. It's just - like other women of my age - I seem to know it all. I do. And that's a massive turn-off for a bloke. This is why I say: do it early, girls - do it before you get cynical and jaded. Do the whole 'falling in love thing' when you honestly can embrace that joie de vivre. And, for goodness' sake, have children when you are young enough to enjoy them and to have more if you want them.

I feel a great pressure from other women of my generation who have husbands and children to join their club. In their eyes, I am not the trailblazer but the failure. My friend Rita Arnold, who's 36, works in marketing, says: 'It's not men who judge me for being a careerist - I find they are more accommodating of "modernity" - it's other women. The claws come out.' This leaves a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. We are letting each other down, but there is a worse betrayal even than that. Apparently, I am a failure in my own eyes. Somewhere deep inside lurks a women I cannot control, and she is in the kitchen with a baby on her hip and a ball of dough in her hand, staring me down. She is saying to me: 'This is happiness. You can't deny it, this is what it's all about.' It's an instinct that makes me a woman; an instinct that I can't ignore, even if I've tried to for 15 years.

Had I had this understanding of my inner psyche in my 20s, I would have mentally demoted my writing (and hedonism) and pursued a relationship with vigour. There were plenty of men and even a marriage offer from someone with whom I would have happily settled down. But no, I wasn't prepared to give up my dreams, the life I had been told was the right and proper one for a modern woman.

Struggling to understand my confusion, I went back and talked to the girls who were the subject of my play Paradise Syndrome in 1999. Sas Taylor, 38, single and childless, runs her own PR company. 'In my 20s, I felt as if I was invincible, unstoppable,' she says. 'Now, I wish I had done it all differently. I seem to scare men off because I am so capable that I just don't appear to need them, but I do. I have business success, but it doesn't make me happy in the core of myself.'

Nicki P, 35, single and also childless, works in the music industry and adds: 'It was all a game back then. Now, it's serious, and I am panicking. No one told me having fun isn't as much fun as I thought.' As I write this, I feel sad, as if the feminist principles my mother brought me up to have are being trashed. Am I betraying womanhood? No, I am revealing a shameful inner truth. Women are often the worst enemies of feminism because of our genetic make-up. We only have a finite time to be mothers, and when that biological clock starts ticking, we receive the most enormous reality check. That's why we suddenly abandon all our strength, forget all talk of deadlines and Powerpoint presentations, and start keeping ovulation diaries.

Of course, not all women want children. But I challenge any woman to say they don't want loving relationships. I wish I had been given the advice that I am now giving to my sister, who is 22. If you find a great guy, don't be afraid to settle down and have kids because there isn't anything to miss out on that you can't go back and do later - apart from having kids.

In the future, I hope there can be a better understanding of women by women. The past 25 years has been confusing for our sex, and I can't help feeling I've been caught in the crossfire. As women, we should accept each other full stop, rather than only appreciating professional 'success'. I have always felt an immense pressure to be successful, to show men I am their equal. What a waste of time that was. The traditional role of wife and mother should be given parity with the careerist role in the minds of feminists as well as men.

My mother has managed to juggle a career as a film-maker and being a great mother. She was part of the generation that overlapped in the sense that they had feminist values, but still had children early. She hasn't had the career opportunities that my generation of women have had because she had to make sacrifices and take lesser jobs so she could be there at parents' evenings. That is not a clash of priorities that I or most of my friends have ever faced.

Before the sisterhood rise up in fury, I would say this: I am not betraying feminism at all. Choice and careers are vital, of course, but they shouldn't be held up as a Holy Grail and pursued relentlessly. I love being a writer, but my career hasn't made me feel as fulfilled as I had imagined it would. So, now I am facing facts. The thing that has made me feel best in life was being in love with my ex-boyfriend - whom I was with for five years from the age of 30 - and the thing that makes me feel the most centred is being in the country with other people's children and dogs, and, yes, maybe in the kitchen.

Of course, I still have time to find a man and have children, but it doesn't often work like that, does it? I don't want to be an old mother whose arthritic knees don't allow her to run in the park with her little ones. It's all about now, now, now. And sod's law says that every day, minute, hour that goes by makes you older and more desperate. It might as well be tattooed on my forehead.


Resentment of mothers by the foolishly shallow and self-centred

That motherhood might actually be a more important, profound and valuable experience than a "career" seems to be overlooked by those who have been brainwashed by feminism. One can now only laugh at those whose chief topic of conversation up until recently was real-estate

Don't you just hate mothers? They're always droning on about breast pads and lack of sleep and those darn kids. Unlike, you know, the normal people who don't have children and aren't, well, boring. The Observer's Rachel Cooke has noticed. "…I might as well be honest and say that, right now (I am 39), my refusal to have children is also connected to the sense of horror and fear that I feel when I encounter a certain kind of mother." That mother is the kind who bangs on about antenatal classes. The kind who sighs and says she doesn't have time to see movies anymore. The kind that isn't interested in Cooke's recent trip to Yemen.

Let's not make excuses for boring mothers, even taking into account the hormones, the exhaustion and the relative isolation of early motherhood that means you can temporarily forget how to talk to other people. Like Cooke, I've met my fair share of women with mummy-on-the-mind-fulltime. The one at a dinner party who couldn't quit talking about weaning; the one I'd considered previously sane who insisted that babies are literally little angels (instead of tiny humans).

It IS irritating when parents make the same old tired jokes about "I haven't slept for the past 2 years ha ha" or women you previously considered comrades in the workforce suddenly quit and spend their time organising playdates and coffee mornings that you inevitably can't attend. But let's face it, there are bores everywhere, prattling on about their celebrity obsessions, their diets, their latest shrink sessions, their training regimen for the marathon (tell me again about the carb-loading!).

Cooke's exasperation with the reactions of mothers - overly focussed on their children, concerned that Rachida Dati's speedy return to work will become a template for "successful" working motherhood - occurs precisely because she isn't a mother, as many of her acquaintances so irritatingly point out. (Sorry, Rachel, but in this case it's true.) The reason why new-mummy talk is so boring to Cooke is precisely because it's niche. Motherhood temporarily takes over women's lives. It's a physical event that - Dati's silhouette notwithstanding - takes a year from which to fully recover, and psychologically it divides a woman from her old life in which she could unabashedly be her own top priority and one in which she must prioritise the needs of another person uniquely dependent on its parents.

Or perhaps Cooke just needs to find a more stimulating circle of friends. There are plenty of mothers out there who are interested in talking about good graphic novels or David Mamet plays or holidays in Ethiopia (it's the new Yemen, I'm told).

So why are mummies making such nuisances of themselves by blathering on so? For one, parenthood has become a much more visible topic these days, incorporating our larger societal angst about everything from the dynamics of the workplace to youth crime. We've also left behind the era of power suits and having to pretend that young children haven't changed our lives at all. Additionally parents are a lot more visible because of the internet - where their conversations flourish, their pictures are posted and their daily activities tweeted.

Cooke smirks at those silly mums who join in a discussion of, for example, the funny things kids say. Who would want to spend their time on something like that? Well, someone like the writer John Dunne, late husband of Joan Didion, who kept slips of paper with amusing phrases their young daughter said. Or the humorist Art Linkletter, whose book Kids Say the Darndest Things has become a best-seller and inspired a television series. She should be grateful for the message boards she disdains - at least these parents are talking amongst themselves, rather than ruining the cocktail party for everyone else. Visiting them then bemoaning the conversations there is a bit like going to a Trekkie convention then complaining when everyone dresses like Spock. Alpha Mummy even got a mention as the kind of place that warns Cooke off parenthood:
For all that I love my girlfriends, then, it's no wonder that, whenever one announces that she is pregnant, I am wary until I know the lay of the land. I visit them, I dandle their adorable new babies on my knee, and I watch and I wait. Only when they ask me a proper question (and really listen to the answer), or make mention of the outside world and their own temporary absence from it, do I know that they haven't turned, overnight, into the kind of person who actually posts chummy comments on the Alpha Mummy blog (just think about the phrase "Alpha Mummy" for a moment: assuming you are with me thus far, doesn't it make you, on every possible level, about as mad as you can be?).
Getting past the misinterpretation of name, I wonder whether Cooke actually has taken the time to read a blog she condemns for its friendly conversations. Our most popular post last year was about foreign correspondent Christina Lamb and the issue of mothering from the front line of war. It's a blog of ideas, not updates about what we fingerpainted that morning. It seems to represent the kind of motherhood she champions. There are plenty of mothers out there with more on their minds than nappies. There are loads who can talk about their kids without meaning it as a judgement on those without kids. At least Cooke can take solace in the most basic fact of babyhood for children, parents and the people they sit next to at dinner: at some point they get over it.


A rare display of spine in the Church of England

Bishops oppose political censorship

Church of England clergy could be barred from membership of the far-right British National Party under a controversial motion to be debated this week, The Times has learnt. The move, which coincides with intense public debate over race and equality, is backed by Sir Ian Blair, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who will attend the General Synod to support a policy borrowed from the Association of Chief Police Officers, which bans officers from joining the BNP....

It is likely to rekindle the dispute over racism, and what defines public and privately held views, less than a week after the BBC dropped Carol Thatcher from one of its programmes for using the word "golliwog" in an off-air conversation.

However, the motion will be opposed at the Synod by bishops and lawyers who will argue that banning individuals from membership of political organisations would infringe their human rights. William Fittall, Secretary General to the Synod, has circulated a paper which states that the Church's legal advice was that the policy could not be enforced. He wrote: "Since the BNP is not a proscribed political party, it is lawful to be a member. Merely being a member of it could not, therefore, provide a basis for disciplinary proceedings against a member of the clergy." Mr Fittall added: "Cases outside the Church concerning the BNP have seen employees bringing claims against their employers arguing that their less favourable treatment is an interference with their human rights."

Vasantha Gnanadoss, the proposer of the motion and a civilian member of staff with the Metropolitan Police, argues that the policy should be adopted to "carry a clear message to society at large". She said: "It will make it much more difficult for the BNP or similar organisations to exploit the claim that there are Anglican clergy or church representatives who support them."

Simon Darby, deputy leader of the BNP, said: "It is not a very Christian thing to do to say that because you belong to a political party you cannot work for the Church of England."

The BNP debate is one of a number which are likely to prove divisive at the Synod. Traditionalists are expected to resist plans to create "complementary" bishops who would look after opponents of women's ordination if women are consecrated bishops. However many parliamentarians and the thousands of women priests that the Church now depends on to sustain its ministry, along with their male supporters, will also be dismayed if Synod members turn their back on women bishops. Proposals to ordain women bishops depend on thenew class of bishop being accepted.

Anglo-Catholics are expected to resist the idea because the complementary bishops will ultimately be answerable to women bishops. A two-thirds majority will be needed when the final vote on women bishops takes place three or four years from now, after dioceses and parishes have been consulted. Wednesday's debate on complementary bishops will require only a simple majority but will signal whether the final measure will go through as traditionalists marshall their forces once more against women's ordination. Some bishops fear a re-run of the 1992 vote on women priests, when just one change of mind by an opponent of women priests secured the two-thirds majority that let the measure through.

In a third debate likely to set traditionalists against the liberal wing of the Church, the Synod will be asked by an evangelical lay member, Paul Eddy, to affirm the "uniqueness of Christ" in a multi-faith society. This motion, if passed, would implicitly confer a duty on Church of England clergy and laity to proselytise Muslims, Jews and other minority faiths.


LOL: Australian do-gooders found to be "racist"!

And indeed they are. There are few policies more blatantly racist than "affirmative action", for instance. But that is usually supposed to be OK. The reason I voted for Pauline Hanson three times was that I agreed with her that there should be one law for all Australians, regardless of colour. She even named her political party "One Nation" to stress that message. But the political elite across the spectrum supported the racist laws. You will find no mention of it below but: "From the outset, the Labor Party has extended full bipartisan support to the NT intervention, reflecting its agreement with the underlying economic and social agenda". The Rudd-led Labor party in fact made a pre-election promise to not roll back the intervention

There is little in the eyes of the international community more serious than a nation being found to have racist laws and policies. This was the claim made last week against Australia by 20 Aborigines. Their complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination about the Northern Territory intervention has a strong prospect of success. If this proves correct, enormous pressure will be put on the Rudd Government to reform the intervention.

The complaint pulls no punches. It describes the intervention as a "flagrant breach" of Australia's obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. While its authors acknowledge the legitimate aim of improving the well-being of Aborigines in the Northern Territory, they argue that Australian law breaches the convention on two grounds. First, the law uses "punitive and racist measures" that "have led to serious, massive and persistent discrimination". Second, Australia has breached the convention by suspending the protections found in the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Howard government's intervention laws were passed in August 2007 to exclude the Racial Discrimination Act. The reason was clear. Parts of the intervention are racially discriminatory. For example, it quarantines 50 per cent of welfare income to be used for food and other essentials only for people living in Aboriginal communities. There is no exception even for people who can demonstrate they are responsible spenders of their income.

This and other problems are well known. After a year, the Northern Territory Emergency Response Review Board conducted an independent inquiry. Its October 2008 report found the situation in the Northern Territory was a "national emergency" and that the intervention should continue. However, it needed to be "recalibrated to the principle of racial equality".

Against this background, it will be no surprise if the UN committee finds that Australia must take immediate action to end racial discrimination in the Northern Territory and restore the Racial Discrimination Act. The committee need only follow the lead of the Australian Human Rights Commission, which has found the intervention contains a number of provisions that are discriminatory and removes protections against that discrimination

More here


Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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