#FrothyWatches: “I Don’t Know How She Does It” AKA How To Make A Feminist Cry In Pain.

WARNING: This blog post is one big spoiler. I’ve sat through this film, and I felt it was only fair that you, the reader, know how spectacularly shit it was, in deep detail, just so that if you decide to watch it, you can’t blame me for not warning you. I’m considerate like that. 

Every now and then, I do something stupid. I trawl the Sky Movies listings, looking for the most misogynistic sounding movie I can find, and see how much of the film I can sit through. Today’s offering was I Don’t Know How She Does It (McGrath, 2011). Of course, when I saw the film advertised as a “frothy comedy”, I knew this would be my next victim. I mean, pffft… How dare they use my name to sell this crap, eh?

Sarah Jessica Parker plays Kate Reddy, a  successful finance executive. Her husband, played by Gregg Kinnear… erm… he does something… But of course, this is I Don’t Know How She Does It. A film which could have, just as easily, been called Let’s Demotivate All Successful Working Mothers And Remind Them That Their Husbands Should Be The Breadwinners. After all, I don’t think we’ll ever see a film where everyone wonders how the “man of the house” manages to hold down a successful career and have a family. It’s just assumed that it’s only women who struggle with juggling these roles. But still.

The film starts with Alison, Kate’s best friend, and probably the only redeemable character in the film, telling us that everyone struggles with the career and family juggle. But of course, Kate is the Diana Prince (that’s Wonder Woman, for those who aren’t clued up on superheroes) of the working/family circus. Of course, as soon as we’re told this, we see Kate dashing into a shop, to cheat her way through some school bake sale.

Now, I understand the concept of cheating your way through a bake sale. Aside from shortbread and flapjacks, I cannot cook. Even then, if you think you’re getting a straight shortbread biscuit out of the biscuit barrel, you must be mad. But what eludes me is why Kate was the only one expected to get messy in the kitchen. Oh wait, women’s place. That’s right… Obviously, the only person who screws up more than Kate would be single mum, Alison, who arrives at the bake sale with unset jelly. Oh, those bloody useless single mothers.

Anyway. Back to Kate’s house, where we meet her husband, who walks in whilst she’s baking. He’s been in the house, so why he’s incapable of putting a pie (or unset jelly) together, I’m entirely unsure. But then he doesn’t actually do much around the house anyway. We’re shown Kate, lying in bed mentally making “To-Do” lists, and, in an equal household, most of the things she finds herself listing would have been on King Fuckwit’s list. But nope, they call it “Wifework” for a reason. It is, by default, “teh wimminz work”. Needless to say, “wax something” comes up. Apparently, it doesn’t matter what, as long as she waxes something. Yay for fucking waxing. (It was around this point I ended up scrawling “Oh my fucking god, stop thinking Kate!” in capitals, across my notes. Justified.)

We then meet Kate’s two children, Ben and Emily. Emily is 5, and hates the fact her mother works long hours. Of course, if it was her father working away, he’d be greeted with joyous hugs, and showered with praise, blah blah blah… Of course, the 2 year old, Ben, is an absolute delight. As Kate says; “Being a mum to a two year old is like being a moviestar in a world without critics.” Obviously, she’s never put Ben’s socks on the wrong feet, nor been met with the rage that comes from misinterpreting “Truck” (pronounced Duck) as “Duck”. (Seriously, if you ever pass your two year old a duck under these circumstances, you become worse than Stalin.)

Anyway, both Kate and King Fuckwit are getting ready for work; Kate’s slaving away in the kitchen, King Fuckwit is drinking coffee and eating. Meanwhile, I’m the other side of the screen, facepalming. So, the Nanny is late. Again. And whilst the father gets ready to “have a word with her”, Kate tells us that “men and women look at childcare very differently”. Fuck off. Seriously. Me? I look for the person best equipped to care for my child. I’m pretty sure my brother did exactly the same thing when looking for childcare for his youngest, and I know it’s the case with the lone fathers I know… Men only view childcare differently when they can assume that, worst comes to worst, the mother will stay at home.  Regardless, we’re told that fathers see childcare as an outflow of cash, and the mother sees a person. YAY! McGrath has just provided a new way to objectify women.

We’re then faced with the school run. Obviously wifework. So, we know who does that. And when Kate sneaks Emily in a few minutes late, we’re greeted with a slightly intimidating kindergarten teacher. Mini-Dragon’s reception (English equivalent of kindergarten) teacher (and Deputy Head) actually praised Mini-Dragon’s dawdling skills when we turned up late one morning. This may be a rarity, but I still don’t buy the terrifying Kindergarten teacher, should a child be slightly late.

It’s around here, we meet Alison, with her failed attempt at Jello. Cue a quip about women having gone from faking orgasms, to faking pies. It is around this time that I decided my preferable ending for this piece of shit would be for Kate to ditch the husband and elope with the Nanny.  And then, in stroll “The Momsters”. Or Mumsnet’s “Am I Being Unreasonable”, timewarped to the 50’s and doped up on speed. Seriously, the Momsters have their judgey pants so high, they can’t breathe. Chief “Momster” Wendy Best is a stay at home parent, who lives in the gym during school hours, berating each decision Kate makes. Wendy is supposed to be simultaneously “perfect” and “nauseating”, in that way perfect mummies are. But yay for a film about motherhood, pitching women against each other. Last time I checked, Motherhood wasn’t a competition, but this film makes it seem like that’s exactly what motherhood is.

Meanwhile, Kate arrives at work, where we find out working mummies are “insufficiently groomed”. And we meet Momo, who’s supposed to be some kind of bitch, but I’m not sure I buy that. Momo, instead, ends up the Pro-Lifer’s dream; accidentally pregnant, and originally planning to abort,   she’s talked round to keeping the child by Kate, who offers to help her… with WHAT time, I’m not sure, but still… Momo, who “never wants kids”, and says her pregnancy “feels like a mistake”, ends up, obviously, softened by pregnancy and childbirth. Because, you know, pregnancy “completes” women.

But it’s Kate’s work that really brings out the misogyny of the film. When Kate is presented with an important opportunity at work, she’ll be required to work out of town. Now, as the child of a “work away” father, I can tell you – Mum didn’t get a say in whether Dad headed off on yet another course; it was generally accepted that he needed to do this. Kate, however, phones up to ask permission from King Fuckwit. But even whilst out of town, Kate has to deal with the “night night” songs over the phone. Even Grandma has her opinion on Kate’s working condition… “If you weren’t working, Ben would be talking by now.” In fact, Grandma makes it perfectly clear that working mummy’s are the scum of the earth, and should just stay at home, thus keeping everything simple.  Needless to say, the one time everyone is shown to be happy during this 90  minute assualt on working mothers is Thanksgiving. Well, until work calls.

The climax of the film, however, comes when Ben falls down the stairs. Even though King Fuckwit was at home, with the kids, Kate is blamed for Ben’s fall because she hadn’t got round to replacing the carpet at the top of the stairs, along with King Fuckwit’s “At least I was here when it happened!” Even non-working parents can’t be around their children 24 hours a day, seven days a week… But of course, because Kate’s phone happened to be turned off (she’d forgotten to charge it) she automatically becomes demon mother. In her guilt, Kate laments “I wasn’t here when Ben needed me.” When’s the last time you heard that line spoken by a father in a film? Emily then continues to list things that Mummy misses because she’s at work. Oh, don’t worry, this all gets resolved. I won’t say how. But lets just say I was left with my palm firmly attached to my face by the end of it.

I Don’t Know How She Does It, with a shift of perspective, could have been a witty, insightful film, into the joys of juggling family life with work. Had it focused on Alison, perhaps it may have become that. After all, Alison can be attributed with the most insightful quote of the film. “Difficult is just another word for anything that isn’t a man”. Well, that is indeed what this film tells us. Repeatedly. Rather than celebrating the working mothers, it ends up mocking them to a pitiful extent. Would it be entirely unreasonable for me to hold my breath for a sequel asking how working fathers manage this? Or is it only working mothers who deserve to be scrutinised?


In Defence of The Stay At Home Mother

The Guardian, and subsequently Cherie Blair, have proved quite effective in allowing me to perfect my procrastination skills, I must admit. But, some things do need saying. Cherie Blair, according to The Guardian, has been criticising women who choose “rich husbands and put their children before their career”.

Now, the Stay At Home Parent argument is one that has caused a huge conflict in myself. As a lone parent, being a stay at home parent means that I’d be reliant on the benefit system. However, as an unqualified individual (I left my first university degree in 2005, after a Marxist moment, in which I realised my career path at the time wasn’t about making people happy, but instead, about making profits) I’d be destined to a life of low paid jobs. My mother, during my visit to see her after leaving Mini-Dragon’s father, couldn’t work out which daughter would be more disgraceful; the one reliant on income support until Mini-Dragon started school, or the one who would be working every hour God (that’s what we call Tesco these days, right?) sent to provide Mini-Dragon with a decent childhood. So, I did what any logical person in that situation would do, and headed back to university. Shortly after, my mother turned grey…

Anyway, my point here is that mothers, whether lone parents or partnering with their child’s father, are criticised at every available turn. When my sister-in-law expressed a desire to return to work, my mother protested strongly about the idea of my nephew (aged nine months at the time) being put into childcare at such a young age. My sister-in-law was criticised and guilt tripped about returning to work, despite my brother’s job barely covering the bills. Yet no focus was placed on my brother. Women are, at every turn of their life, to be criticised. Men, instead, are to be praised.

To an extent, I understand Cherie Blair’s criticism of stay at home mothers. But this is a small extent. Instead of feeling that stay at home mothers should be criticised, I feel that the work industry, which makes it so difficult for mothers to return to work should they choose to stay at home for any length of time, should be criticised. The work industry, which makes it more difficult for working mothers to progress, should be criticised for regularly holding mothers back in the workplace. We’re told we have equality in the workplace, that mothers cannot be held back because they have children. However, it doesn’t always happen.

Before Mini-Dragon came along, I worked for a retail chain for a short while. Around three months into the job, a chance for a promotion arose. I found myself up against a single mother and a woman in her 50’s. Being in my early twenties, with no outside commitments, I was granted the promotion. The single mother, I still believe, was more qualified; after all, the promotion was in baby sales, and what did I, a non-parent at the time, know about sitting up all night with a teething baby, or how to treat colic? I mean, raising a child is no mean feat.

When my brother was made redundant earlier this year, he elected to become a stay-at-home parent. For various reasons, he ended up returning to work last week, but upon his telling of his plans to become a stay-at-home parent to our mother, he was immediately asked why he wouldn’t be looking for work, so his wife couldn’t drop out of work. Luckily, he defended his wife’s decision to work. But over the following few weeks, he found himself constantly praised and patronised for being a stay-at-home parent. He found mothers marvelling at how he could possibly manage potty training his son, the laundry, and even his ability to cook full meals on his own came under marvel. This was despite the fact he’d previously been a chef…

We still see raising children as “women’s work”. Which is why we allow it to be criticised so extensively. But we also see women who choose to put their careers in the spotlight as “neglecting” their children in one manner or another. It isn’t feminism to criticise a woman who stays at home to raise her children. What we need to do is begin to see the value in women staying at home, and view them in the same positive light in  which we view stay at home fathers. Once we stop berating women, no matter their choice with regards to work, we’ll see a greater equality in the workplace, with mothers who choose to work finding it easier to progress through their work.