Thursday, 5 February 2009

What's in a name?

I wrote this post in high dudgeon last week, and sent it off to Alpha Mummy who - unsurprisingly, and possibly understandably - never got back to me on it. I think though that it's still relevant, so here you are: a rant, from me, now more than a little cold...

Do you ever get sick of being labelled? I do. You meet someone new, they learn a very few basic facts about you, and boom, you're neatly filed into a category. If a mother isn't a Yummy Mummy, she's a Slummy Mummy. If not an Alpha Mummy, she's a Stay at Home Mummy, or any other of a number of faintly insulting and derogative names. Well now, it seems, she could also be a Prommie.

What - you haven't heard of that last one? After announcing the death of the Yummy the week before last (she passed away after a short illness; it's called the Recession and the killing blow was hubby losing his job, apparantly), the Times then introduced me to a new breed; the Prommie. The 'Professional Mummy'. She was once a high flier but due to market forces finds herself out of work and looking for a new project. Enter her children.

Now, I could start getting all cross and hot under the collar about innocent children becoming the unwilling focus of results-orientated mothers who never take time to stop and smell the roses, instead following a punishing schedule driving their children from improving play-date, to improving tennis lesson, to improving Chinese tutorial, but you know what?

It's all rubbish.

Sure, I imagine that there are some mums out there who, recently made redundant, will follow this path. But - news flash - there are plenty of mums who never had high-achieving careers who do that already. We all know them. (A lot of us avoid them, not from dislike, but more as a result of the guilt they invariably induce. You know, that we are at home drinking tea - or wine - and throwing together dinner, whilst our kids unwind with some down-time watching tv after school, rather than talking brightly to - sorry, at - our progeny in high pitched voices about the feeding habits of dinosaurs whilst we all construct a scale model of Pompeii from matchsticks.)

And I would bet good money that there are plenty of mothers who, still reeling from the shock of being cast out into the cold by their increasingly desperate ex-employers, would be appalled to find themselves shoved firmly into the 'Prommie' box before they've even shaken the dust of the City from their shoes. Just as are the plethora of good looking mums in Uggs and skinny jeans who, whilst resigned to the label, really don't think of themselves as posessing the empty-headedness implied by the name 'Yummy Mummy'. (On the flip side, of course, there are those mothers for whom the term 'Yummy' is a badge of honour, and who will probably be rather concerned to hear the no doubt pre-emptive tales of their demise.)

Surely, life should be about balance? Pigeon-holing a person, whilst convenient, is rarely accurate.

What are you, for example? If, like me, you live in central London, and rely on your husband's income to pay the bills, whilst going to the gym 3 times a week, you fit right into the Yummy box. No doubt about it.

But then you might also drive a beat up 8 year old car in an extremely unfashionable colour of an even more unfashionable make. Your hair may need cutting, your shoes need reheeling, and your living room might looks like a bomb's hit it. Well then, you are obviously a Slummy, yes?

Wait, though. What about if you cook from scratch (never mind that in my case it's largely because of allergies, these labels aren't interested in the reasons why we do things, only that we do), and don't have an au-pair or a nanny. Well, you must be a born-again Stay At Home.

Hang on there; supposing you encourage your children to speak a second language (again, it's irrelevant to the label-lovers that this might be because you are a bilingual couple), and take them to sports lessons and playdates after school more than once a week. Is that 'Prommie' I hear you say?

Hold your horses though; what if you are working part-time, paid or unpaid, with an ambitious long-term goal in sight, be it studying for a degree, setting up your own home-based business, or trying to establish a second career? Is there the potential for an Alpha in there?

What's my point? Simply this. We all have the potential to be so many things, and none of them are exclusive. We could be slummy, yummy, prommie, working, stay at home, born-again, blogging, and sometimes hopeless. All at the same time. By categorising too fiercely, or by dividing into cliques at the school gates, in the work-place, or wherever, we could be denying ourselves the opportunity to reach out to other people who might enrich our lives, and just as importantly, who's lives we could in turn enrich.

These labels, the ones that start off as sound-bites in a radio interview or catch-phrases in a magazine article, and which often end up as derogatory terms to refer to a way of life we might not agree with; they are simply there as shorthand. They might neatly sum up one aspect of a person's life at a particular moment, but they certainly don't sum up the whole individual.

That's it - rant over.



  1. And in a different direction I'm tired of entire generations getting named because once the Baby Boomers got named, marketers felt the need to brand the following generation into X - what does X mean??? Because no one knows the following generation got named Y and then 2000 range is Z. What's next, AA or Alpha, Beta, Capa???

  2. Yayyyy - that was amazing, and perfect..... I could be labelled in so many ways (and probably am) but they are all as wrong as they are right. The media compartmentalises to suit the current prejudices and the time has come to bite back. Thank you

  3. Brilliantly written rant, PM (and more fool Alpha Mummy for not publishing it, as it's superior to much of their content...)

    Agree with much of what you say - although I also think that some of the stereotypes can be quite amusing if taken light-heartedly. But stereotypes they are, and nobody fits one label. I certainly don't!

  4. SB, I know, I never understood the 'X' thing. Is there some mathmatical formula behind it, you know 25 years for each letter from the year 0 to now? Can't be bothered to do the sums to find out, I'm afraid...

    Thanks TR. Got myself a little hot under the collar on this one, but now it's out in the open I feel MUCH better!

    Hi NVG, I don't blame them, it directly criticises some of their previous content and I'm sure they get cross posts through every day! And of course I agree with you on the light-hearted approach - it's just that when I wrote it I was a bit tired, quite cross, and somewhere along the line my sense of humour took a holiday. Hence the apology at the end!

  5. Good rant. I hate labels. Don't we all.

    The odd thing is that we are careful to avoid labeling children these days. We don't talk about "good babies", or say "he's the sporty one" or "she's the clever one". But we seem happy to do it to adults.

    Of course "Alpha Mummy" is a label, so maybe they didn't like a rant against labels (although I'm sure they use the label in an ironic self-comedic post-modern way, of course...)

  6. PM, fantastic post, it definitely should have been published. (P.S. is it sad that I'd secretly like to be called a Yummy Mummy and fit into skinny jeans?).

  7. Great rant. Labels are just a lazy way of trying to understand people, categorising them, rather than actually understanding them.

    I'm sure a tabloid (depending on the story) could easily refer to me as a Young(ish) Professional, Spinster or possibly a Fulham Floozie (I wish!). None of which go milimetres to describing Me.

    But most of the time I'd prefer to be just Mud.

  8. OOooh, PM, love it when you're cross, you're so on the button, why on earth didn't Alpha print this? She must have been too busy getting her nails done, tee hee! xx

  9. I like a good rant. But is 'working mum' just another label? Have I unwittingly added to the problem? I didn't think 'not quite coping with working and being a mum' was a good title for a blog! :)

  10. Great dummy spit! Love it and agree with you. Hate the labelling. You realise that, of course, from where I sit (Down Under), you're actually a Pommie Mummy. ;P

  11. Well said PM. I really don't understand this need to categorise everyone and everything into neat little boxes. We are not nice regular shapes and we do not fit! Although I suppose it might be good for a laugh to pick a 'Mummy type' for each day of the week and rotate our way through.

  12. Good point about the children, Iota. Never thought of it that way before...

    Thanks FK - and secretly, wouldn't we all?

    I'll remove Fulham Floozie from my address book then and just put you back as Mud, Mud...

    DD, thankyou and I'm sure that if she were (getting her nails done) it will have been in a very current shade like dark plum or black...

    WM, don't worry about it - I called myself Potty Mummy, remember?

    Hi Tracey - and you would be right, that's one label I can't argue with!

    Sharon, not a bad idea - and you could make a great story from the results!

  13. Good post. Wonder what I am? Apart from a WAHM, of course! We are all just mums underneath it all.

  14. The other part of this is - why are we defined as mothers ALONE. I mean, we didn't hand in our passports to being defineable as anything but mothers when we gave birth.

    Don't get me wrong - I love it, I am proud to be a mother - but I am also a woman and a human and I don't want to have, at all times, a fence between me and a lot of women I know who don't/won't/can't have children just because of that factor.

  15. Oh, I'm hopeless... but you're funny and that's good, no?

  16. i wanna be a prommie! i wanna be a prommie!

    it's better than 'that hippie home educating mother of triplets godhelpme'

  17. Tasha, so true.

    Jeanie, I know, but really I suppose we're all guilty of putting up barriers like that (myself included despite the cross preaching in my post!)

    Sparx, hopeless mums of the world (and London especially!) unite...

    You see Grit, I would have thought you of all people deserve the title of Prommie? (In a good way, obviously!)

  18. Here in the US there are two types of moms. There are the Stay At Homes and the Working Moms. Stay At Homes are wonderful, amazing people who sacrifice everything they have for their children. Working Moms are those who are cheating their children and only think about careers.

    The only problem with this? Some working moms have to work, because if they don't they lose their house. And some Stay at Home Moms hate staying at home, resent their children, and use their time to sell drugs.

    So...labels suck. I agree.

    I forgot the Single Moms. We've got a lot of those. And a few single dads.

    Anyhow, blah,blah,blah I'm writing fast as I head out the door to church, but I loved this post, suffice to say. Very nicely put.

  19. And actually, the media doesn't put the labels on...other mothers do.

    Just for the record. :-) The media does put some labels on, but it had to come from somewhere first, right?

    As a member of the "evil media" I just had to say something. I'm not a member of the "big media" so I have a lot of issues with them too, but the media isn't always to blame. SO is society and it is high time we realized that we need to take responsiblity for what we are letting the "media" tell us. That's just my opinion. ;-)


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