I’ve been watching The Good Wife, a TV series that takes its plot inspiration from American political sex scandals. Alicia Florrick stands by her husband Peter, a former State Attorney as he serves jail time and after being a stay at home mum returns to the workplace to become a litigator. It’s fairly standard stuff in terms of a drama; a somewhat imaginative office structure combined with out there cases and a simmering undercurrent of sexual tension. But the exploration of a woman being stoic as prostitutes sell their story and her marital problems are sold as entertainment is pretty gripping. Alicia is not religious and her reasons for being “the good wife” are complex. She’s far from stupid or lacking in options.

Then there are a growing number of women in America who have intelligence and options and are choosing to forgo further education or employment in order to be stay at home daughters. There are also many that lack choices and are trapped in abusive relationships where (for now) the bully is her father rather than her partner. Here I’m curious about the girls who seemingly make the choice willingly.

I could no more have stayed at home to serve my father while he chose a husband for me than I could stand by a man who publically humiliated me but I can understand the wife more than the daughter. I’d struggle to support the politician who dragged me through the mud because I’m not cut out to be a politician’s wife. Those that excel at the role often have faith in something bigger than their marriage; they have faith in the cause. It’s rather like a business that is bigger than the partnership. When Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana ended their romantic relationship they maintained their brand. It must have been hugely challenging but there was a passion for their work that sustained them. Is a political marriage not similar to that? The husband and I are nothing more than a love match. Take away love and we’re just two people. The same was not true for Bill and Hilary Clinton. The Clintons are a brand and a business in a country where spouses and offspring are as essential as a campaign manager to political success.

I think my struggle to comprehend the stay at home daughter is that I see little distinction between them and more conventional Christian daughters. The Christian Patriarchy Movement is largely the work of Vision Forum, an organisation that appears to have its roots firmly in commerce.* The stay at home daughter movement is fiercely anti-feminist in that it makes subservience to men the only goal but most of the things these girls are meant to aspire to, is aspiration in much of religious America.

What I find most difficult to stomach is the utter reduction of female capabilities. I’m pretty liberal in my views on relationships; for instance I find the distinction between marriage and civil partnerships in the UK to be unnecessary and overly bureaucratic (why have two sets of laws when you can just have one?). Yet within my own life I’m fairly traditional. I truly believe that one of the greatest contributions I make to my stepsons lives is cooking meals that are eaten with family around a table. Yes I’m a feminist but I choose to put time and effort into my homemaking.

The thing is, it’s not rocket science. I mastered some of the qualities (I confess I cannot knit) of a good wife by Vision Forum’s standards alongside a career. I learned solid family roots at home and have put them down in my married life. I learned to cook and clean and decorate while studying and working. The fact I have a PhD is completely compatible with the fact I make amazing carrot cake.

Homemaking can be fun but it only takes up so much time (unless you’re going to eschew dishwashers and washing machines, vacuum cleaners and electric irons). Jerry Hall’s observation that women should be maids in the living room, cooks in the kitchen and whores in the bedroom actually only covers some of what I think is to be aspired to (if we’re going to go down this route). In my marriage I have played a key supporting role in hearing out the husband’s daily news and being able to be constructive due to having also worked in an office and having managed people. Sure a fresh apple pie served to him on a polished dining table by me in a negligee would be appreciated (it might happen one day) but my real world experience is what makes me a wife that truly supports her man.

Obviously I’m looking at this the wrong way. The stay at home daughter movement is about weak men intimidated by women, men that need women to be brought down a couple of notches in order to for them to manage a relationship with them. Religion is simply an excuse and plenty of non-abusive Christians take issue with the movement.

This is a subject often claimed by those with extreme or bizarre views. I want to be clear that when I say the question of how to be a good wife/partner is important to women I hold the equal view that the question of how to be a good husband/partner is important to men – it’s just that here I’m just talking about women.

I mean, I assume the majority of people enter matrimony (or civil partnership – being a good wife to your wife is no different) they do so hoping that in addition to their needs and desires being met that they will support and inspire their spouse. So how do you do that?

I personally like Benjamin Franklins words to his friend Jack Alleyne on hearing news of his marriage.

Pray make my compliments and best wishes acceptable to your bride. I am old and heavy, or I should ere this have presented them in person. I shall but make small use of the old man's privilege, that of giving advice to younger friends. - treat your wife always with respect; it will procure respect to you, not from her only, but from all that observe it. Never use a slighting expression to her, even in jest; for slight in jest, after frequent bandyings are apt to end in angry earnest. Be studious in your profession, and you will be learned. Be industrious and frugal, and you will be rich. Be sober and temperate, and you will be healthy. Be in general virtuous, and you will be happy! At least you will by such conduct, stand the best chance for such consequences.

* Sorry if I appear excessively cynical.


 
 
While the vast majority of working mothers are ordinary women who happen to have both jobs and children, whenever the likes of the Daily Mail report on how they can’t handle their kids or that their kids are destined to pursue ‘unnatural sex acts’ (I’ve always liked that phrase given the utter lack of naturalness in our diet and daily activities, why ought our sex lives be “natural”?) or that working mothers increase cancer causing immigrants to enter the country, the picture tends to be of a woman in a suit, wearing heels and disregarding her child. A popular image is her looking glamorous and frustrated, seemingly because her child can’t be managed like a spreadsheet. The woman is rarely shown dropping the kid off at school in a v-necked jumper and low heels mostly on time for her ordinary office job. That’d be a bit boring.

I wouldn’t say I’m especially glamorous but my work in public* involves client meetings and networking events and as a copywriter I am my own product so I aim to look at least polished and professional. Perhaps not quite as smart as the typically depicted power women inconvenienced by offspring but in that direction.

On Thursday mornings I attend a business club, GIN. I get up at 5.30am to shower, blow-dry my hair, apply make-up and put on a smart outfit. As I make the short journey to Hatherley Manor I think about what I’ll say in my 60 second pitch about my business. I aim to arrive in plenty of time for the 6.45am start.

In a fortnights time the husbands ex wife will be dropping off their youngest son as the event draws to an end. My handbag will contain a sticker book and a drink to hopefully occupy said four year old while I finish up any conversations with my fellow club members. Me caring for my stepson each Thursday is the best childcare solution we have come to given a recent change in family circumstances and I’m thrilled to be doing it but it represents a big change in how I compartmentalise my life.

Anyone who knows me at all well knows I have stepchildren. It’s one of the things that first made me realise I had become a parent; parents can’t help but talk about their children. It’s hard to make casual conversation and not mention them given how they influence your life.

But with me it was a vague thing. I didn’t do school runs, I wasn’t an in the thick of it parent. It was known there were children in my life but I wasn’t a mum. I’m still not of course but I’m taking on the role. After GIN I will drive my stepson home and change into something more suitable for a day with a child. In the afternoon we’ll pick the eldest up from school. Aside from responding to emails and answering my phone I won’t be working but our day together will include my weekly errands.

I’m comfortable with my working self and I’m comfortable in my role as Kay (what my stepsons call me, a name that is just for them) but I can’t quite get my head around there being a public transition. Sticker book alongside business cards, handshakes exchanged for a small sticky paw to ensure safe passage across a car park, ‘Email me and I’ll send you the details’ then ‘yes honey we can go to the airport to look at planes this afternoon.’

When my mum first met the boys she commented on there seemingly being a stage missing. The husband was holding hands with the eldest as I pushed the sleeping baby in the buggy. My pushing a buggy without having been pregnant, planning a nursery and having a baby was surreal for her. This for me is the surreal moment. I suppose it’s because until now I’ve been an occasional babysitter or co-parenting with the husband. This is the first time I’ll be running part of the show.

Last week the boys’ mum dropped them off around 3.30 in the afternoon. The husband was at work and they were both a bit grouchy after a long car journey. I decided to take them to the park and realised it was the first decision I’d really made for them. It was liberating but daunting.

You expect to practise on a baby. In fourteen days I start doing it one day a week with a four and a seven year old.

Wish me luck!

* Of course the majority of my time is spent at home and I don’t dress up purely for the benefit of my cats.

 
 
This week the husband and I took a short holiday in The Netherlands. It is somewhere I’d never given much thought to as when perusing Easyjet destinations I tend to gravitate towards those that promise sunshine. But last year a friend moved to Amsterdam and issued an open invitation for us to stay. I’ve always enjoyed seeing friends in different places and have one girlfriend I’ve never seen in the same place twice (Kota Kinnabalu, Jakarta, Bath and London) so Amsterdam it would be.   

It was by accident I selected Easter weekend (I tend to think in terms of whether or not we have the boys with us only) but this meant that by booking a single days annual leave we could have a five day holiday. Rather than stick to Amsterdam we decided to also visit Delft.   

A big part of the appeal of visiting Delft for me was that it is the setting for Girl with a pearl earring; a rare example of a film I believe does justice to the book. In Girl with a pearl earring we follow Greet as she becomes a maid in the house of the artist Johannes Vermeer and through her experience his work comes to life.   

I’m a fan of Vermeer’s work but was relatively unfamiliar with it as he produced so little. I’ve seen at least half a dozen Van Gogh’s as I’ve visited galleries on my travels but I still managed to not see a Vermeer before leaving The Netherlands. We did however, see a fascinating exhibition of to scale reproductions in the order in which they’d been painted.    

I was quite pleased to point out Woman with a pearl necklace to the husband as it seems he cannot let a reference to Girl with a pearl earring go by without referencing pearl necklaces, something I find rather tedious in its immaturity.   

Delft was charming. There is a real eclecticism to the architectural style once you look beyond the tall slimness that unifies the buildings. The New Church in particular appealed to us with its multitiered tower.
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Delft New Church
Compared to Amsterdam, the relationship between the canal and the street was more intimate. The water was always open and near. We were surprised at the perilous parking as mere inches from car tyres the paving suddenly dropped away to the waters edge. On our boat trip we had the opportunity to ask a local how many cars met with a watery death each year. ‘Two to three’ we were cheerfully informed and it is always a cause for a good laugh!

Amsterdam’s famous floating flower market lacked impact for me. Encased in plastic, there was little to suggest a connection to the water. Instead it felt isolated. Throughout the city, the graceful bridges lifted you above the canals. The roads with their regular trams are what connects the city together whereas in Delft the roads fit around the canals.

Of course Amsterdam is known for a couple of other things but despite the coffee shops (if you just want coffee you want a cafe or a bar it seemed) and ladies behind the red velvet curtains it’s quite a conservative place. While the cafe culture of daytime drinking was in evidence, that beer was quite possibly one of the many 0% options.

I guess I thought The Netherlands would share similarities with Cambodia (where spliffs were on the menu in many of the restaurants I visited) but the counter culture was subtle; integrated yes but not significant. We had a couple of good meals in the red light district and while I might be reluctant to take my stepsons to them, it didn’t feel like an especially novel part of the city. I forgot several times that the area was supposedly notorious. 


While the weather left something to be desired, we had a great time and The Netherlands is high on our list for somewhere to revisit with the kids. The rain put us off visiting the Keukenhof Gardens (although we saw some lovely tulip fields from the train) and I hope to make that trip as a family. I certainly think Amsterdam is one of the most family friendly cities I’ve visited!
 
 
I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard of Samantha Brick, Daily Fail journalist styling herself as being so delusional she’s giving Liz Jones a run for her money. In case you haven’t, she drew the world’s attention on Monday when she wrote this article; 'There are downsides to looking this pretty': Why women hate me for being beautiful.

It’s somewhat bewildering. I think the comments that she’s ugly are a bit silly as she’s clearly an attractive woman but beautiful? That seems a bit of a stretch. She claims to have lost friends because they were threatened by her presence around their husbands. Really? A chill would apparently descend if she spoke to their other halves. Perhaps there is a magical charisma that doesn’t come across in the pictures or her writing but I’m really not convinced that has happened. One comment that stood out was that nobody has ever asked her to be a bridesmaid.

I am far from endlessly brimming with confidence and yet when it came to my wedding there was no question in my mind who I wanted by my side as my supporting girl. I chose my brother’s girlfriend because we’re close, she is endlessly enthusiastic and was eager to be involved. On the day she demanded I leave other preparations and have my shower so she had time to do my hair. She was great. She’s also stunning; tall, slim and with long glossy hair she’s one of those women that always looks polished.

Brick says ‘You’d think we women would applaud each other for taking pride in our appearances.’ Well I think we do. I aspire to my brother’s girlfriend’s level of grooming. I admire her for it but beyond that her looks are largely irrelevant to me. I like her for her enthusiasm and kindness, because she’s funny and sweet.

And women don’t even have to be modest. When my friend Jelly got married she looked amazing. I think my words were, ‘Oh honey, you look gorgeous’ (cue a little welling up at my lovely friend in her fab dress and shiny new husband) but her words I’ll never forget; ‘I know!’ She later added that we should burn her image in our minds because she’d never look so hot again and everyone loved her for it. Women can like attractive women. I’m happy for my friends when they start fashion blogs, find a style that suits them or meet a weight or fitness target. I get plenty of compliments back from my girlfriends. Women can be lovely!

On Tuesday Brick followed up the article with another saying that the bile just proves I’m right. I’m not sure how the likes of Duncan Bannatyne asking if what she’d written was a joke is deemed so insulting as it seems a pretty reasonable question to me but I do think it’s sad that she’s managed to ostracise friends; When I logged on to Facebook, I found a group of them had torn me to shreds. Some were asking: 'What the hell does Sam think she's on?' Others I haven't seen since college had crawled out of the woodwork to criticise me for 'always being like that' — and even for having a 'girly voice'.

A girly voice? Ah now perhaps I understand. Is she one of those women that talks a little softly, a little breathily? The kind of woman that thinks herself a bit Marilyn Monroe and speaks in such a way that men have to lean in a little to hear her. It’s an effective technique I’ve used myself. If you widen your eyes a little and look captivated it’s not impossible to make a man think you’re captivating. Make out they are attractive and they find you more attractive. It’s how women flirt. There are times when it can be fun to use.

But when a woman does it all the time to every man she meets it comes across not only as desperate but pretty disrespectful when the man is in a relationship and his partner is right there. I would have no problem with Brick talking to the husband at a party but if she was using that breathy little girl voice I wouldn’t want her for a friend.

To be honest I think that ultimately this is Brick selling out. Richard Bloch, International PR manager for Betfair, tweeted on Tuesday ‘Samantha Brick made the Daily Mail £30K yesterday (1.5M page views x £20 CPM rate card).’

While I think that Liz Jones is a genuinely unhappy person that part of me would quite like to give a hug and a square meal to, I think Brick understands her value is tied to her ability to incite backlash in a clearer way. I think she’s selling out in a rather demeaning manner but I don’t think she’s a victim of a manipulative editor. I think she seeks opportunities to build her value to the paper regardless of how she needs to portray herself.

It’s a dangerous game as it’s tough to come back from, tough to later insist was commissioned work embellished to make a good story. This has put Brick in the public consciousness and whether she’s considered to be delusional or someone who’ll say anything for money, she’s cast herself in a role that others will give a wide bearth.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t write something I didn’t believe to be true and if I was to believe something on a level with Brick’s work I’m pretty sure the husband would encourage me to retract the piece and perhaps think about seeking some help.

Hadley Freeman for The Guardian suggests The Mail simply threw Samantha Brick to the wolves and is rather sympathetic to the plight of freelancers. I like her piece and she makes good points but ultimately I think Brick is old enough to know better, she certainly sells herself as such.   The truth is probably a mix of delusional nutter, sell out and victim of a tabloid but it’s been interesting seeing how crazy it all went.
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Even without the added tag this is an odd photo!