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Zoe Williams - Live webchat, Thursday 14 June, 1-2 pm

(102 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 12-Jun-12 11:42:22

Journalist Zoe Williams is joining us for a webchat at MNHQ on Thursday 14 June at 1pm. Zoe's latest book, What Not to Expect When You're Expecting, is a refreshing antidote to the standard pregnancy and parenting books. It considers issues such as the overbearing public guidelines on what not to eat or drink and weighs up the relative merits of different childcare routines - 'It doesn't make any sodding difference.'

Zoe is best known as a Guardian columnist, where she once wrote: 'They are brilliant on Mumsnet. They know everything. If you wanted to know how soon you could breastfeed after taking an E, someone on Mumsnet could probably tell you.' She also writes for the New Statesman, The Spectator, NOW Magazine, London Cyclist and the London Evening Standard.

She lives in London with her partner and two children.

Join her on Thursday at 1pm or post a question to Zoe ahead of the webchat here.

AgentProvocateur Thu 14-Jun-12 08:23:44

Zoe, what's the best book you've ever read as an adult?

FfoFfycsecs Thu 14-Jun-12 10:07:57

Right, I've thought of a question. It's a crap one, sorry.
Are you on mumsnet? And what's your opinion of the website (given as we're a bit of a target in the media recently who think we're all middle class whingers?)

maples Thu 14-Jun-12 10:08:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

I'd like to ask about the 'backlash against breastfeeding' article.

Do you accept that breastmilk is the physiologically normal food for a baby?

It therefore has no 'benefits', overstated or otherwise. Its not an 'orthodoxy' to state that breastfeeding is the biological/physiological norm for a baby, nor is it a matter of opinion. Its just a fact [shrug]

As far as the feminism argument goes, I think it is pretty anti-woman for big business to be allowed to undermine our biological norms, and the future health of ourselves and our babies, in the name of profits. And as for Elisabeth Badinter, she bangs on about how awful it is for the poor father to be 'completely put aside' whilst his partner dedicates herself to breastfeeding - classic 'what about the menz' if ever I heard it hmm My partner, as an adult male, is perfectly able to recognise that the needs of an infant need to come first and that it is not forever.

MrsMicawber Thu 14-Jun-12 11:33:31

Zoe, bearing in mind your article on the jubilee jobseekers, how do you feel about media jobs being contingent on first securing an unpaid internship, and thus blocking out anyone who can't afford to work for nothing?

Even if the paper you worked for supplied you with an unpaid assistant as part of an industry wide status quo, would you consider paying him/her out of your own pocket?

LateDeveloper Thu 14-Jun-12 11:51:02

Hi Zoe

Really enough fawning already. Once you've finished vomming here's a q for you: As a feminist yourself where would you put mumsnet on the conservative/reactionary to radical/progressive scale? Do forums like this advance womenkind or help hold us back?

ThisAintKansas Thu 14-Jun-12 11:58:03

Good question@MrsMicawber. I work with young people and there is o way in unless you can afford to work for free.

manfrom Thu 14-Jun-12 12:13:12

Hi Zoe

You wrote recently about social mobility and said that one of the great problems was a fear of slipping down the class ladder. Is this a personal fear you have as well for your children? You had the benefit of a great education which I'm sure helped you get your job at the Guardian - and presumably you'd want your DCs to have the same opportunities. I'm interested as there's a fairly lively debate on MN about private education.

FunnysInLaJardin Thu 14-Jun-12 12:46:37

I'd also like to say thank for providing a common sense approach to pregnancy child birth and child rearing. It's not often that someone in the public eye dares to be so forthright. It really helped me when I was pregnant with DS2 and validated a lot of my choices.

Do you find you get criticised for being so sensible?

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 14-Jun-12 13:01:18

Zoe's just rushed in and we'll be off in a sec...

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:02:01

Hello everyone
Sorry I'm late, thanks for all your questions, I am going to answer them in a random order as quickly as I can

mollythetortoise Thu 14-Jun-12 13:03:05

hello Zoe, I like your children's name although I hadn't heard of your sons name before. Where did you get them from - literature/ family members/baby names on mumsnet?

loveroflife Thu 14-Jun-12 13:03:31

Hi Zoe,

I'd like to know what subjects you love writing about the most? What really is a joy to write about and what is not. Are you fully responsible for deciding what your weekly subject matter is your column or do you act on a editors instructions?

Thanks - keep writing and I'll keep reading


ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:04:14


according to amazon review, its just her old book with a new cover and a new name.. i checked it out, and it is, the same blurb and everything... thats not very good is it!

No, this is totally true: it's the same book, in a paperback edition. This is made doubly complicated by the fact that the first edition was also a paperback, and then complicated again by the change of name. It totally sucks. The first person to review it on Amazon said "i liked it the first time, now I just feel sorry for her."
I am going to make it my mission of 2012 to make sure nobody buys it by accident.

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:04:48


oh that's right, she was the first woman ever to be pregnant, even before Myleene Klass... grin

And I'm the first woman to be able to play the piano while pregnant.
oh no, wait...

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:05:56


Zoe, I don't have any questions about parenting. But I did really like the article you wrote a few months ago about how the State is subsidising companies such as Tesco by letting them get away with paying minimum wage and then the State having to top up the low wages with benefits.

Ok, rant over .... back to parenting....

Funnily enough I was arguing about this last night with roger alton on Sky Papers. They don't seem to get it at all that wages out to be set at an amount you can live on. This seems to be a totally alien concept... which is bizarre, it's like having to go back to the beginning and argue about slavery all over again. sorry rant over. for now

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:09:56


Oh fuckity buggery bollocks. I think Zoe is absolutely fabulous and would love to be part of the webchat.

Unfortunately I am working Athens this week where the temperature is in the mid 30s and it isn't raining and so I will be a bit busy and not able to take part.

Not that I want to rub your noses in it or anything grin

My question for Zoe - I think, possibly inevitably, that you ended up writing columns about pregnancy/childbirth/babies because of your lifestage. Obviously these will have paid the bills. But do you feel that there is a lot of pressure on women in the media to write such columns? Whilst they are/were hugely entertaining, and well written, I did sometimes feel that you had been sidelined into 'soft/fluffy' instead of more serious journalism - and I notice now that you are writing much more serious stuff. Or was this your choice?

By the way, it's bloody hot here ...

<legs it>

Sheesh Athens must be interesting...
Erm... I had always written a lot about myself, even pre-pregnancy, as a kind of slag about town (I'm not using the word slag perjoratively. I was very proud of this). So I didn't feel that I was poisoning my brand, particularly. It was pretty fluffy before.
But actually you're right, writing about parenting is a very particular pigeonhole for women, and when I got back to work, partly because I never put a pin in the calendar and said "right, I'm back at work", I found that for ages, years, I never got asked to do anything that wasn't baby related. And that is totally decimating to a career, because you don't stay a "young mum" forever. I ended up having a stupid tantrum and refusing to write anything at all personal, which carried its own penalties....

mollythetortoise Thu 14-Jun-12 13:11:42

p.s enjoyed your article on trolling yesterday (or maybe day before). I didn't realise trolling came from the fishing technique rather than the ones under the bridge.

I agreed with your point that the name Troll given to the people who do this sort of thing, glamorises them somewhat and makes them sound menancing and interesting whereas we should just call them "rude people" as that is exactly what they are and just makes them sound a bit silly

I wonder if the fact that everyone has an onscreen name rather than their own name is what makes it easier to be rude and hurtful to people.
Even my daughter (8) has various screen personas (club penguin, moshi monsters, superclubs etc) so it is obviously the way everyone interacts on the internet now. Not sure what can be done about that though.

vezzie Thu 14-Jun-12 13:15:06

Hi Zoe,
Just saw your piece in yesterday's Guardian about trolls. I think you noted that when people do get legally santioned for online abuse, it's usually racist, and nasty sexist abuse is generally ignored or tolerated. Assuming I have sort of paraphrased you alright (do say if not), why do you think this is, and what do you think, if anything, could be done about it? In general do you think legal sanctions are the right way to not-tolerate online abuse?

(sorry about incoherence, v. spur of the moment as saw your piece out of the corner of my eye this morning and then saw you on mn just now on my lunch break!)

moonbells Thu 14-Jun-12 13:15:14

Hi Zoë
Hope the family's doing well - I used to really look forward to your anti-natal column, as my bump was only a couple of weeks behind your first... my Mum used to cut them out the paper and send them to me, not realising I could get them online! grin

How do you find juggling the childcare now you have two? And are you feeling just a little bit daunted by T going to school in Sept?

(Can't think of anything more intelligent to ask today, sorry!)

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:16:00


Hi I read your article about 'The Backlash against breastfeeding' and found it very interesting. I was wondering why, if you think that the studies showing 'breast is best' are methodologically flawed why the government and the health profession are so keen to promote it and to push so much money and resources at the campaign?
I exclusively breastfed for 6 months and at the end of it was exhausted and 3 stone heavier. I did it because I believed some of the hype and felt I had to try and do my best for my ds coming from an asthma prone family. Frankly I would be quite cross if I found out it was a badly researched load of old twaddle. I never swallowed the whole higher IQ bit mind you.

Interesting question, I've thought about this a lot and don't have an answer (you don't often get a chance to say that, because you're usually in a fight with someone who thinks formula is the syrup of the anti-christ).
I basically think a) there's a lot of lobbying goes on about this - I counted fifty separate breastfeeding charities (well, I counted them because they all complained about me en masse), but no lobbying at all from the what-if-it's-not-all-that? side. Formula companies have signed this tacit code that they all accept that breast is best, partly as a kind of penance for the outrageous developing world stuff. So you have gov departments which don't necessarily have a view one way or the other, under a lot of pressure from organisations with a v strong view in one direction, and no voice from the other side.
b) there is so much of this early years intervention stuff, and a constant struggle to find that silver bullet that makes children from some families do better from the word go than children from other families. So they're constantly trying to fix on a point of difference - these people breastfeed, or they read to their children, or they eat more quinoa - and then work back from there as to why it might make such a big developmental difference. In these conditions, everybody is poised to overstate.

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:16:30


Zoe, you had a go at methodological problems wrt breastfeeding research, yet you are happy to quote the opinions of a woman who works for a formula company wrt how 'good' or otherwise breastfeeding is.

Have you read 'The Politics Of Breastfeeding'?

Which one works for a formula company?

mydoorisalwaysopen Thu 14-Jun-12 13:16:36

Hello Zoe
I'm sorry I'm not a guardian reader so don't know your work or you book. How do you find bringing up kids in London? Did you grow up in London yourself.

bagelmonkey Thu 14-Jun-12 13:19:04

Hi Zoe
Just wondering how much you research things before doing them in your own life? I find that, when it comes to having children, I'm just making it all up as I go along & doing my research after the event when I'm trying to trouble shoot.

LadySybildeChocolate Thu 14-Jun-12 13:19:44

Hi smile I'm just wondering how your writing started off? I'd love to write some articles/column, but no idea where to start. I think I can string a sentence together, so I have a little hope. Any tips (please)?

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