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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.

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


Zoe - think you are doing great work at the moment, your columns in the Saturday Guardian are fab.

Obviously you have been a feminist all along, but can I ask, has having children affected/changed your views on feminism-related issues and if so, how?

Thanks. And yes! Great question...
here's how my views have changed or just solidified maybe:
- I was always pro-choice, but I didn't realise until I had children that your reproductive rights changed, determined, trumped all your other rights. That there's no point having rights to equal pay, or equal divorce or whatever, unless you first have control over when and whether you have children.
So I guess you could say it's made me more pro-abortion. In a roundabout sort of way
- I always thought the chores gap was just stupid whining, and women who made a fuss about it should either strap on a pair at home, or just have lower standards. What I didn't realise is that anyone can have low standards until they have children, and then life does become much more domestic, and you do have to have the conversation in public about how that labour is divided, because if you just keep it private, men do sod all.
- there's more.
- I'll come back to this

LeB0F Thu 14-Jun-12 13:20:39

Ooh hello Zoe- I too have loved you for years. In the absence of a sensible question, may I just ask which Malory Towers character you would be? Thankyou.

"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"

Really? I mean, genuinely interested here, really ??

I run a BF support group so I guess that makes me pretty pro-BF, and mix with lots of very pro-BF people generally, and I have actually never met anyone who thinks or says that. IMO its a bit of a straw man, to accuse those with an interest in BF support of thinking that formula is poison/devil syrup/insert derogatory term here, because that simply isn't what the massive majority of us think.

You must meet some right rude twats smile

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:22:42


Actually, I've just noticed that it is one question per poster, so, in preference to my other question I would really like to ask how you square being a feminist with stoking the media invented 'Mommy wars' fire? Personally, I don't think it's entirely helpful to women to be pitted against each other in terms of how they are raising their kids and I do feel that your article in the Guardian Saturday magazine did this.

The article about breastfeeding? Oh I really disagree - my whole point is that women should just stop having a go at one another about their infant feeding choices. It's the fact that breastfeeding is regarded as uncritically superior that sets women against one another.

FunnysInLaJardin Thu 14-Jun-12 13:25:20

following on from my previous question, I think I have my answer!

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:26:00


Hi Zoe

This is the first live chat I've ever left a question for and I'm starstruck. I have absolutely adored you for years.

Whenever I read my columns I find myself thinking "yes! That's exactly what I wish I had said when I was ranting incoherently at someone the other day!". And then thinking if only there were a way to get everyone else to read your articles they would have to concede the rightness and there'd be world peace and stuff. You are genuinely my favourite political columnist ever.

My question is - is there a writer that makes you think that?

Also I had an epidural on your advice and it was awesome. Thanks for that!

Oh you are lovely. You are my favourite commenter ever.
Erm... I really like Mehdi Hassan. I really like Paul Krugman. I like Helen Lewis on the Statesman. Obv I think Polly Toynbee is great. I love John Harris. Have you read Richard Murphy's blog? He's a tax accountant. Is hilarious. it makes no sense, a hilarious tax accountant. It's true though that I don't read as many columnists as I would if I were on holiday, because it gives you the yips, if you agree with them, you think everything's already been said, if you disagree with them, you think you're fighting a losing battle.... That makes me sound pathetic!

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:28:34


Oh, yay! I love Zoe and I am off work tomorrow. Result <Get In!>

Zoe: You are bloody clever and thoroughly sensible and very lovely. You never fail to hit the nail on the head and give it a good battering with the hammer to boot. I love your writing. You know, we could be friends. You could talk and I could just listen and nod and smile like a goon.

(OK, I am not a creepy stalker, promise <strokes Zoe's arm soothingly> grin)

Seriously, though. My questions is: What are you reading at the moment?

For the record, I have just finished 'Half Blood Blues' by Esi Edugyan (beautiful) and am now reading Toni Morrison's 'Home' (great writing, but disappointingly slight for Morrison).

p.s. Are you on wink

Thanks so much. I am going to read Half Blood Blues next on this very recommendation. I'm actually reading The Sisters Brothers, I found it in Hay, by that British Columbian author whose name is probably Patrick. And I'm reading Finance and the Good Society which makes me want to boil my head. Sisters Brothers is really good, until you lose it down the back of the toilet for two days, and then you start figuring out what will probably happen, and then you lose interest. So don't do that..

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


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

I read Waiting for the Barbarians when I was 33, and I couldn't believe I was only then reading the best book I'd ever read. I thought I knew it all...

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:31:21


Alberts I ebf for 6 months and am lighter now than when I got pg! I don't think there's a general rule that bf makes you put on weight! Quite the reverse surely?

Well, that's the thing - it works differently for different people. There isn't a rule. Apart from a study in Honduras.

ThisAintKansas Thu 14-Jun-12 13:31:23

I'm with Zoe on the bf thing.

<Oh, and its great when your kids are great, big, long-legged brats and the whole tiresome and false 'BF v FF' thing is just a distant memory, or at least the two camps are overshadowed entirely by two new camps: The 'Only alfalfa is good enough for my little Johnny' camp versus 'An orange club, panda pop and a packet of frazzles never did me any harm' camp'>


raaraathenoisyleo Thu 14-Jun-12 13:33:21

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:33:31


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?)

Well, look, my view is totally skewed by the fact that I'm on the Guardian Comment is Free site a lot, because they make me, and the people on that are so rude (not always... just when they disagree) that you have to put on some kind of psychological chain mail before you go in. So whenever I get into a conversation on Mumsnet, I'm amazed at how civilised it is, so that I sometimes think people are being sarcastic when really they're just being human beings.

MooncupGoddess Thu 14-Jun-12 13:34:01

Thanks Zoe, that is really interesting. I do remember you writing a good column on abortion in the Evening Standard about ten years ago <shows age>.

And I have just ordered Waiting for the Barbarians!

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:36:52


Zoe, I haven't read your book but I understand that it says the benefits of bf are overestimated. I stand to be corrected if this is not what you are saying.

As we are a country with very low bf rates, do you worry that this message will further undermine bf here?

Oh yes, that is what I'm saying. The point is, I'm not here to send a "message" to mums, or to increase the rates of anything. I'm a journalist: so if gov departments or third sector agencies are regularly giving out information that's misleading, or plain wrong, then I'd see that as my main task, to point that out.
But it doesn't mean I'd ever not tell people to breastfeed. Because I genuinely think it's the best thing ever. I was reading Wolf Hall when my second one was tiny, and I experienced the whole thing as hallucinogenic bliss. Then I started reading the sequel, which is fine, but it made me realise how much greyer the world is when you're not breastfeeding. So I'd be the first to tell someone that it's a good idea.

ThisAintKansas Thu 14-Jun-12 13:37:01

The Sisters Brothers is next on y reading list, now, thanks grin

As an aside: How the hell do people lose weight while breastfeeding? I was totally mis sold on that front. I thought I was going to be skin and bone from having the very life sucked out of me and all the raging hormones and 'insert sciencey bit' stuff going on. Instead, I was stuck on the settee watching way too much 'Escape to the Country' and inhaling bourbons. I have never been fatter.

Bit like the 'It just falls off once you're running around after your toddler' bollocks. My oldest was a Usain Bolt in the making at 10 mths and I was still a fat bloater.

Going back to work. That does it.

LeB0F Thu 14-Jun-12 13:38:32

I've just ordered WFTB too. I'll let you know how it compares to Blyton.

loveroflife Thu 14-Jun-12 13:40:40

no to back to work because the state of believing that elasticated waistband on leggings are fine forever as you slob around will be smashed to pieces...

moving onto proper waistbands with zips and buttons is just too traumatic...

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


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.

Well, I'm not really defending Badinter. I think she's a bit of a nutter, for reasons completely unrelated to breastfeeding. I was citing her as an example of a particular kind of thinking, that isn't often expressed.
Generally, though: sure, breastmilk is physiologically normal. I'm not saying they shouldn't drink it. I don't understand what you mean by "it's just a fact". That it's physiologically normal is a fact?
By these terms, it is more normal to eat nuts and seeds than it is to eat cheese. You know, as humans, we adapt the world as we find it so that it suits us better. I was simply asking, are the claims made for breastfeeding verifiable? And the answer is, no. But if your only claim is that it's a "norm", then sure. Nobody said breastfeeding was abnormal, least of all me.

Greedygirl Thu 14-Jun-12 13:42:21

Hi Zoe. I really enjoy your writing. Re the breastfeeding backlash article - if I had read that when I was breastfeeding I would have been angryhmmsad but my breastfeeding days ended a couple of years ago now, I found myself thinking "yep, she has a point" (sorry I didn't think anything more intellectual and insightful!), and that is the point surely - if you are in the trenches, so to speak, and dealing with cracked nipples, weird underwear and a baby who wants to feed every 2 hours then you want to hear that it is best. If you are ff your baby you want to hear that it doesn't matter. Anyway, thanks for the article, it made me think.

loveroflife Thu 14-Jun-12 13:42:31

p.s really hope my question gets answered - child is not getting fed until it is <nothing like priorities.....>

ZoeWilliams Thu 14-Jun-12 13:44:09


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?

Funnily enough, I am paying my work experience out of my own pocket right this instant. Even though she has buggered off to do something else because she thought it would be boring to watch me do a webchat
I think it's terrible, to be honest. Terrible in the media, in politics, in the third sector, I think it creates social apartheid and seals off these "desirable" careers for the people who can afford to get into them.

Greedygirl Thu 14-Jun-12 13:44:51

P.S. totally agree about the breastfeeding hormones! Lovely!

ThisAintKansas Thu 14-Jun-12 13:44:57

loveorlife, it was hard making the move from Asda pull-on dresses and leggings (Topshop extra long - the holy grail of black legging), but it had to be done some time. Wor saved my fashion sense. I had started getting excited about Next FGS.

ThisAintKansas Thu 14-Jun-12 13:45:05


cerealqueen Thu 14-Jun-12 13:47:50

Hi Zoe
What aspect of Motherhood have you found most challenging?

For me, coming to it a bit later, it is the lack of me time, being able to do whatever I wanted whenever and (while I have two young ones at home) the ability to leave the house on a whim, not like its a military operation. smile

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