Wednesday, 7 March 2012

An Open Letter To The Daily Mail : Please Back Off Gina Ford

For those who have missed it, this week there has been a Twitstorm over a Daily Mail article, headlined "Don’t say no to sex, even if you are not ready, childcare guru Gina Ford tells new mothers". This is my response.

Dear Daily Mail,

First of all, please let me explain that I am not a devotee of Gina Ford's Contented Baby series; it's not really my cup of tea. However, being a new parent can be a confusing and frightening time, so I can see why people might turn to the books as a way of managing. As people endlessly say to parents in the first few months, babies don't come with a manual, so I'm sure some would find that the provision of a manual a welcome thing. As I say, it's not my cup of tea, but I wouldn't presume to suggest to those parents who follow Ford's advice that they're doing it wrong. They're doing what's keeping them sane and working for them.

Babies, fine. They are delightful, but they are also confusing, alienating and even a bit harrowing at times. Let's be honest, none of us know what we're doing; we're all just muddling along as best we can.
But I find myself in a position I never thought I would be, and I have a message for you - Dear Daily Mail, back off Gina Ford. Stop it.

Of course, now she has a new book out and is sticking her oar in to the myriad of pro- and pre- scriptions that are ladled out to new mothers, I can see you were delighted with this article-fodder. Makes a change from finding things to complain about other than house prices, immigrants and Liz Jones' spunk-burglary, and there's always a danger that without that, you may have to report on the Leveson Inquiry. I've been doing a bit of reading around, you see. It's difficult to see what's Gina and what is part of the Daily Mail's enormous wooden spoon used to stir things with. You report that Gina Ford appears to suggest that a new mother shows 'sexual interest in her partner 4 - 6 weeks after giving birth'. That's a very specific timescale. However, one article implies Ford said women should 'grin and bear it' and in another article says someone on the contentedbaby website said it. One article uses the headline "Don’t say no to sex, even if you are not ready, childcare guru Gina Ford tells new mothers", yet another article that came out on the website 8 hours later reports  "Ford told The Times she would stop short of advising women to have sex before they are ready to." Of course, that comment doesn't get in the headline like the first one, does it? Oo, you're little tinkers, aren't you?

My problem, dear Daily Mail, is that I'm a feminist. I believe in choice. I believe in the choice to marry and the choice to remain single, and for both of those to be valued and respected as the decisions of a grown up. I believe in the choice to have children, and the choice to remain child free. We should see both states as personal preferences. And I also believe it is my choice -nay, my right- to deploy my Ladygarden as and when I am comfortable with it. I know you don't like to mention that ladies over a size 12 can form relationships and be sexually active in a way that isn't compulsive or an indication of 'goatish appetites', but um, sorry - there's a lot of us out here. We are neither compulsive nor goatish. We're just people.

Of course, you wind us all up. You refer to Gina Ford as 'the divorcee' and 'Miss Ford', just to highlight how she doesn't have the experience of, not only child rearing, but also the ability to maintain a successful heterosexual relationship (and you do like to peddle the myth that a woman's highest goal is that of marriage and motherhood). You wind us all up and then watch the message boards explode; you're really very good at it.

Here's a puzzle for you, be it Gina Ford or the commentators on the contentedbaby website (whoever advised to 'grin & bear it', or whoever made up that headline). What's the connection between Thor, Downton Abbey, and having a firework painted on your face? Give up? Well, I'll tell you. All three of these gave me a panic attack/strong feelings of anxiety relating back to experiences of childbirth. I know! Downton Abbey! Thor, for crying out loud. You wouldn't think these were in any way connected would childbirth, would you, but that's how post traumatic stress works, you see. It's not a respecter of logic. You can't expect that, say, the shot of a hospital band upon Chris Hemsworth's shapely wrist is going to remind you of the hospital band on your wrist and set you off. You can expect that seeing someone being slid from one bed to another while Downton Abbey is being used as a military hospital will make you have a funny turn. And you really, really don't expect that while on a friend's Bonfire Night hen do, the need to hold still while someone does something to you (in this case, face paint a firework) will make you feel a bit funny and need to do your breathing exercises to calm yourself down. It was a mild form of Post Traumatic Stress. You don't suggest that veterans of war with full blown PTSD 'get over it' with a course of clay pigeon shooting, and I'm not sure how effective it would have been had I tried to get over my milder case by inserting anything up my Under Henge.

Have I told you about the dreams, Dail Mail/Gina Ford/contentedbaby? For a while I had a run of dreams in which my husband and I would try to -ahem- become intimate, and it would come apart. A dream isn't real, I know, but there are some that stay with you. Dreaming about your foof breaking - that one sticks around. I used to wake up in the night crying - not just because of the dreams, but also just because dealing with a newborn is so very, very hard. You would probably have suggested that my husband left me to cry it out and that would have stopped me doing it in the long run, but that's not his style of husbandry.

So what I'm trying to say, Daily Mail, is that I wasn't ready at 4 - 6 weeks. I wasn't ready at 4 - 6 months. Now, whether or not Gina Ford or one lone contributor on her website advised to grin and bear it, it doesn't matter - you whacked it out as a headline, which suddenly started popping up on links all over the Internet. You must be delighted at the traffic! But what you're doing by peddling these headlines is by spreading continuing pernicious myths about male and female sexuality and you're making us all miserable. You are, I would suggest, the equivalent of the bully in the school playground whispering to girls that boys won't like you unless you put out. But I've got an earth shattering revelation - you don't have to have sex with people in order for them to like you. Have your staff on the Femail tried talking to men? Really, they're very interesting. They've got some good things to say. But you wouldn't want to suggest that men and women can communicate, would you?

To sum up, suggesting that men and women might be able to not have sex for long periods of time, and be fine with that, and still love each other, doesn't fit into the Daily Mail mission statement. That wouldn't fit in to the 1950s style values of lying back and thinking of England, looking down on the gays, and sneering at immigrants. There's vintage, darling, and there's retrogressive, and I think we all know upon which side of the line you reside.




  1. At some point the Press Complaints Council ruled that headlines were 'opinion' not 'news' so they could say what they like. The truth usually appears in paragraph 19 and often contradicts the headline, but the damage is done, para 19 is read by only a tiny fraction of those who saw the headline.

    This allows the Mail, the Express (which is worse but has a much smaller readership) the Sun and the Star (when they are not making up stories about celebrities I've never heard of) to demonise Muslims, the EU, the disabled, immigrants, the BBC, anyone claiming benefit, environmentalists and (you've noticed) women without recourse to facts. And then there are the medical stories.....

    It is this deliberate confusing of comment with information, as much as phone hacking or bribing policemen, which has made the 'popular' press a danger to our democracy and well-being while at the same time hypocritically claiming to be the guardians of both.

    Rant over.