If You Dress Your Child Like a Tart, Don't Worry, You're Not to Blame

I find it hard to disagree with Helen Wright that when little girls wear "Future WAG" T-shirts, and make-up, and high heels, there's "something intensely wrong." But parents, she said, aren't to blame. Schools, she said, had "a key role to play" in providing guidance.
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If I were a mother, I'm not sure that I'd be rushing to take advice from someone who went back to work seven hours after giving birth.

I think I might think that pushing something the size of a cat out of something that had struggled to accommodate a speculum might earn me at least a few days off. I think I might be a little bit worried when I heard her say that she wanted to be "an excellent role model," and particularly when I heard that she was the head teacher of a school for girls.

"Most women," said Helen Wright last year, after giving birth in the early morning, and being back at her desk by lunch, "have a choice of taking maternity leave or going back to work and having their babies looked after. Why," she asked, "can't there be a third way -- taking your baby to work with you?"

Well, why indeed? Apart, perhaps, from the fact that it might get in the way of the photocopier, and the fact that it's quite hard to tap away at a computer when you've got a small human being hanging from your chest. And, perhaps, the fact that the other 150 people who share your office don't mind the odd phone call, but aren't all that keen on primal screams.

If I had a daughter at her school (which I probably wouldn't, because it costs nearly £30,000 a year) and had to choose between that and a home, I think I'd worry that she might grow up with the kind of expectations you give children at state primary schools when they come last in the egg and spoon race but still get a gold star. But I think I'd find it hard to disagree with the comment Helen Wright made at a conference for the Girls' School Association earlier this week, that when little girls wear "Future WAG" T-shirts, and make-up, and high heels, there's "something intensely wrong."

Parents, she said, aren't to blame. Schools, she said, had "a key role to play" in providing guidance. "We need to take away," she said, "the stigma for parents that they have to know everything."

If I were a parent, I think I'd be pleased to be told that I wasn't to blame, and that someone else should take away the "stigma" of anything that anyone thought I'd done wrong. If, for example, like the parents of some of the children at schools near me, I didn't bother to teach my child how to put its shoes on, or how to eat at a table, or how to use a sentence without using the word "fuck," and if I sent it to school without breakfast, or lunch, and didn't give it tea when it got home, I think I'd be quite pleased that the school didn't think that it was up to me to do "everything."

And if my child wasn't reading all that well, I might, like some parents who were quoted in the Evening Standard this week, quite like to stand at the school gates, and talk to the other parents about how the school was letting my child down. I might like to talk, for example, about how the children should be getting more homework, and how the teachers should be doing a better job.

But if I were a teacher, I think I might feel that if you'd gone to all the trouble of pushing something the size of a cat out of something that used to struggle with a speculum, then it wouldn't kill you to give it a couple of pieces of toast, and maybe a couple of fish fingers when it got home. And if I were a teacher at the school mentioned in the Standard this week, and was trying to teach a class where 80 percent of the students didn't speak English at home, I think I might also feel that it wouldn't kill the parents to swap a few minutes of The X Factor for, say, a few pages of The Gruffalo.

And if I saw the children I was teaching wearing T-shirts saying things like, "So many boys, so little time," and maybe even, through the T-shirt, a padded pink bra, I think I might wonder if parents needed a Ph.D. to know that it wasn't a great idea to buy their small daughters clothes that made them look as though they wanted to be paid for sex. I think I might even wonder why the bloody hell these people had bothered to push the cat-sized thing out of the thing that used to struggle with a speculum if they didn't want to feed it, or talk to it, or read to it, or dress it in relatively normal clothes.

But if I were a teacher and saw the child dressed as a prostitute, and could see that it was quite likely to end up as a teenage mother, since the U.K. has more of them than anywhere in Europe, and that the teenage mother might also not be keen on making toast or heating fish fingers, which would just create a cycle that would go on for ever, I think I might well feel that even though I didn't become a teacher in order to become an effing social worker, I didn't really have a choice.

I think I might feel that I'd better teach the child about toast and fish fingers, too, and hope that the government goes ahead with its plans to run courses in toast and fish fingers for grown-ups (which it's calling courses in "parenting") so that a few more people in this country could learn that if you want to have a child, you might also want to think about whether you actually want to bring it up.