The XX Factor


Saturday’s Times Magazine featured an article by Janice Turner, about Prof Alison Wolf’s new ‘controversial’ book, “The XX Factor”. I must make a confession, I haven’t read the book. I don’t think I need to, judging by what Janice’s article did to my blood pressure.

According to Alison, there is a new, elite class of women – XX women – who make up 15-20% of the female population. These women are highly educated, marry their peers then have babies late (if at all), work throughout their children’s infancy and primarily because they want to rather than needing the money, employ domestic staff and spend a fair bit of their money on their kids’ education. They also have less sex than their peers.

Reading the rest of the article, it’s clear that XX women also tend to have an unhealthy disdain for the other 80-85% of those with the eponymous chromosomes. The article praises the 15-20% as an elite, driven, striving, tenacious, high profile supergroup (Janice’s words, not mine). According to them, bonding with other women – and particularly other mothers – is a waste of time, being a stay-at-home mother isn’t a full-time job but a waste of education and talent, as is setting up a ‘girlie’ (cupcake-making) business. For them, their joy and satisfaction is in a job well done, and home and motherhood are additional items on the ‘to do’ list. The majority of womankind lacks drive and ambition, and are milkily content with serene enjoyment of the nuturing years of domesticity, child-rearing and housework (yes, she really did say that).

I groaned. Now, everyone who’s read that article or the book will think, “Ah, that’s Heather”. Alison has now defined me as an XX woman. Thanks for that, Alison. For starters, they’re going to think I have a chip on my shoulder about graduates who make cupcakes for a living. Just because I’ve spent 10 years of my life collecting 3 degrees, married someone bright, got married before I had kids, work primarily because I love my job, and employ a cleaner, part-time nanny and a string of occasional babysitters so that my leisure time isn’t crammed full of housework.

I appreciate I’m very very fortunate to have this, and all by the age of 35. But for the record, I also love being with my children, an enjoyment that truly began as soon as I realised, whilst still on maternity leave with my first, that they are fascinating little individuals and not projects I can manage. I like being at home and making it a comfortable place for my family, and some of my happiest working days are spent with my laptop at the dining room table. I enjoy the company of women and men from a wide range of backgrounds – including the mothers of my children’s friends. And as for my sex life… well, we won’t talk about that.

There is a lot of this about, this filing people under headings and categories. Yummy Mummy, Chav, Socialite, Fashionista, Earth Mother, WAG, Domestic Goddess, Career Woman, Sloane Ranger, Hockey Mom…just a few, to which we now add XX Woman (and, presumably, non-XX Woman). Janice seems to feel liberated by the thought that she fits into the XX category, that she is not alone in needing something more than motherhood as an outlet for her energy, intellect and creativity. I feel restricted by any single label; as soon as it is applied I feel it contracting around me like a tubigrip bandage. Reducing me to an XX Woman denies the other aspects of my personality, character and chosen lifestyle that don’t fit Alison’s 8 ‘signs of an XX woman’. It feels no less limiting than measuring me against the antiquated stereotypes of successful womanhood my mother and grandmothers grew up with.

I reckon Alanis Morrisette was on to something when she sang “I’m a little bit of everything all rolled into one…I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

How much more liberating would it be if we were to resist these labels and celebrate the diversity of our individuality? How about we just get on and make the best of our lives, and be able to make the decisions that optimise the happiness of our families (including ourselves) without being burdened with one badge or another, and all the expectations that come with them?

And really, honestly, no-one needs to know how much sex anyone else is having.