Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Why must all mums be role models yet dads can keep cracking risque jokes?

On her side: Luisa Zissman spoke out in defence of NI teen in the Magaluf video

Jasmine Lennard called Luisa Zissman a bad mother this week. You might not know who either of these women are. Neither name, I must admit, rang more than a faint bell in the dark recesses of my memory – the dark recesses being where I keep stuff I was once briefly privy to but have since catalogued as having a relevance to humanity comparable to the anthropological observations of Andrew Castle.

FYI, Lennard is a model best known for going out with Simon Cowell and having her SC tattoo removed when, years later, her famous ex announced he was having a baby with another woman. Luisa Zissman is a former Apprentice contestant.

What upset Lennard so deeply that she risked causing a tabloid rumpus with her forthright views was that Zissman, who has a newspaper column and Lennard doesn't, had declined from condemning the behaviour of a young girl, reportedly from a strict religious family in Northern Ireland, in a Magaluf nightclub. Footage of the teenager performing a sex act on a handful of chaps has gone round the world, resulting in a cacophony of value-related adjectives and nouns that I, a passionate logophile, must confess to never having encountered before.

Zissman wrote that she was concerned for the girl's mental state and pointed out that no one had bothered to find out the names of the men involved, much less subject them to criticism. She assessed that the 18-year-old was "a stupid young tourist", who got drunk and became impressionable, probably "pushed on by club reps and DJs", but defended the girl from being labelled one of the many "sl-words" these kind of stories usually bring forth.

This was too much for Lennard, who describes herself on Twitter as a "bad girl", but also identifies as a "good parent", and presumably feels that caring mums should stick together when it comes to rounding on messed-up young women and calling them "horrifying". Zissman, she asserted, was a "provocative stupid woman" flying in the face of "every good parent".

What I found interesting about this was Lennard's savvy fallback on the idea that mothers of decent social stature all share particular views about society. Her less than wholesome image has often seen her dubbed an s-word herself, but since having a son she's sought to court the public by aligning herself with that most holy of figures, the mother. (She previously advised "vile peasant" Kerry Katona to "lose a few pounds", "start using contraception" and "focus on your children".)

While she might not be the most articulate spokesperson for this worldview of motherhood (and is a decidedly unreliable flag-waver for the notion of sisterhood), it puts her on safe ground. Just ask Angelina Jolie, Courtney Love or Madonna, celebrated for their outlandish behaviour and freestyle individuality until parenthood made their too-liberated personas so troublesome.

Despite a century of complex feminist negotiation, the notion of the mother as a unique, morally upright member of the community, whose feelings about sexuality should conform to universal standards of propriety – especially with regards to the activities of young girls – remains a constant in popular culture.

As soon as a woman gives birth, she's regarded as having surrendered all kinds of freedoms to become part of the international mum's army, role-modelling her way through life cheering on nice responsible folk and attacking flagrant risk-taking ones.

Weirdly, there is no comparable requirement for fathers to re-think their public identity the moment their baby is born. Remember the last time you heard Billy Connolly or Frankie Boyle being criticised for making risque jokes "and him a dad as well"? Me neither.

Too soon for Garth's The Dance at wedding

While the country has tried hard to brave up and get on with its life, the ripples from the Garth Brooks debacle – no, debacle is too weak a word – the Garth Brooks tragedy, are still being felt across Ireland.

No more clearly was this illustrated than in this week's tale of the wedding band who met a request for a Brooks song with a grave shake of the head and a gentle explanation that it was "too soon".

I've some sympathy for the naive requester who stumbled into such a minefield, but what a comfort to know the sensitivities of the Irish people are being so tenderly handled by those in power.

John's protest kiss filled me with pride

There's been consternation about the appropriateness of John Barrowman's 'protest' gay kiss at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games. Some say this wasn't the place for political gestures, with folk claiming to be offended by the kiss itself.

Bearing in mind it's illegal to be gay in 42 of the competing countries, I think Glasgow was exactly the place for an embrace entirely in keeping with the spontaneous joie de vivre of the rest of the ceremony. It also celebrated the tolerance and equality the host nation prides itself on.

If John is handing out snogs again, I'll happily volunteer.

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