The social worker, she takes it all in; to the naked eye I’m a woman well turned out and from my listening choices I demonstrate conformity to powerful voices – meaning I aspire and obey. I’m not like the other women she deals with; the ones who smoke above cots or inject in their veins. She questions herself – why is she here to judge a woman like me? There must be some kind of mistake. Her senses are saying – Radio 4, good mother. Her instincts are telling her – this is the correct level of middle-class aspiration for a good mother to have. And the house is clean. The subject (that’s me) she’s ‘bright’, the bookshelves are filled, the child has toys, the subject is forthcoming. Boxes are ticked: I. Am. A. Good. Mother. And it’s true, I am a good mother, it’s just that women like me, those below the poverty line, those fleeing abuse, those without stable accommodation, we just have to work that little bit harder to prove it.
We always have to be playing a part.
And one misjudged performance and it’s all over.
In the GP’s office. Don’t mention how last night you tried to top yourself. Hint at depression but act like suicide is a faraway pose. Use meaningless terms like ‘low mood’, ‘insomnia’, ‘stressed’. Brush your hair. Wear lipstick. Act bloody sane, think before you speak, be proactive, make a request for talking therapy, suggest a dose of Valium but mention you’re aware it’s addictive – you just need one good night’s sleep. Be anything more than a little bit sad and you’ll lose your kid. And. Details- are- important. Talk about your healthy diet, family meal plans and exercise schedule. Talk about Mark Warner holidays – no one takes children from women like that.
At an interview for a demoralising job: Declare yourself educated but only enough to appear capable. Sure, lie about the grades you never got but not enough to hurt the fragile ego of your potential boss. Make up a degree. Don’t say the Russell Group. That’s- overegging- the- fucking- pudding- love. You did Theatre Studies at London Met; you did something pointless at South Bank. You got a 2.2. Fill in gaps in unemployment with tales of travel or untraceable jobs abroad. Throw your CV off the beaten track; a year as a nanny in Moscow. You went to live in Russia because you… love Chekov. Say you visited Stanislavski’s grave. You saw Pussy Riot. You love Putin. You hate Putin. Whatever. Talk about things people don’t understand and for a while they’ll think you’re… smart.
Always keep in mind: those who employ people on zero-hour minimum-wage contracts need to believe they are your master. So. Act like the wage slaves do on the telly – ‘Thank you Lord Sugar, thank you for the opportunity Lord Sugar.’