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Lucy Mangan
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"It's heartening that someone is having it all"

It is 12.25pm. My 14-month-old son is finally asleep. I am behind on three pieces of work, I have not had a shower, breakfast or lunch and none of these problems is likely to be rectified within a time frame that won’t leave me at least one of sacked, stinking or severely malnourished. If I can just avoid the hat trick – and if I’ve remembered to defrost something for Buggerlugs’ lunch tomorrow – I will count it a good day.

Meanwhile, over in Iceland, Thóra Arnórsdóttir – former television presenter turned politician and mother of three (including five-week old Sky) and stepmother to three more (older) children – has, for the past three months, been on the presidential campaign trail. Leaving home by 8.30am every morning, she has worked 17-hour days, persuading people to vote for her rather than the incumbent Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson (who was named president for a fifth term last week), breastfeeding Sky in the campaign bus as it crisscrosses the vast distances in that brilliantly bleak and barren land.

It is one of those stories that induces a feeling which has become increasingly familiar to me since I gave birth. It makes me feel bad about myself but good about the world. Bad about myself because, obviously, I am not campaigning for anything, let alone a presidency. I barely get round to changing the toilet roll these days, never mind the gubernatorial structure of a nation. Whenever these superwomen pop up, they always make ordinary women, and especially ordinary mothers, feel inadequate. They seem to be living proof that you can ‘have it all’ when most of us are happy if we get through the week without losing it all. (Speaking of which, I lost my laptop the other day. I put it down somewhere in the house and couldn’t find it again for 48 hours. Eventually the baby accidentally dislodged a pile of papers on one of his almost-walking tours and revealed it again. Such is the appalling state of my home and life.)

But there is also – at least when you’re feeling a little stronger – something heartening about the news that someone, somewhere is having it all. You can comfort yourself with the thought that at least we live in a world where this is technically possible, after generations and generations of it not only being completely unfeasible, but so outside the realms of possibility as to be literally unthinkable.

Most of us just want to get through the week without losing it all

When you are feeling weaker, it helps to remind yourself of what lies behind the achievements of anyone who is being held up (even if it’s only by you) as a shining example of success (and/or your failure). Arnórsdóttir, for example, has a supportive partner who shares childcare with her equally and pledged to give up his (television presenting) job to be a househusband if she’d been elected. We can also presume from their careers that they have enough money to smooth away most of the practical difficulties that bedevil us normal folk and cause us to stutter on the path to greatness.

Arnórsdóttir also lives in a quietly – if not of course perfectly – progressive and egalitarian land which has already had a female president (Vigdís Finnbogadóttir became the world’s first female democratically elected head of state in 1980), whose current Prime Minister (the two roles are distinct in Iceland) is a gay woman with two children from a previous, heterosexual marriage and who inaugurated their first female bishop a few weeks ago. After the banking crash, perceived in Iceland as the result of a very much testosterone-fuelled folly, many male politicians were voted out in favour of female replacements. And they’ve got Björk. You can’t teach a country that’s produced a lady who’ll sport a swan-dress to the Oscars anything about the self-actualisation that lies at feminism’s core. That swan proved they were way ahead of the pack back in 2001.

It is important to remember how many ducks have generally already been put in a row before these people (see also the likes of Nicola Horlick, Rachida ‘back at work five days after a C-section because French women are not only skinny but heal faster than ordinary humans’ Dati) swim into view. Then they can be used as inspiration rather than self-excoriation and we can get on with doing the best we can with the resources to hand. And now, if you will excuse me, I am only two deadlines behind and I think I’m going to celebrate by eating breakfast in the shower.

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