Yesterday I read an article by a ‘broody feminist‘ I wasn’t, initially, sure what one of these was, so I clicked through wondering if it might be a new faction of feminism about which I could have an opinion (I think I probably fall into the category of ‘Opinionated feminists‘, or somewhere on the venn diagram where they cross over with ‘Drunk feminists’ and ‘Feminists who like crisps’). It turns out that a ‘broody feminist’ is just a feminist who wants children. The author, Charlotte Gill, explains that:
“as feminism has progressed, saying you want babies has become deeply unfashionable – synonymous with “I have no career ambition.” On the other hand, a child-free existence has been painted as progressive and exciting, sold successfully by celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Kylie Minogue.”
Which is interesting, because it’s not really true. Sure, it is very slowly becoming more acceptable for women to say ‘I don’t want kids’, and we’re no longer treated like we’re the gruesome offspring of the Childcatcher and Cruella DeVille. But I think calling it ‘fashionable’ is quite a leap – given Daily Mail headlines that screech at us about our biological clocks, and misguided advice by people like Kirstie Allsopp about how we should all have a baby or two before we try and get a degree. I won’t spend too long on the truth or otherwise of the argument, because I’m sure you know that while many people are fighting to emphasise that you don’t have to choose to procreate, there’s still an assumption that you will. There’s definitely not, as Charlotte seems to be arguing, a dominant feminist view that parenthood is a Bad Choice for everyone.
If I could wave a magic wand that changed our narrative around children, I wouldn’t be arguing that fewer women should choose to have them, or that we should all have them at certain times or what have you, I’d change it to this:
- Having kids is one of many options when it comes to making life choices.
- It shouldn’t be assumed that anyone either will or won’t have kids: no matter what their gender, relationship status, etc.
In short, having kids is a bit like training for a marathon – it can be incredibly rewarding, it’s definitely admirable, but it’s also a lot of effort so not everyone wants to do it. Anyway, I’m not here to talk about kids – have ’em, don’t have ’em, whatever makes you happy. Here I want to talk about silence…
“Stop silencing me!”
While I haven’t noticed a particularly strong surge in motherhood-hating feminism, I have noticed a rise in the number of people who claim they’re being ‘silenced.’ In this article, Charlotte laments:
“There’s a rhetoric out there that’s silencing broody feminists.”
I feel mean for picking on Charlotte, so I really hope that on the off-chance she finds this she doesn’t take it personally. I picked her article because this worry that one’s views are being silenced is happening in a lot of places, and hers is a neat example of the silencing fallacy, so I thought I’d have a punt. Here goes…
Sometimes people are genuinely silenced – to take an extreme example, the government could lock you up or deport you for speaking out against them. A much less extreme example: I used to work in a job in which people would make ridiculous suggestions for projects. Instead of passing them on to senior management I’d occasionally quietly delete the emails, because I knew the idea was shit and I didn’t want to have to waste time proving it by implementation. Alongside this genuine silencing, there is also the silencing fallacy: the idea that your views are being stamped on when in fact they’re just being challenged. Either because people disagree with your view (which can be as simple as saying ‘you’re wrong’ to something much more worrying like threats of violence), or because your view used to be the default, and isn’t any more. Threats tip something more towards ‘silencing’ territory, but I’m not sure it’s relevant in this case.
It used to be that almost everyone was expected to have children. In some countries and cultures it still is, but in the UK, broadly speaking, we’re challenging that. While it’s still overwhelmingly assumed that people will have kids at some point, as more and more of us say ‘I don’t think I want to, thanks’ we move closer to a nice middle ground, where we understand that it’s a choice which works for some and not for others. In the process, sure, you’ll get a few people who are overly shitty about it (and I cringe about some things I’ve said about it in the past), who make jokes about kids, or parenthood, and imply that it’s a horrible, icky choice. I think this happens because, if you’re trying to chip away at a giant assumption, sometimes you hit a bit too hard and chip off more than you’d like. Few people (although obviously there are always some dicks) are telling you that you can’t make your choice, they’re just fighting hard to be allowed to make their own.
So: silenced? No. Challenged? Yes. In her article, Charlotte gives a few examples:
“I can’t help feeling in campaigners’ determination to appease sprog-shunning women, they have accidentally demonised and neglected those of us who marvel at small cuddly things. Those of us who don’t mind photos of other people’s kids bombarding Facebook, and delight in celebrity news about babies (how I cooed yesterday over photos over Lily Cole’s squirt) are now being relegated to the uncool, unambitious, uninteresting, unsexy dustbin.”
I think what she’s saying here (beyond implying that we ‘sprog-shunning women’ are not capable of marveling at ‘small cuddly things’ – *narrows eyes and puts on Cruella DeVille costume*) is that not everyone enjoys having their facebook feed filled with babies. Which is true. But it’s not necessarily part of a parental-hatred conspiracy. I’d guess it’s a combination of the fact that:
- Those of us who don’t have children are put under mounting pressure from parents/friends/others when our peers start procreating. When my friends and siblings and cousins and etc started having babies, there was a marked increase in the number of times I had to sit through a ‘you’re not getting any younger’ conversation.
- Other people’s children aren’t always exciting. See also: that marathon training we mentioned earlier. A facebook feed that’s dedicated to any one single topic is going to be less exciting. In my opinion.
The fact is though, these pictures are all still there. The celebrity baby news and the facebook feed baby-shots: all still there. ‘Silenced’ would be if they were removed. ‘Silenced’ would be if people who didn’t want to see it took any action beyond just tutting or having the occasional moan. I’m struggling, really, to find any examples in the article that would come anywhere near a good silencing. Maybe this?
“At a careers conference, or an outing with friends, you will never hear a woman say to another (never mind to a man): “My real ambition in life is to have children.””
But no. I’m not entirely sure why you’d make that statement at a careers conference, but let’s assume you do: no one’s saying you can’t. It’s not like she’s stood up on a podium, shouted this at the top of her voice, and been dragged off stage. She just hasn’t heard anyone else saying it aloud. When she says it aloud, in IndyVoices, do people come and shut her down? No. They comment, they may share it, or they might write blog posts like this one which open up the discussion: discussion is not censorship. And if you think it is, please feel free to silence me by sharing this blog post on your social networks, and articulating how strongly you disagree.
That’s why I’m often suspicious of claims of ‘silencing’, particularly when they’re published in the mainstream press. When people say that they’re being shut down, or censored, often what they mean is that their views – which may previously have been held by a lot of people – are not as popular as they used to be. The narrative is changing, focus is shifting, and other views are being heard either in their place or alongside. Like I say, there are plenty of examples of people being genuinely silenced, so I’m not saying that all claims of ‘silence’ are false, just that often cries of ‘silencing!’ are used when what’s actually happening is ‘debate.’
And if there’s one thing you can say for debate, it’s that its rarely ever silent.