Women: what will you do first – have that glittering career you’ve always dreamed of, or get babies quick-sharp before your maternal need reaches a shrieking climax and you’re left yearning for the children that will make your life complete?
Kirstie Allsopp has been in some pretty hot water today over comments she made about life choices. She pointed out (quite rightly) that if you have a womb and ovaries, your chances of using those to make a baby drop sharply after a certain age. That’s obviously common sense. Unfortunately, she then used that to say that if she had a daughter she’d advise her not to go to University early in life (i.e. shortly after 18) and instead focus on having a family and saving studying and a career for later.
She’s taken a lot of crap for saying this, and has taken a lot of agreement, too: from people who did have children young, or those who wish they had.
Here’s the problem: Kirstie gave what is essentially some good advice. If you want kids in a certain way (and if you’re able to have them in that way), you have to plan relatively early. Unfortunately, this good advice was presented in a way that rested on a huge number of assumptions. It’s not the advice that’s bad, it’s what it rests on.
She has, in no particular order, assumed that:
– All women want the same things (career and babies).
– All women are biologically capable of having children and will want to have biological offspring.
– A career is always a choice, as opposed to something many people do because they need to put food on the table.
– Women shoulder the responsibility for the propagation of the human race.
Can women ‘have it all’?
I’d be less angry about comments on careers and children if it weren’t for the fact that it is always presented as a choice that women – and only women – need to make. Incidentally, as I stand up loudly and proudly and state that ‘not all women’ want to have babies, to correct this incredibly common assumption, I look forward to the men who recently commented on my ‘sex entitlement’ blog to join in with me, correcting those gender assumptions they so hated when they believed them to be directed at dudes.
Sarcastic asides over, men are never asked ‘hey, are you sure you want to have this career now? Shouldn’t you have kids first?’ Of course no one ever asks men this, because society has an inherent aversion to male child-rearing, and feels that kids are the sole preserve of women. This puts massive undue responsibility on women, and leaves men standing on the sidelines being patronised by strangers when they take over the duty of ‘babysitting’ their own children. Not to mention it makes women like me really bloody angry when they keep having to answer the same tickbox list of questions.
Conversations about my potential future offspring fall into two broad categories:
a) relevant and interesting conversations (these are the ones I have with my partner, where we discuss our thoughts on The Future)
b) totally unnecessary, irrelevant and intrusive conversations (the ones I have with every other twat who thinks they know better than me what I think)
The latter type usually consists of a friend or family member telling me in syrupy tones that one day I’ll just wake up and – BAM – suddenly I will want a baby so hard I will be unsure how I can ever have wanted anything else in my life. They tell me that having children is the best thing that ever happened to them and that, ergo, it would be the best thing to ever happen to me. It might be, I don’t know. I’m not a fucking psychic. All I know is that right now – right this instant – I don’t want one. And you nagging me about it is unlikely to make me start ovulating. So, if you’re one of those people who likes to tell people to have kids, pay attention.
Five things people need to stop telling me about children
1. You’ll change your mind one day.
I’ve been fairly open about the fact that I don’t really want children. I may well change my mind one day: I’m a human, and we have a habit of doing that. But you don’t get to tell me that unless you have actually lived inside my head. That’s not only impossible but undesirable – it’s a terribly sordid place.
2. It’s the only real purpose for us in life!
By ‘us’ do you mean ‘people’? Because sure, it is a purpose of the human race to survive. And we, as a species, need to make sure we don’t die out any time soon. But there’s a huge leap to be made between ‘survival of the species’ and ‘my individual choices.’ If I’m one of the last people on Earth this argument might hold weight, but given that there are around 6 billion of us, I don’t think my uterus is the vital pivot on which our survival depends. I no more have a moral responsibility to breed than I have a moral responsibility not to die.
3. Your biological clock is ticking…
I’m getting older, if that’s what you mean, but I’m fascinated as to how you have such an in-depth insight into the state of my reproductive system. For all you know it might not work. For all you know I might not have one.
4. Oh, you must hate children then.
They’re OK, I suppose. They are like adults, only smaller and they say hilarious stupid things sometimes, and also if you have a child you have an excuse to do things like play with the Brio train sets in the Early Learning Centre without being asked to leave. I bloody love some kids (usually ones I am related to, or particularly well-behaved offspring of my friends) but there are many kids who are – let’s face it – twats.
I don’t ‘hate’ or ‘love’ kids. As with adults, I will form my opinion on them based on discussion with the individual in question, and possibly a Frozen singalong. Only then can you get the true measure of a person.
5. Don’t you think it’s a bit selfish to choose your work over children?
No. Nor is it selfish to choose travel, hobbies, or sitting on the sofa staring blankly into space for forty years. All of these things are legitimate life choices, no more or less selfish than the decision to have children. You know why? Because I haven’t had children yet. That’s the beauty of it! If I did have children then certainly I’d be pretty selfish if I ignored them in favour of writing angry blogs and eating ice-cream at 11 am on a Monday for no reason. Given that I don’t have them, my choices can only be selfish or unselfish in relation to how they affect the people I know: people who actually exist right now, as opposed to some possible future person who may never even come into being.
So there you go. Some thoughts on kids. If, like me, you are a 30-year-old cis woman and people are constantly nagging you about your biological clock, feel free to shout this in their face until they stop talking to you.
Kids: have ’em, don’t have ’em, dither over your decision for years before you make it – it’s none of my fucking business.