I read something this morning I would like to share with you.
Following Andrea Leadsom’s comments on Theresa May’s lack of children as the reason behind her not being the correct candidate to become the country’s next Prime Minister, (the comments caused such a backlash that Leadsom dropped out of the race entirely and May will be the new leader of the country come tomorrow evening) Elizabeth Day wrote an article for the Telegraph on why Leadsom’s comments were so toxic.
It is 2016. There are any number of rights for women in this country. There are so many opportunities available to them that just weren’t there before that we take for granted these days. Women can vote, join the police force and they can hold top city jobs (although lets be honest there should be more of them) amongst other things. The very fact we have only our second female Prime Minister, with Hillary Clinton likely to leapfrog that odious orange fellow, Donald Trump, to the White House in the same year, speaks to how far we have come.
Of course, one might argue that May and Clinton have a huge task in front of them, namely cleaning up the mess created by men in the first place. May, to sort out David Cameron, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove et al’s total disaster fest with the Referendum and for Clinton, it’s simply to do what President Obama could not, which is to beat the bigoted abomination that is the GOP into submission. I have zero hope that either of them can do it. Their own morals are questionable (Clinton is definitely not one of the people and May just makes me want to cry basically). It makes me sad that we can’t seem to have any sort of leader, male or female, who doesn’t behave in a way that is totally suspect.
So, overall, good and bad points to having a woman in power. I never thought I would see it in my lifetime anyway so they both might prove me wrong and do a really amazing job. I hope that they do. I really do.
Why am I harping on about this then? Because Elizabeth’s piece on motherhood is both devastating and powerful. And it is a huge lesson in how our society defines women. She rather appropriately describes this as a “retrograde belief that we are in some way unnatural for not fulfilling our biological destiny”.
She is right. Any childless woman is looked upon with an almost pantomime-ish look of horror that British politeness dictates they should attempt to hide without hiding it at all. The follow-up question is always why? To which Day in the rest of the piece basically says what business is it of yours? A childless woman she says is not some kind of anomaly, is not a blip in the Matrix and such assumptions that every woman can or wants to have a child is damaging and stupid.
Elizabeth, rather heartbreakingly, reveals her struggles with conceiving a child of her own. It is difficult to read that a woman who so longs to carry her own child has suffered through much heartache, which has only been compounded by ignorant people who persistently offer “advice” on how much she is missing in life because she hasn’t had a child or the well-meaning healthcare professionals who tell her that their own children’s tantrums make her lucky that she can’t have her own really. Yes, I’m sure a woman who has spent years struggling to conceive feels lucky she has miscarried more than once. Silly her for wanting a child! Doesn’t she know how much of a headache those little brats can be?
I am 26 next month. I have not had a serious boyfriend in 10 years. I have never once been on a date. I don’t get much attention from men and I am ok with that. Any attention I do get I cut down faster than a cabinet minister can resign from their job, which in this day and age is so fast it should be an Olympic sport. I have been called many things too: harsh, cutting, sassy, scary, cold, stubborn (I am) and a ball-breaker (whatever that means). I have also been called motherly, naturally maternal, kind, hot (erm, no), smart (better) and caring. I am all of these things too. Somewhat.
I grew up in a single parent household so I helped raise my sister. I am proud of it. She is a lovely young woman and I am proud of her. The experience gave me lots of different skills, namely common sense, but also little things like bathing a child, feeding (I feed anyone and everyone I come across), cooking (which I love to do) and cleaning up vomit. She is only three years younger than me but the way I talk about her most people think that she is about 10 years old. I see her as a little girl but, of course, she is not. And whilst I took on some distinctly maternal tasks while she was growing up, I am fully aware that I am not her mother. I don’t want to be. And the fact that she still drives me absolutely nuts gives me immense comfort. I am her big sister. Not her mother.
I think my relationship with my sister is one of the biggest reasons everyone in my life is shocked that I don’t want to be a mother. I turn into Hulk if anyone even attempts to hurt my sister in any way. If she is not home when I get there I always look for her first, the first question out of my mouth is always “are you hungry?”, I serve her food first, I take care of her when she is sick. She almost died a couple of years ago due to illness and it was one of the worst periods of my life. I took her to almost all of her clinic appointments, I stayed up all night with her because she was in so much pain she couldn’t sleep, I got no work done at all the day she had surgery, she cried when I gave her a sponge bath at home every morning because she was embarrassed. Her embarrassment was almost lost to me. I am her big sister. Of course, I would give her a sponge bath! But I am not her mother, so of course she was embarrassed.
Growing up I always thought I wanted to be one. I even had a dream, aged 14, that I had given birth to a little boy. I could see every part of his face. I still can. I woke up that morning equal parts excited and disturbed. Over the years though, I’ve become less excited about becoming a mother. In a practical way I don’t want to have to deal with all of the physical aspects of pregnancy. I just don’t. In other ways, I just don’t want to have another person who relies on me in every possible aspect. I don’t want to be responsible for another human being, for them to grow up to be a successful person in every way. That takes hard work and in a selfish way I just don’t want to do that job. I also don’t wish to bring a child into this world. A world where climate change is so obvious it’s almost ludicrous to deny it’s a problem, social mobility is something that is becoming harder and harder the longer we go on, corruption is rife everywhere, we have people shooting each other in the name of misguided (and sometimes) stupid causes or beliefs. I just don’t see any benefit whatsoever in bringing a child into this world.
When I tell people this (because they, of course, always ask why) they don’t understand. That’s fine. Or at least it would be if they just left it there. But they don’t. They say the same thing, “you’ll feel differently when it’s your own” or God forbid, “you’ll want one when you meet The One”. You can imagine the abject horror on their faces when I tell them The One is something I don’t believe in either. Having children, finding a life partner is just not a fairytale, I’m sorry. It takes hard work, compromise and a willingness to just get on with things because you care, because you love. I don’t care to commit myself to anyone. And if I do, they will know right from the start that I don’t want to have their child. Ever.
There is this assumption that because I am a woman that I should want to have a child. And if I don’t want to, or never manage to, that I am some kind of failure as a woman. It’s crap. It is my body, it is my life. I understand how profoundly joyful and meaningful becoming a parent can be. I am incredibly lucky that my own mother is an amazing one. I understand that level of love is something I probably won’t feel. I am ok with that and I am not asking you, or anyone else, to be ok with it. I don’t need your approval. And I don’t need, or want, to become a mother just because I have ovaries and a fully-functioning womb. So, just like my taste in books or sex or music or food or wine, my uterus is no one’s business but my own.
I’m not asking you to agree. Just don’t assume every woman’s experience of childlessness is the same like Leadsom did. Elizabeth Day is struggling with infertility. There are so many others in the world who are. Just like there are so many other women like me who make the choice to not have them. Women are much more than their ability to carry a child.
If you don’t get that I feel sorry for you.