TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp was recently quoted, in a Telegraph article, as saying:
“I don’t have a girl, but if I did I’d be saying ‘Darling, do you know what? Don’t go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.”
Now, in itself this quote probably made thousands of women across the UK bristle with a blend of shock, horror and disdain. Had Allsopp undone years of feminist and equal rights campaigning in one fell swoop? In the two days that have passed most newspapers have jumped on the free PR bandwagon and Allsopp has been in demand for her outdated (so they deem) views. Sadly the piece has generated many catty rebuttals from female journalists that only serve to highlight to me why feminism is just a word for most and certainly not a solidarity with womankind. I think most have made the mistake of taking this quote at face value, and not bothering to read the rest of the article or think a little more deeply. I think a lot of the rebuttals have also highlighted some of the unease the women writing the pieces feel around their own career V parenting decisions.
I think the crux of this debate boils down to one major issue – the apathy that society holds for mothers and the blend of fear, hatred, boredom and superiority swirled up in their misogynistic anti-motherhood viewpoints. Now I am absolutely not saying that I believe we should be encouraging our daughters to foresake their education and career ambitions for the pursuit of a disney’esque Prince Charming fairytale savoir and a happy ever after lullaby. I want more for my daughter, but unlike many of Allsopp’s haters I don’t want to push her into further education or a career at all costs. I want her to be happy – and if that means starting a family in her early twenties and putting off any other ambition until her forties then I couldn’t be more content, so long as that is what SHE wants.
I think we walk a dangerous line when we project our goals and ambitions onto our children, male or female. True feminism is about advocating for equality, that doesn’t mean that women should always have high flying careers equal to their male counterparts. Feminism means supporting a woman’s rights and choices, even if those choices are to have children at a young age while putting career plans on ice. This argument is much like another feminist argument that really riles me – that you can’t be a feminist if you follow attachment, or gentle, parenting (you absolutely can!). At the end of the day it is all about choice and support. We need to support our children in whichever future they choose for themselves.
Here’s the thing though, how can our daughters really choose what to pursue if they are not aware of how their fertility changes over time? Or how their risks of miscarriage or birthing a child with disability, or facing hurdles because of a ‘high risk’ pregnancy and birth label? Certainly I’m pretty sure that these topics aren’t discussed in the woefully inadequate sex ed most children receive at high school. Choice should always be informed, we do need to make young girls aware of this information in order for them to choose how their lives will unfold over the next fifteen years and that is absolutely something I do support.
For those that bothered to read Allsopp’s interview in full they would have come across another quote that is much more insightful and far less heckles raising:
“Women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward. At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.”
I really couldn’t agree more. As well as this women face another issue, they spend their twenties building a career, applauded by society, but when they hit their thirties the congratulations are quickly replaced with constant questioning of their marriage status and when they are going to have children. By the age of 35 the same society who has laid into Allsopp for her honest views frown upon the ‘childless spinsters’ for “leaving it too late” and “being selfish” or “too career driven”, especially if fertility treatment is required and even more so if they are over 40. Women really can’t win.
Then there is motherhood, the most underpaid and undervalued job in the world. Ask a stay at home mother “what do you do for a living?” and the chances are she’ll reply “oh I’m JUST a mum”….just a mum. Why do we apologise for possibly the most important job in the world? How is raising people – the future of our planet – something to apologise for? The UK government would have us apologise though, while they hurry us back to work, pushing our kids into the beginnings of Gove’s drone factory, ready to churn out more obedient tax payers. Motherhood just doesn’t matter. If our society viewed motherhood more positively I don’t think there would have been such an uproar in response to Allsopp’s interview.
Then there are the wonderful skills mothers can bring to the working world. The maturity and lack of selfishness they have developed. The drive and ambition they are left with in order to make a better world for their children. Mothers perhaps are some of the best employees an organisation could ever hope for. With a little shift in thinking and a little more support there is no reason why those who have children young cannot go on to be hugely successful in a career after having children. Many women change careers after becoming a mother, the birth of their children awakening new passions and beliefs in them. Again, I don’t think this is something to discourage.
I had a fantastic career pre-children for five years. I graduated from university and went to work in quite a high position in Pharmaceutical R&D, then I had my first child at 25 and it all seemed so superficial, so materialistic, so meaningless. I retrained when they were small and now 13 years on I have a whole new successful career, that has been completely inspired by motherhood. I am a changed person – for the better.
I do wonder also, if in part, that Allsopp’s thoughts are also related to the loss of her own mother, like her my mother died of breast cancer. I was 7 when my mum was diagnosed and just 21 when she died. She never met my husband, she never met my children and that stings – every day. I wouldn’t have had children younger than I did, but I would give anything for my kids to have met my mum, Kirstie was lucky that hers did, albeit they didn’t have long with her. If we delay having children we also risk them spending much less time with their grandparents – something I think is vastly under-rated in our society.
By no means am I say that I think that all girls should aim to be married off, in a nice little house with 2.4 kids by their late 20s. I do however think there is a message in Allsopp’s voice, beneath the sensationalism, that needs to be heard.