Emotional Baggage

11/07/2016 12:16 | Updated 11 July 2016

'I can't imagine it,' Husband answers when I ask him. 'I simply cannot imagine having an opinion on handbags - on whether Longchamp or Kipling is better for the summer holidays, or even knowing the difference between the two. It's just... pointless, isn't it? You have a bag, it holds the stuff you need for a day out, it looks ok, problem solved.'

He's right, of course, but only in that terribly objective way that someone can be right when they're being logical about something which really doesn't interest them. Like most men feel about handbags. Or like the question of whether someone would make a better Prime Minister because they do or don't have children.

Ah yes. That. I'm writing this on the day when one of the remaining two candidates for Conservative Party Leader and thus, Prime Minister, appears to have cast what teenagers today call 'shade' on her opponent by suggesting that she herself, as a parent, has a greater, more 'tangible' stake in the future than her opponent does. There's a lovely bit of bitchy patronizing as she comments that she's sure Theresa May must be 'sad' not to have children. She thoughtfully concedes that May presumably has 'nephews, nieces, lots of people...' but of course it's just not the same. 'But I've got children.' No pun intended with reference to the US Presidential Election, but Leadsom seems to have played her Trump card. She's a Mum. Case closed.

Just what is it about a society which claims to treat men and women equally, but which judges women who aren't parents as somehow incomplete? Women, it was claimed back in the 1980s, can 'have it all'; when was it decided that we should slam any woman who doesn't quite manage that feat? Maybe a woman chooses to have children but not a career; to have a career and children but not a partner; to have a career and a partner but no kids, or any variant of the above like something out of an old-style Eleven Plus probability question. Of course, May's situation, according to her rival, doesn't give her a fraction of the 'empathy' that being a Mum would. Don't be so silly. Mum knows best.

I saw a brilliant joke on Twitter in the storm that followed the article in the Times: 'Leadsom would really have an edge over Corbyn. As a vegetarian, he doesn't have a steak in the future.' Well said, @someoliver. But my sense of humour dies a bit at the thought that someone without children of their own cannot care about the future of the country, or the world. What: unless it involves you directly, it doesn't matter? Après moi, le déluge? That is one of the most absurdly self-seeking, self-indulgent, self-centred and plain selfish arguments I've ever heard. Surely as a woman who has the effrontery not to be a Mum, Mrs May has, potentially at least, just as much consideration for the generations of the future, maybe even without any personal or partial preferences to distract from the common good? I'm sure that, as a career politician, she has overcome the alleged 'sadness' at her status and is focusing on her party, her policies - maybe even her partner...?

I'm going to come clean about why this is annoying me so much. I'm a teacher. I've been a teacher throughout my working life. Like Mrs May, I'm married but I'm not a mother. Despite the clumsy but doubtless well-intentioned remarks of almost total strangers who see it as their place to comment on it, this situation is rather unlikely to change. To go further into the whys and whats and why nots would be an overshare too far and anyhow, would miss the point of what I want to say. I've had the Loathsome Leadsom type sympathy. The patronizing glances. The ill-judged blunt questions as to whether my husband and I are going to 'get on with it', whether I'm 'going to the gym after work to get fit as a way of getting ready to have a baby', or whether 'your marriage is ok or going to break up, because we wondered why there hasn't been a wee one yet'. I'm not making it up. Teachers have to attend an awful lot of meetings: one cherished meeting memory dates back to the Summer Term, with the 2012 Olympics just ahead. I remember my mind wandering on that sunny Wednesday afternoon as we discussed next year's development plan... when suddenly, as unanswerable as a Serena Williams ace, the confidently irrefutable comment flew across the table: 'I just think that anyone who isn't a parent can't be a completely effective teacher, because they never see things from the pupil's point of view, they're never there when the homework is too much or when there's worry about exam results, or when there's bullying. They just don't get it.'

I regret being too polite to counter that remark. I regret that so many people don't see that teachers might learn from their own experience as much as that of their children or - unimaginable concept though it may seem - conceivably have empathy towards the generations of students they encounter every day. Or, you know, have a bit of emotional intelligence and figure it out. Maybe women who aren't mothers really do know all about bullying from feeling that we're public property; fielding patronisingly pitying looks and intrusive questions. If a man isn't a father, do we stop him and ask point blank if he has certain... inadequacies? It's much more likely that we think 'ah yes, great chap, dedicated to his career...' or 'great guy, still up for a bit of fun, not under the thumb.' We might like the family man image of our most recent (male) Prime Ministers, but it's probably not what they'll be most remembered for. When the Chilcot Report was published this week, I didn't read many articles saying 'Ah, but Tony Blair was such a lovely Dad...' even if he did make history in bringing a new baby back to Number Ten.

But back to Husband and the handbags. As he had his Lady Bracknell moment when I pondered buying a new bag for the holidays, he reminded me about mistaking the importance of trivial things. Perhaps I'm over-sensitive to the Loathsome Leadsom Mother's Day thing. But maybe it's time that women were judged as individual people rather than as childed, childless or child-free. So I'm not a Mum. I'm sorry if that makes me inadequate. To the considerable relief of everyone who knows me, I'm never going to want to run the country. But if a woman who isn't a mother wants to try it: then be that as it May.