Picture the scene; a party, a couple, alcohol and an argument about the selfishness of choosing not to have children. So far, so predictable. So far, so the assumption may go that the row is between a man and a woman and it's the man saying he doesn't want children.
Widen the lens and see that the row is between two women. Women, who until about an hour before had never met. This tale was recounted to me by my friend who sadly is becoming all to familiar to being accused of acting, 'selfishly' because she has chosen not to have children. She has endured the perplexity, pity and patronisation of others and now the indignity of having a near stranger rant drunkenly that she is, 'selfish' for making a reasonable, considered life-choice. A choice based on the fact that she's not keen on children, there's enough unwanted ones out there and she'd rather go to work and spend her free time relaxing, travelling, socialising and frankly curled up with chocolate and a double-bill of 'Geordie Shore' should the fancy take her.
The incident forced me to question, why in 2015 is a woman's position on the motherhood spectrum apparently still her defining characteristic? Whether we are a little girl playing with our baby dolls; a bigger girl becoming conscious of that banging biological clock; going through the heartache and pain of struggling to conceive and being asked by any random acquaintance 'When are you having a family?'; the mother of an only child being asked 'When will you have a second?'; balancing children and a job being asked 'How do you juggle it all?'; post-menopausal and childless being asked 'Why didn't you have children?'. And call out the head-doctors if we choose not to have them, it can only mean there must be attachment issues, father issues, sibling issues, huge, gnawing, deep-rooted and troubling issues that could mean we are a subversive, walking-warning of the power of female choice should we say, 'Nah, I'm going to walk in shoes as high as I like back to my child-free flat that incidentally, I paid for.'
A good friend of mine has two Masters degrees and a successful business; another has jumped out of aeroplanes, snowboards and learnt to crew a boat; another is working, studying and caring for a parent; another is working full-time, looking after her ill husband and whipping up the fluffiest scones when I call in for a cuppa. Yet their position on the motherhood spectrum is still discussed and debated to the point that it becomes the overwhelming definition of them.
The husbands, partners, ex's of these glorious, strong, intelligent women never seem to come under this scrutiny. They go to work and I suspect can get through days, weeks, months even when they are not quizzed about how they 'juggle' it all. They can have a career, friends, hobbies, travel, never have a child and quite likely never be asked why. I suspect they're unlikely to find themselves at a party having a bloke screaming, 'selfish!' because they've chosen a child-free path. None of this is intended to denigrate the pain I've no doubt some men feel who can't have children for whatever reason, nor do I seek to comment upon those that can't be or aren't involved with their children and I certainly cast no judgement upon those who choose not to have them.
But it is precisely this choice that is possibly the root of the issue. Whether she chooses and plans to have children or gets pregnant unexpectedly, sometimes due to horrendous circumstances, eventually she has to deal with the consequences. Those consequences may be having the baby, having an abortion or giving the baby up. It may not be easy and it is also not always the case that a woman chooses what she really wants. Her free will can be limited, her choice may be subject to pressure, loaded, uncomfortable and influenced by others but ultimately she is forced to be active not passive. Once pregnant, it becomes defining and eventually public, the most prominent nailing of her flag to a mast. As soon as something is public, it's open season for the commentators. A man can be sewing his seed, his progeny can be spread far and wide, he may never know. But, once pregnant, a woman has a role to play and for those that make the choice not to get pregnant in the first place or choose not to be mothers, there is clearly still much confusion and anger from some quarters, quarters that are sadly, sometimes female.
Of course, we should celebrate motherhood and value and support it politically, economically, socially and emotionally. We should support those that can't have children but equally and as importantly we should support those that choose not to take on this role. The 'birth control pill' became available through the NHS in 1961. Many controversies, health discussions, feminist debates and moral objections have surrounded it, but crucially it enabled women to exercise their choice. It is my belief that it is only when we all embrace the right of a woman to choose whether to become a mother and thereafter once women themselves wholly respect the choices of other women, that we can move to a place where the myriad roles of women, in spite of and because of their choices are valued and respected. Then and only then can we say we're really on the path to female liberation.