The Blog

On Behalf of One in Five Women of a Certain Age, I'm Throwing Down a Gauntlet to the Press

not many childless women are yet willing to be spotlighted in the press, but that's partly because the press don't treat them as newsworthy, feature-worthy, in the first place. If they don't feel valued, it's a vicious circle. And yes, some of the key messages are hard to hear.

One fifth of women of a certain age have scarcely any voice in the press.

"Although I think your suggestion is an interesting one we wouldn't really have space I'm afraid."

"Thanks for the piece [a commissioned article], it's really good. Am afraid we may not be able to use it though - space is tight and our editor has decided against it."

These responses are real. Where I get one at all, they typify the reactions of many feature editors in both the general and women's press when I pitch something on the topic of females like me who, for whatever reason, have no children. Trouble is, females like me are not just a subject: we're an ever-growing audience.

To prove that this isn't sour grapes on my part - journalist scorned - I'll happily celebrate the exceptions. There's the glorious Huffington Post, of course, happy to give a voice to "alternative womanhoods". Psychologies magazine also sees where society is heading on this one, and BBC Woman's Hour is beginning to. A national broadsheet with left-wing tendencies has been known to print the odd piece or two. One national tabloid covers childlessness stories eagerly, albeit sometimes in blind ignorance, without sensitivity or discrimination (recently, they trawled my friends and contact groups for childless women who were "happy to be through the menopause at last: must be such a relief, given their situation" etc.)

The second rejecter quoted above followed up her rebuff with a search for childless women who could "represent for the readership all the wonderful, creative things they're doing with their lives" in place of having families. Of course, many of them are, but phrasing like that is very revealing. One of the problems is that the press is terrified of alienating their readership: they see us only as "bad luck" stories, tales of woe. Magazines and newspapers label childless women as cautionary tales for other females, not the trend it is. More than a trend: a new and expanding, and in some ways positive, reality.

1:5 women through the menopause in the UK, North America and Australasia have never had children, either through choice or circumstance (the piece commissioned from me by that second rejecter, a features editor on a Sunday national, was not a negative piece, though it did examine the newly termed group into which I fall: the so-called "socially infertile"). For those now approaching the menopause, the childlessness ratio is rising, close to 1:4. Forget the statistics as an "issue": that's one hell of a lot of women hardly given a voice, or spoken to sufficiently, specifically, in the press and media.

I'm not going to name, but I'll try to shame a little. It was clear recently that an utterly appropriate, stylish UK women's magazine claiming some 450,000 female readers, their median age being 43, i.e. close to the menopause, wouldn't be interested in covering a Red Dress Parade of childless women being planned along the South Bank of the Thames to mark International Women's Day. 450,000 female readers: that means some 90,000 of them likely to stay childless, probably.

Another UK magazine targeting over-55-year-old women was the first excuse of a "No" I quoted above. Forget the non-motherhood figures: alongside those, we're now heading beyond 11% women between 80 and 84 who aren't grandmothers either. Yet I've never seen an article in this, or indeed in another well-known magazine aimed at males and females approaching, or past, retirement, addressing the 20%+ of their readers who must be childless and/or grandchildless. (Needless to say I've pitched to both and failed.)

Then there's a London-based free weekly that speaks attractively and successfully to 20-40-year-old women: an important group to target. For them, key messages: first, the recent social history of their working sisters that's leading many into childlessness; second, the telling drop-off points in fertility for females from their early thirties onwards. The editors never answer me. Maybe, as they claim, they're just too busy.

One problem is that not many childless women are yet willing to be spotlighted in the press, but that's partly because the press don't treat them as newsworthy, feature-worthy, in the first place. If they don't feel valued, it's a vicious circle.

And yes, some of the key messages are hard to hear. But since when did journalists eschew hard news? Are we women just too soft, fragile and fluffy to be capable of listening?

So I'm throwing down the gauntlet to female press editors and radio/TV producers in this piece, whether or not you ever commission me, or Jody Day of Gateway Women (, or Catherine-Emmanuelle Delisle, the childless blogger in Canada (Femme sans Enfant), or Katherine Baldwin, the UK blogger, or author Jessica Hepburn, or fertility academic Dr Susan Bewley, or one of the other "speakers-out" whom you most certainly could.

If you're a female member of the press - or just an interested, ordinary woman - come to my celebration of alternative womanhoods at Bar Titania, 125 Charing Cross Road. (We'll also be celebrating the publication of my novel about a childless woman, On the Far Side, There's a Boy, but that's by the by.)

It starts at 7.00 pm on Wednesday 25 June. It will be a Midsummer Night of Gladness, with a magical act later, in the surrounding streets, to hammer home the point that 1:5 women are still waiting, patiently or impatiently, to be written for, and recognised, and heard.

You won't be shouted at. We're not oddities, pathetic basket cases or ogresses. You'll be smiled at, and spoken to by normal "alternative" women, and made welcome.