Belfast Telegraph

Why we won't put up with the mother of all insults

By Lorraine Courtney

Jennifer Aniston gave an interview on the US Today show last week where she talked about how we all tend to judge a woman's value on whether she's had children or not.

Aniston is often portrayed in the media as the incarnation of spinsterly misery, ever since that scheming, vampy Angelina nabbed Brad from her.

Magazine inches continually pity her barren state, but the actress argued: "I've birthed a lot of things and I feel like I've mothered many things. And I don't think it's fair to put that pressure on people."

In spite of feminism's strident advances, our society still expects women to want to have children and looks down on women who don't.

You can be the most successful, accomplished high-achieving woman in your neighbourhood, but there's a persistent blanket assumption that all of us women ultimately want to get married and have children.

We don't always. I don't want a blood diamond and I don't need a symbolic public ceremony celebrating something I already have. And motherhood isn't something that should be so completely knotted up with proper grown-up femininity.

Helen Mirren appears to be asked about little else; in a 2013 interview with Vogue she discussed her child-free lifestyle. Women, she said, never gave her a hard time: "It was only boring old men. And whenever they went 'What? No children? Well, you'd better get on with it, old girl. I'd say 'No! F*** off!'"

The message is clear: no matter how successful a woman is in her chosen profession, her ultimate purpose is to be a mother and any deviation from this biological destiny is fascinating enough to be pored over endlessly.

The actress Julianne Moore snapped in DuJour magazine: "Men aren't asked about their children? I do feel it becomes reductive when a woman's life becomes, 'Talk to me about your kids and how you feel about plastic surgery'."

Of course, a myriad of different reasons lie behind each individual woman's choice not to have a baby, whether it's a conscious choice, a medical issue, or maybe because the timing was just never right. Whatever the reason, it remains a very delicate issue that we haven't quite worked out how to deal with yet.

In 2012, a research team talked to 1,200 childless-by-choice American women about how they weren't crying in their immaculate homes over their unused genetic material.

"Motherhood is so highly connected with adult femininity in the US that many women feel that they need to be mothers," said Julia McQuillan, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist and the study's lead author.

"Yet we also found that there are women who have low, or no, distress about not being mothers, even if their friends and family want them to have children."

Common reasons found were not having a suitable partner, career demands, financial concerns or simply not wanting to have a family. The study found that it was only when child-free women came under pressure from family, friends or the media that they felt any distress about their situation.

You see, it only becomes upsetting when you realise that other people are either pitying you, or calling you a selfish, irresponsible party girl without a care in the world, apart from your own amusement.

Let's stop pitting mums against childless-by-choice women. Both camps have fulfilling lives, because we're doing exactly what we want to do.

Childless isn't a synonym for hollow, or miserable. And let's move together towards a world where if women are asked why they didn't have kids, they simply say: "That's an odd question."

Mike Gilson returns next week

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