Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"...have a baby. You'll find it so much more fulfilling than writing..."

I have been re-reading Erica Jong's Fear of Flying this weekend in preparation for tonight's book club meeting. I haven't finished it yet but the above line is spoken/shouted to the narrator by her older sister during an argument at their parents house, an event which the narrator is recalling as she muses on why she is not deliberately getting pregnant.

I then was reading the Observer Woman's magazine which is not something I usually read (M prefers the Guardian and I prefer The Times but he won) when I came across two articles, one by Rachel Cooke "...conversations I have had in which the majority of the other female's sentences began with the words: "When you have a baby..." (which I felt echoed the narrator's questioning of her sister's superior complex as a Mother in Fear of Flying) and one by Polly Vernon (defending her choice to not have/ not want children - which you would rarely see a man do).

Both were badly written/researched and left me wondering why these articles had been written. Sadly Cooke referenced the infernal Alpha Mummy blog which meant that the rather irritating Jennifer Howze picked up the story and re-published it leading to the never-ending flood of commenters struggling to justify themselves and define their positions as mothers, mostly by being exceedingly rude against any one who had made a different choice leading one poster, Expat Mum (blogger), to question "Why, I keep asking myself, must women justify their own choices by slagging everyone else off?". Indeed, even bloggers who I actually read (and respect) like Potty Mummy seemed to imply that tasks one completed as a Mother were far more important than anyone else's:

"And whilst I'm on the subject, where are all the articles written by mothers on how their childless friends are incredibly boring, self centred, obsessed by shoes and living in their own me-me-me sitcom world? Oh, I know... There aren't any. Because we know there are two sides to every story, that it never pays to generalise - and of course we are far too busy cleaning up puke and wee to get round to it". Potty Mother.

As I am just four months away from getting married and potentially beginning the years when I decide whether or not to have a family, this topic niggled. On the one hand I am hoping to have children but I do not think that having children is necessarily more fulfilling for every woman than not having them. I do not doubt that for some people having children gives them meaning that they would otherwise lack, but others, I would argue, have meaningful lives regardless of whether or not they are able to procreate. It makes me so cross, this superior attitude that some women seem to show once they become mothers.

Last night, M and I were watching 90210. In one scene, the headmaster's son bashed his car into another boy's. Words were exchanged, a quote was obtained, the money was paid back and the two lads ended the transaction by the maimed car owner inviting the payee to a basketball game. This conversation was watched by a girl who at some point in the past had been betrayed by her then best-friend in relation to something to do with divorced parents and the then-best-friend telling everyone. The two girls had not spoken since and both were still clearly affected by the situation some years later. She expressed her surprise at the lads' ability to sort things out and he in turn expressed his at girls' abilities to hold grudges. He had a point.

Even in seemingly superficial and shallow shows such as 902010 and Sex & the city these issues are being raised. Do we as girls define ourselves only in context of how we are in relation to each other? Can something only be good if we make out that girls not making this choice are somehow wrong or bad? Why do those who are mothers act superior to those without children, even going so far as to infer that those without will only understand when they have children? (Quote: SATC - Carrie "but you used to buy Manolos" Kyra "that was before I had a real life" or something similar). We need journalists who encourage us to celebrate our own individual choices and to be happy and non-judgemental for those who make their choice which differs from our own. Not articles like those by Cooke & Vernon who perpetuate the circle of 'my choice is better than yours'.

The narrator in Fear of Flying considers what it means to be defined as a women and whether or not the bearing children is an intrinsic part of being a woman. Actually, her main consideration is freedom, as a woman, and for me that includes a choice whether or not to have children. Yet I think it is worth considering how the construct of femininity sits against the choice not to have a child. Just as there are many who would argue that adolescence is a male construct and question whether is it possible to conform to the ideals of femininity and adolescence, what are those who state that women are only fulfilled when they have children doing? Is it too far to state that it seems these women define being a women by being a mother and that by implication that if you are not a mother you struggle to be a woman?


Surprised and Excited Mum said...

It is amazing how defensive people can get, we all do it at times when we feel that we are being slighted, and then that just perpetuates the whole thing.

I don't think my feelings about motherhood have changed before or after I had a baby, and I waited 36 years or thereabouts to get here.

Maybe it's because I knew I wanted to be a mum, but not out of a desire to be fulfilled or vindicated as a valuable human being, that's far too much responsibility for my little girl's shoulders.

Are Mums more important than other people, that's like saying are doctors more important than nurses; it takes all of us to make the world revolve.

But, yes it's an increadibly emotive subject. See, I have no clear point to make but I am commenting.

lain said...

I'm not going to add anything to the debate other than to say that it is an issue which gets me riled. Nobody deserves to be made to feel inadequate for their own personal choices - indeed, some women don't even have the luxury of choosing which path they want to follow. The best advice is, as always, to do what makes you happy. Just a shame it's made so much harder by the self-righteous viewpoints from the blogs and articles you mention.