I was listening to Woman’s Hour today, and the whole theme started to get me riled. There’s been much media discussion recently about alleged “selfishness” surrounding women who choose to have their children later, or not at all. It’s the word that drives me to distraction – “selfish” creates very distinct connotations, of hard, heartless, unpleasant women, who should a) soften up and become apron-wearing 1950s housewives, before b) having a minimum of two children, preferably twins, to make up for lost time.
The baby boomer women were told they could have it all. They were told that everything men had always had should be theirs, and you can’t go through two literature degrees without absorbing a certain level of feminist feeling. It is absolutely true that nothing should be forbidden me – I have as much as right as Kevin does to a career, to an education, to anything that he can have, in fact.
What they weren’t told was that there aren’t enough hours in the day. If they also want what their mothers had, compromises must be struck. Women shouldn’t have to choose between a family and a career, because men are never asked to make that choice. However, you can’t work a forty hour week in a high-powered office job in the City, and still be standing at the school gates at 3.30pm to ask how school was today. It’s not a philosophical problem, it’s a logistical one. And it’s a problem for women, because we were told we could have the intellectual, professional, financial liberation that men had, without giving anything up in return. Funny enough, most men didn’t want the liberation of staying at home with the children, and being men, if they did, they’d have taken it, I’m sure.
And that’s why the baby boomer women look back with such regret – those who gave up work to bring up their children regret the loss of their careers. Those who, in one sense or another, gave up their children to pursue their careers regret the loss of their children.
I feel much more fortunate than that. I always knew I couldn’t have it all. If I wanted to be the sort of mum I instinctively felt that children need, some or all of my career aspirations would have to be compromised. It wasn’t a shock, it wasn’t a disappointment, it was a perfectly reasonable decision-making process.
This, the staying at home, the slightly constrained financial situation, the fantastically close relationship to my daughter, the spontaneous trips to the park, the hours I’ve spent sitting with my Grandma, this is the package I chose for myself. I had all the information, and the choice was an informed one. I have no regrets.
I also think I have more confidence in myself than the baby boomers did – or maybe the options are more flexible now. In either case, I believe that I am perfectly capable of embarking on a new career, in whatever I like, if and when the fancy takes me. I am intelligent, well-educated, and of ever broadening experience. I can do whatever I like.
Feminism gave women choices, in places where men have never had to choose. Making that choice can be heart-wrenching, so don’t you DARE call me selfish. Don’t you DARE suggest that I should have had my children sooner, or should have gone back to work after I had them, or should have had more, or should have had fewer. I made my choices, and other women make theirs – for pity’s sake, leave them alone.