Too many people, such as Allison Pearson of The Telegraph and everyone who has remained silent, seems to think that TV presenter Kirstie Allsop had a point when she said women should get pregnant instead of going to university.
Not only does she not have a point, her comments are the sort that bolster massively counter-productive, psychologically harmful pressure on women. Yes, that's right -- was she really motivated by helping women get more out of life? Allsop has just voiced the carefully managed nightmare of women the Western world over, i.e., I might want a child but I'm terrified of the toll it will take. Or, I want a child but I am single.
Here's the thing. Allsop and her ilk -- plumply, delectable, dollops of wealthy femininity -- probably have little experience of the realities facing most educated single women, women who have cultivated both high levels of self-respect and a critical faculty. Women who have disregarded other women's urgings to settle for Mr. Good Enough (Lori Gottlieb) and just won't want to overcome the repulsion -- sexual and intellectual and emotional -- that goes with being with someone you don't respect, love and to a lesser degree desire.
They seem to think that "presentable men" grow on trees, that every woman delaying having babies is solely interested in a false notion of "when the time is right," rather than the all-too-real fact of the matter. A lot of women delay having babies because they are single, because the men that present themselves are not suitable, or just not there at all -- because things have changed, and we live in cities, and women are allowed to get stuck into the non-domestic world, and to stand up for their interests and their integrity outside of the home. Men have not always caught up to this with their own levels of supportiveness or ability to not only handle but be drawn to female ambition; and the ones that have are not necessarily available. Meanwhile, many men are too busy enjoying a porn-fuelled, extended Peter Pan bachelorhood.
Let us not forget that having a child with someone, or -- as Pearson puts it so glibly in her own words to young women that "If they have a presentable male on the premises, they should go home that same night and have unprotected sex" -- is a rather massive commitment. And that "presentable male" may for these women mean a nice public school-educated banker, but will not for most women be someone she should link both her and a child to forever.
Pearson gets out all the old stuff about eggs dying and drying up after 35; about her feeling that she was "lucky" to get pregnant late.
Lucky? Maybe -- but that's hardly statistical evidence so much as relief for having escaped a giant oppressive myth about female fertility. Just ask sensible American psychologist Jean Twenge, who recently rubbished statistics saying that one in three women between 35 and 39 will take more than a year to get pregnant along with all the other sickening myths put forth to make women feel terrible when life gets in the way of motherly bliss: after all, noted Twenge, almost all these myths are based on statistics from French birth records from 1670 to 1830. Wonderful.
And now, because of the relentless urge of privileged lady journalists to rubbish feminism's gains and try to get women back into the home (Pearson recalls with regret her keen-ness to hit her 5:00 p.m. deadline when she should have been breeding; forgetting the clout and cash her career has won her and how useful it's been in raising her kids), people like me -- 31 and about to start an exciting job -- are made to feel like quavering wrecks marching towards a grave of barren hell.
It would be better for everyone to put forth stats that not only reflect reality but the potential for a better, less pressurised inner and outer life, for women. For instance: in the ritzier parts of Stockholm, the average age of first-time motherhood is around 38. Or people could just share personal anecdote: the fingers on two hands will not account for the number of women I've met who have had children later, as late as 40, and are blissfully happy with it all, some of whom have grown-up children now who are highly balanced and successful. Mown down by exhaustion? Perhaps. Mature, wise and compassionate? Yes -- and these are, surely, the best qualities for a parent.
Allsop and Pearson need to change their tune; the world is not populated any more by women swimming through baby boomer privilege, grateful to be admitted to or encouraged to go to university. At last, biology is beginning to follow, not lead, but if people like this keep making their voices heard, a generation of women will begin to doubt it.