The 21st century woman can have it all. She can be successful in her career, married to a wonderful man and be a great mother. She can even choose not to have it all, at all! Or can she? Ever since primary school I've felt like I've had the mantra pushed in front of me from all angles. I grew up wanting to be a lawyer, a wife and a mother, and all by the time I was 25. Did I achieve any of those things? Did I fuck. I spent my 25th birthday in Queensland with my 19 year old boyfriend not thinking ahead any further than the next few weeks. I had a degree in English Lit and was pursuing a career in the Music Industry (although an Entertainment Lawyer may have been a wise career choice in hindsight...). Did I want it all then? No. Do I now, at 31? Meh.
Society's expectations of women don't seem to lighten up, decades on from the traditional times of when women had their place. Even after I got married to a total stranger on a tv show, the questions began instantly about taking his name and having children with him. The Great British Public would have been thrilled to see Caro and Adam announce their pregnancy (instead of the adoption of a rabbit...and not the bedroom kind) only 5 months after meeting, when in any 'normal' relationship they'd have been chastised for moving too quickly.
Why does marriage = kids and why does wife = mother?
I've grown up in a huge family, always surrounded by children, and always having been told that I'd make a great mother. I'll let you in on something here...I disagree. I watch my friends bring up their children with this unbelievable patience, kindness and love, and I just don't think I'm capable of doing the same thing, day after day, night after sleepless night. Don't get me wrong, I love their kids; last weekend I spent the whole day with my friend's amazing 2 year old boy, but I was so happy to see them come back and resume parenthood again, while I wandered the house like a zombie after 10 straight hours of childcare. All I wanted by Sunday evening was to go home, see my boyfriend and not even be responsible for dinner, never mind a small human.
I find it very difficult to speak to people about my doubts of motherhood, and here's why:
"It'll be different when it's yours"
"You just haven't met the right guy yet"
"One day it'll all kick in when you see a baby gurgling on the train and go all mushy inside"
You see, no matter how many times I have this conversation, not once have my motives and opinions not been questioned. Every time I mention the possibility of seeing out the rest of my life, it seems unbelievable to the people I talk to that I might not want to do that with a little person or 2 in tow. Maybe I'm just selfish and don't want to share my partner with anyone else. Maybe I still feel like there are a million and one professional achievements I want to make. Maybe I don't want to pass on my awful traits and genetic mental health issues to someone else. Maybe, just maybe, I might not even be able to have a baby, even if one day I want one with my whole heart. Or maybe I'll want 5 children running around my sprawling country house. Either way, whose business is it but mine and my partner's?
The 21st century woman seems to be able to have it all, but I feel like this 21st century woman is still fighting against expectations and constantly battling to be who she wants to be, without the opinions of the world forcing themselves upon her. Sometimes I think we've really progressed with our modern world thinking but when it comes to being a wife and mother, we still seem to be stuck in the dark ages.
Perhaps it's time to stop questioning men and women on their lifestyle choices, particularly ones involving their bodies and their future, just because it doesn't fit in to your box of 'reality'.
Extra Thoughts by Ginger #2
“It’s different when it’s yours though. Nature kicks in… it’s like belonging to a cult.”
Those were the actual words that I text to our Whatsapp group when my ginger wife uttered the sentiment that she wasn’t sure she’d ever like to cultivate a little person of her very own.
And that was a total knee jerk reaction. As automatic as uttering ‘bless you’ when someone sneezed. Which then got me thinking how inappropriate a response that was, not to mention completely untrue. It was a response ingrained by a society’s view that the natural order for a woman was to, of course, have a child.
That, even though we now could have it all, at the very core of everything was the expectation that we would have the all with a child in tow.
And those who opted out, who actively chose to not take that path were viewed with raised eyebrows and disbelief; that they were fundamentally in the wrong.
What shocked me most about how ingrained my reaction was, wasn’t just the fact that I consider myself a staunch feminist, but the fact that I personally know at least three separate women who have chosen not to have children. All three of them are well educated, well rounded, thoughtful individuals perfectly capable of making choices that affect their own bodies and reproductive systems. And each of them have faced the constant flow of staple responses that Sara writes about above.
I read recently, probably on Pinterest or the beauty that is Tumblr (so a well-respected peer reviewed article, obvs) that “the first thought that goes through your mind is what you have been conditioned to think; what you think next defines who you are”. Now this jazzy little sound bite may or may not be total guff, but it did resonate with me. And it’s going to take a lot of second thoughts to pull us out of the dark ages.