It’s time to shout stop and to fight back against the pressures heaped upon all women,
usually by people trying to sell us something, writes Clodagh Finn
Let’s hear it for the wonderful (though childless) Jennifer Aniston. In case you missed it, the former Friends star wrote an open letter in the ‘Huffington Post’ this week telling the stalking paparazzi — and, let’s face it, the rest of us who are guilty of gawping at their pictures — to back off.
In a powerful piece that should be on every school curriculum, she wrote: “For the record, I am not pregnant. What I am is fed up.” She spoke about how the press, by trying to uncover whether or not she is pregnant (“for the bajillionth time... but who’s counting?”), perpetuates the notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children.
That line will be savoured by childless women everywhere, particularly those of us who are never quite sure how to fill that moment of supreme awkwardness when a (well-meaning, usually) person asks if you have children and you reply, “No”.
I’m often tempted to jump in and say something completely inane just to fill the silence which can, in this instance, feel like a yawning abyss.
“But I raise chickens” or “I have a dog” or “Tell me about your children”. Anything to show that even a childless woman can be nurturing too.
It’s been a very interesting week for women who don’t have children, though I almost feel sorry for UK prime ministerial candidate (and very proud mum-of-three) Andrea Leadsom, who suffered a merciless backlash when she said that mothers care more about the future than non-mothers.
The onslaught was instant, vicious and deeply personal, as all attacks are in these digital times.
It was heartening to see that she was not going to be allowed to make political capital from the supposed edge motherhood had given her.
Her downfall, however, had more to do with her political gaucheness and Tory internal politics than any real objection to using motherhood as a weapon.
In the cold, harsh world of politics, they will do what is politically expedient not what is best for women.
The furore did, however, prompt a discussion about perceptions of women in society that will hopefully be productive and long-lasting. (Actually, there were some great comments and posts too.
Here’s a witty example from a UK historian: “Having parents makes me a better historian. It means I have a stake in the past.”) What’s been deeply disappointing, though, is the rush in the days that followed to pit women with children against women without children, yet again.
If I read another article about how being a mother has made the writer a better and more productive worker, I’ll implode. Apparently, there are even studies to prove that to be the case.
Let’s not get sucked into that ugly, headline-generating row and focus instead on another study. This one, carried out by the OECD in 2014, shows that Irish women over 45 have the third-highest rate of childlessness in the developed world, at 18.4pc.
For more figures, let’s turn to the latest census, which tells us there are 344,944 child-free Irish couples (where the woman is under 45).
It’s a relief to hear the word “couple” again because for a while there, it was easy to forget that it takes two to have a child.
Interpret those figures as you will but I think most of us would agree on this: they prove, without doubt, that the world is changing.
Now, more than ever, women (and men) go through life without having children. There are as many reasons for that as there are people — it is invasive to even speculate — but it does mean the time has come to examine those lingering prejudices.
It seems true to say the world at large doesn’t appear to give a jot if men have children or not.
It also seems true to say that it’s not the same for women. What’s harder to establish is if women without children are viewed with suspicion/pity/envy.
I say envy because occasionally — and this really is the last taboo — women will confide in you that they absolutely love their children but they regret having had them so young.
The media (I know, I’m one to talk) would be at a loss if it didn’t dedicate an inordinate amount of space to assessing a woman’s appearance; her competence in the workplace; her role as a mum; her ability to juggle. Add to that, her ability to handle all the stress that is thrown her way and still come up smelling of roses through the utter exhaustion.
Well, now it’s time to shout stop and to fight back against the pressures heaped upon all women, usually by people trying to sell us something.
Most of us will never feel the scrutiny Jennifer Aniston and other celebrities endure, but we are all subject to the warped lens that tries to calculate a woman’s worth by how she looks or what she does.
Jennifer Aniston has been stripped of so much by the endless speculation about whether or not she is pregnant. She has been reduced to her womb and its ability to function. That is deeply, deeply offensive. But one wonderful thing has come from this. Jennifer Aniston is not taking it any more.
She has spoken out and said in clear, refreshing, inspiring prose that women are complete with or without a mate, with or without a child.
“That decision is ours and ours alone,” she wrote. “Let’s make that decision consciously, outside of the tabloid noise
“We get to determine our own ‘happily ever after’ for ourselves”.
And so say all of us who want to stand behind her and fight back against the sort of divisive rubbish designed to make women feel powerless or worthless.
Who’s on to join the campaign to make that happen? We might call it #happilyeverafter
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