Mother May I?

By Kaisha Langton

“You are selfish.”

“You are going to regret this.”

“Who will care for you when you’re old?”

“You will live an unfulfilled life.”

“You are not a real woman.”

This is what you get when you tell someone you don’t want to be a mother. Aggressive and shaming language of this kind haunts childless women and attempts to bully them into conforming to the status quo.

Childlessness has two main subsets: childless by chance or childless by choice. With 18% of British women aged 45 in 2016 without children, compared to just 11% in 1971, childlessness is clearly increasing in the UK. There are a multitude of reasons why women cannot or do not have children. However, all women without children are positioned as ‘other’ in normative society.

In media and films, single women without children are usually cast as the villain or an evil jealous witch. This typecasting reoccurs in traditional fairy tales such as ‘Hansel and Gretel’, as the innocent children escape being cooked for dinner by the vicious, old, childless crone. Another type of ‘predatory’ woman is found in Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones, who’s sexually powerful, man-obsessed and career driven.

Furthermore, there’s the trope of the ‘crazy cat lady’, who sits around knitting misshapen hats for her many kittens, the furry creatures who have taken the place of the children that she was supposed to have, but never quite managed to.

And of course, our single days are not much better, we are Bridget Jones, desperately dreaming of our Mr Darcy so we can ‘properly’ settle down, get married and pop out little sweetums.

But what happens if you just aren’t built with the desire to have children?

Since I was fifteen, I’ve known that I will not have children. Now aged 26, I’ve visited the doctor to ask to help my body reflect this decision medically. I was turned away. Doctors refused to give help, with a pitying look in their eyes, and assurances that it is the right thing to do because. Obviously, I am too young (and perhaps, too female) to know my own mind.

But I am not too young. I am old enough to drink. To drive. To smoke. To have sex. To gamble. To receive the highest rate for minimum wage. To watch all films with any certification. To fight and die for my country in the army.

And yet I, and the many others that come to this decision at a young age, are told that we are too young to know what we want. We are ‘too young’ to have authority over our own bodies.

The doctor’s comment was just one of the many marks against my decision. My friends and family express the same, but with a softer approach. Sometimes, it feels as if they’re acting out a scene or reading a script. Trust me, I have eleven years of experience in hearing this script over and over – which is usually:

  1. A pitying look
  2. A tilted head
  3. A sympathetic smile
  4. The words: ‘You’ll change your mind one day.’

My close friends also challenge my choice. They ask ‘what if you fall in love with someone that wants children?’ ‘What if your partner threatens to leave you if you don’t have a child?’

Needless to say in this case, they would not be the person for me.

The decision to remain childless is personal, and that does not mean it is any less valid. It is as simple as deciding to get a piercing or a tattoo: a choice concerning my own body and prerogative. This is my life to live as I see fit.

I am resolute in my decisions once I put my mind to them. The fact that even my closest of family and friends believe I will “grow up” and change my mind is irksome. But I can understand why they feel the need to react like this.

After all, biologically, humans are built with a complex set of mechanics. We are intricate machines with complicated methodologies. To ensure the human race survives, we are born with biological impulses. To perpetuate our existence and thrive, we logically possess these imperatives for survival, territorialism, competition, reproduction and group-forming.

Simply put: we are born with a biological clock which counts down to the (supposedly happy) moment when we can produce our very own mini-me. These biological impulses are so deeply instilled in our social systems that we grow up playing pretend families, cuddling dolls, and thinking about baby names.

Like many others, I was raised in a heteronormative family structure and assumed that my future would mimic this. But for me, this picture seems stifling, and at odds with the future I see for myself. I have different drives – to attain all of my career goals and travel to places in every corner of the world. And I believe that children that are not wanted or cherished are a waste.

And yet, I’m still met with a stream of distrust, denial and disagreement.

It is time for those who judge women like me to check their attitude at the door. I have known that this will be my path for over a decade. That does not mean that you should avoid asking questions, or shy away your curiosity. But my departure from the norm it does not give you permission to preach, or the platform to define the parameters for which my life will be deemed fulfilled and accomplished.

You have made your choice, I respect that.

Is it really too much to ask for you to do the same?


About the Author

K3 (1)

Kaisha is a recently qualified journalist with a BA and MA in English Literature. She enjoys working her way through the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die List, writing about important issues plaguing our society and drinking prosecco in the sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

Image by Emma Plunket

President Trump: Reflections on the US Elections (Part 3)

I can’t bring myself to watch her concession speech. Not yet. I’m not in denial, exactly; I’ve already moved through several stages of shock and anger and grief and I can say that I’m now in determined fighter mode. But that doesn’t change the fact that this was an outcome I hoped so fervently against. While I’m resigned to him being around for the next four years – please let it be only four – her steely grace and dignity in the face of this humiliating and incredulous defeat is more than I can currently bear. When I’m ready, I will watch her and I will read the full transcript of her speech, because she inspires me and because she deserves my (and our) fullest attention, today as every day. I’ve seen the headlines; I know she bowed out with a message that was so presidential, so thoughtful, so strong, that it will make me cry. I can’t bear to see her face. In her face live all the hopes she had and we had and the reminder of everything we could have had, now lost.

I wasn’t one of those cheerful millennials who thought we had this in the bag. I had a premonition, the night before Election Day, that something would transpire at the midnight hour and that we would be facing four years under the leadership of a brutish, bigoted, proudly uneducated man. I went to a yoga class and, halfway through, I tensed up even more. I left that class with a new knot in my back. Afterward, I told my boyfriend how overwhelmed I was feeling. There has been so much venom directed toward people like me during this campaign, I said. People of color. Women. Immigrants. People already marginalized, already fearful of their futures. I don’t know how we can navigate through the stain that this venom leaves behind, I said, even if she wins. I don’t feel safe anymore, I said. I said that, the night before – and he said ‘Don’t worry sweetheart, 24 hours from now, we’ll be rejoicing at this country having elected our first woman president. The most qualified candidate, the most outstanding woman, to have ever run for this office. It will be a great, great day. You’ll see.’

The morning of November 9th, it was a grey and drizzly. The streets of my neighborhood in Washington, DC were close to being empty. I passed older African-American men huddled on street corners and Latina women pushing young children in strollers. I made eye contact with several people as I passed. We exchanged nods, knowing looks, sometimes smiles. We wished each other a good day. Our faces all said: I don’t know where to go from here, I don’t know what will happen, and I’m so sad and scared. But look at me: today, I am surviving. I am putting one foot in front of the other and showing up. I am doing my best to own my life.

—-

Politics is an unfriendly sport, a fickle one, one that takes away as much as it gives. There are issues that our elected leaders debate in the halls of Congress, some of which seem removed from our everyday lives. But I know how much the decisions that Trump’s administration will make will affect how I and everyone around me lives. I know, for instance, that I need to switch to a form of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) like an IUD or implant as soon as possible. Because if Roe v. Wade is repealed, as Trump promises, I will lose my constitutional right to an abortion. I will lose an essential part of my reproductive choice. I am somewhat comforted by the knowledge that the damage the next administration will inflict on the country and the world at large will seem irreparable, but that some of it will be reparable. There are some issues, though, that can’t wait four years. Climate change is real, it is not a hoax invented by the Chinese, and we cannot afford to let petty political squabbles stall efforts to combat it and exacerbate what is already a grave and global humanitarian crisis. On climate change, we are f*****. On immigration, too. I think of all the DREAMers, who grew up in this country, who are every bit as American as my housemates, white children of Massachusetts and Indiana and Missouri. Have the DREAMers lost their chance to dream?

There’s more, of course – Muslim Americans, LGBTQ+ Americans, Americans living with disabilities. In voting in Trump, we voted out their rights to a life of dignity, safety, bodily integrity. We repudiated Obama and the legacy he worked so hard to preserve. We allowed male white supremacy to rear its ugly head. We reversed the course of history.

I am so, so devastated. I am out of words.

Priya Kvam, based in Washington DC

*

My first thought on watching the Trump victory was how this could come from the same place as Black Lives Matter. And then I realised that actually they came from exactly the same place – a place of disillusionment with the status quo. In the same way that people voted out of Europe because they were angry at the establishment people voted not for Trump but for an anti-establishment candidate. Just like black lives matter campaign against the inherent injustice of the system. The question we have to ask ourselves is why is the anti-establishment feeling is doing better when it breeds on xenephobia and misogyny, than when it breeds on respect and tolerance. My answer to that is because the liberal intelligensia classes have gotten arrogant. They believed the fight was already won, and put one of their own a  – pure breed elitest liberal – against the anti establishment candidate. We, as a collective, failed to provide an alternative anti-establishment narrative, we sat back on our laurels and assumed that we had already won. No candidate could take the black lives matter message to the mainstream, so we lost. We held onto our establishment, when the other side let the anti-establishment message ring. This is not the fault of the xenephobic elements of society, they’ve always existed, it’s the fault of everyone who believes in a different message – who failed to get that message across.

Lindsay Riddoch

*

“I can’t believe she voted for Trump – she’s a woman!” I sat back and agreed silently. Yes, as a woman I felt furious, disgusted and insulted that a man so openly sexist had just become President of the free world. Suddenly, a quiet bubbling erupted within me and I began to feel ill. Something felt wrong.

It felt wrong to me that the person sitting in front of me expected women to vote for Clinton – perhaps based on an assumption of the defiance, anger and resentment that ‘should’ be felt by the female population of voters. It echoed too the roaring assumption that voters ‘should’ support the candidate that most resembles their narrowly defined stereotypes and ‘tick the box’ characteristics. And perhaps even more worryingly, it underlined the assumption that voting for one’s benefit ‘should’ come before voting for the future of one’s society.

And perhaps, after all, that was the big downfall of the polls, which predicted greater numbers of women voting for Clinton, and lesser number of Muslims, Asians and Hispanics voting for Trump. The failure to look beneath the surface and into who people really are is the reason for the wave of shock that gripped the world as Trump’s states ticked over the line. But if there is one positive take away from this event, it’s the blindingly obvious demonstration that people are more than what they appear to be on paper. That ‘she’ and ‘he’ are more than a ‘woman’ or a ‘man, ‘Muslim’ or ‘Catholic’, ‘white’ or African-American’. They are, above all, individuals – each with their own visions, hopes and fears. And that they are larger, louder and more powerful than the boxes that we confine them to.

Kiara Alves, based in England

*

It’s a depressing state of affairs. A presidential race in which a candidate with years of political experience loses against someone without any experience, who is facing numerous accusations of sexual assault and rape, and whose campaign has been based on bullying, sexism and racism.

It has been pointed out that Clinton is in fact set to win the popular vote but, ignoring the bizarre American electoral system, this should have been irrelevant. Against such a candidate she should have won by a landslide. Why didn’t she?

I think there were myriad reasons for the result – disillusionment with the “establishment”, the email scandal, America’s love of celebrity. But what is most interesting is the gender dynamic. I think Clinton and her team took for granted winning votes simply for virtue of her being a woman, which proved not to be the case.

I would, of course, have loved to have the first female president, but wouldn’t vote for someone solely for this reason (I would have voted for her as a Democrat and against Trump, obviously). And for many, her gender would either be an irrelevance or an active deterrent, therefore her campaign should have made more solid arguments beyond this.

The Democrats’ focus on her as a woman has then meant that post-election debate has started to question “Is America ready for a female president?” when this isn’t the issue at all. Clinton, as a person, and her campaign, had issues irrespective of her gender.

For me, however, the most depressing take home from the result is that, while people aren’t prepared vote for someone solely because they are a woman, to break “the ultimate glass ceiling”, they are seemingly prepared to ignore rampant misogyny, sex crimes and racism when they make their vote.

Emily Morrison

*

“Never forget that a political, economical or religious crisis is enough to cast doubt on women’s rights. These rights will never be vested. You have to stay vigilant your whole life” – Simone de Beauvoir

8th November 2016 was always going to be a historic day for the United States: I was convinced that the American people would elect their first female President: Hillary Clinton. How wrong I was… After a very long night, which rapidly turned into a nightmare, the entire world found out that Donald Trump would become the 45th President of the United States. I was deeply shocked and terrified. How is it possible that a xenophobic, racist, violent, misogynistic billionaire will lead the United States from the 20th January 2017?

The American elections are a disgrace and a severe endangerment for women’s rights. The appalling result is a step backward for women in the United States and all around the world. However, I am convinced that we – women and men – who believe in inclusiveness and equality will keep fighting for our rights.  As Simone de Beauvoir said in 1949, there always will be crises that will affect women’s rights. She wrote this 60 years ago, but it is been true for almost all of human history, and it is even truer today. The fight carries on and it is up to us to fight it.

Apolline Parel