Mother vs Child-free.
Working mother vs stay at home mother.
Breastfeed or bottle feed.
Woman vs Woman.
I feel like everytime I go online I discover something new that women are doing wrong. Last week I read about pregnant women being shamed for not having big enough bumps, or bumps that are too big. This week people seem to be scandalised that Victoria Beckham kisses her small daughter on the lips. People are perpetually horrified that Jennifer Aniston might not want children. Andrea Leadsom bizarrely seemed to think that having children made her more invested in the future of the world than her party colleague Theresa May. (If your world view is that narrow, you are lacking some serious compassion.)
The message seems clear: Women, whatever you are doing, you are doing it WRONG. DON’T DO IT LIKE THAT.
Yes, have kids, but don’t have them like that. Don’t drink a drop during pregnancy, don’t put on too much weight, but don’t carry on exercising for too long. Have a natural birth with no drugs, under no circumstances have an elective caesarian. Now that your baby is here, breastfeed them, but not for too long, and not in public. You should return to work, but only part time in a professional field, when the children have reached school age.
Actually, no. No, don’t have kids. Children are a drain on society and the world is overpopulated anyway. You don’t want to be a mother, mothers are trivial creatures and you are better than that. Be a career woman, but it has to be a career, not a job, you must be a high flier, and you must be immaculately groomed at all times. And don’t be too happy (and don’t ever wear a loose fitting top after a big lunch), you must always portray a slight sense of regret and melancholy at all times.
DON’T, DON’T, DON’T
Often, but not always, it is other women making the judgements, egged on by the patriarchal structure of the tabloid press. Why must we always compare ourselves to others? Why aren’t we confident enough in our own situation to adopt a live and let live approach? Why don’t men do this to each other?
I cannot fathom that there are mothers who look at women without children with anything other than sheer envy to be honest. I jest, of course, but I genuinely find it quite distressing that some kind of mother vs non-mother narrative has been whipped up in the light of the Leadsom comments. Woman does not equal mother, nor mother equal woman. Likewise, you are no better a mother than I if you stay at home, whilst I go out to work. I am no better a mother than you if I breastfeed my children and you bottle feed yours.
Being a woman is not one size fits all. There are as many different ways to be a woman as there are women on this earth.
Let women support women and recognise that choice and circumstance leads us all to different places. I understand that my choice may not be your choice. I recognise that other women might not have the luxury of choice. I recently read an article about women putting family first by giving up work to stay at home with the kids. Many women do not have the luxury of choosing to stay at home, for many it is financial necessity to go out to work, this does not mean they are not ‘putting family first’, it just means for them, that looks different. There’s also a big difference between the woman who goes out to work to make ends meet, and the woman who does so because she wants to , she has a successful career and can afford to pay for excellent childcare. Neither of these women are doing it wrong – but they are doing it differently, through choice or circumstance, and we need to acknowledge that. This is not a competition.
Consider for a second any of this discussion being made around men. Consider whether we care if male politicians are fathers. Imagine if George Clooney was harassed by the tabloids about his child-free status to the extent of having to write an open letter to the world as Jennifer Aniston did this week. Is there any level of debate around how men father their children? Absolutely none, other than just basically existing in the same space as their children, nothing more is expected of them by society. Is there any serious level of debate around the choices men make about their own bodies? What they wear? No, there is not.
Let’s call bullshit on this. Let’s stop pitting woman vs woman. We are all doing this right, being a woman, because we are doing it our way, and that’s the only right way to be a woman.