Sometime this afternoon, between the school run and packing away the food shop, a friend of mine asked my opinion on the comments made by Kirsty Allsop, Location, Location, Location presenter. Guardian writer Mark Tran Quotes Kirsty’s views on motherhood, firstly what she would tell her daughter if she had one:
“Darling, do you know what? Don’t go to university. Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit – I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.”
She continued with..
“Women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward. At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home, and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.”
Fertility can be an issue as women age, and for some much, much earlier. However, making such sweeping statements highlights the role that social class has to play in parenting, career and education choices. My main argument is that those from lower class backgrounds may not have this ‘choice’, baby or university, as university is viewed as beyond reach and childrearing is the culturally accepted lifestyle for young women.
My opinion was called for as what Kirsty is proposing is my life. I had my first child at barely 19 years old and have had four children in total, all under eleven years old and still in primary school. I am from the North West of England, there are five universities in my home town, I didn’t know anyone who attended any of them. I left home at 17years old, university wasn’t for people like me. I knew my place and I stayed there. I became a mum, like most of my peers and went to work. With these facts alone I suspect many would think I agree with Kirsty. But I dont, I feel her commens were unhelpful. I returned to education at 27 years old, rougly 6 months later separated from my husband and all tha entails. I studied for my degree amongst family court, parents evening, outbreaks of nits, two cases of chicken pox and many other difficulties. University was a fight to get to, a fight to stay in and the job market is now the same, a few years break on your CV to rear children is not an advantage!
What I am hoping to demonstrate here is that university or children is not a choice for many. The harsh reality is that young mothers are often of low socio- economic status, lacking the social capital to get to university in the first place. There is a fetishization of motherhood and parenting that reinforces the idea that in order to feel complete one must become a mother, reinforcing gender and class stereotypes.
Once a mother, she must be the best mother, by buying the best pram, breastfeeding, weaning on organic food. Her child must be her life; she fills in the occupation part of facebook as ‘fulltime mummy to my two beautiful angels’. Her children’s accomplishments become hers, in competition with other mums for the best behaved child. She looses herself.
This exerts so much pressure on women at their most vulnerable. Prompting women to forgo education in order to secure a husband and have babies, in the name of fertility, is a rationale spoken from the mouth of middle and upper-class privilege. It comes from the classes that have ‘choice’. What Kirsty is proposing is extremely hard if you don’t have a certain level of affluence behind you, via supportive parents or ‘marrying well’. I know, I have experienced it first-hand. Children require resources, without a good career, the mother is forced to rely on the child’s father, family or the welfare state. All of which we know can very easily let her down.
It is time that an open and honest discussion about what real parenting is like, without being silenced as bad parents. Any parent knows that rearing children is hard, especially while studying night school or trying to get a career off the ground, now is just the time to admit it. Inform young women so that they can make their own choices, based on the lived experiences of others, not celebrity opinion.
I will leave you with this, as I currently battle with my 4 year old who would rather stand on his window ledge naked than go to sleep any time soon. ‘Go the F**K to sleep’by Adam Mansbach is a culture jamming narrative of real parenting disguised as a child’s story book.
The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the fuck to sleep