I was so disappointed when I stumbled across this article by The Telegraph in which Kirstie Allsopp, of Location Location Location, had been interviewed on the topic of fertility and female careers. Allsopp is one of those women I always had time for because she seemed to have great values and a good head on her shoulders, but I can’t help but feel really let down and quite angry at her comments in the article.
The woman who fronts Location, Location, Location with Phil Spencer said that if she had a daughter, her advice would be: “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.”
Wow. For someone who considers herself a “passionate feminist”, she seems awfully concerned with our basic biological drives and reasons for existence. What about our rights as women and about all the hard work campaigners have put in over the years to fight on behalf of women for fairer treatment both in the workplace and surrounding the having of children and retuning to work? Fair enough, it isn’t a perfect system and there are a lot of faults and there is a hell of a lot more work to be done to ensure women are being given equal pay and opportunities. But at the same time, a lot of people have worked very hard to enable our society to have the choice – the choice of education and a career, the choice to create a life for ourselves before creating a new life that dominates our own existence. Does Kirstie realise that by pushing these ideas on a hypothetical daughter could leave her without the opportunity to make this choice for herself? I am truly grateful to have had this choice, because I have always wanted an education, to learn and to study in order to benefit my career. I want a job I can love and be passionate about and I deserve that, as does everyone, regardless of their gender.
We deserve the right to choose when we want to have children, fair enough our biological clock is ticking and physically we may find ourselves unable to have children if we wait, but does that mean we should turn our own lives upside down and rush into the huge responsibility of raising a family before we are ready? One look at Jeremy Kyle will show you several reasons why rushing into having children and families before we are mature enough to deal with the relationships and the outcomes is a dangerous thing for society. Look at how the children suffer when they parents are more obsessed with sleeping around, drinking and screaming at them than raising them. Then look at how this affects the next generation when they repeat the same model of behaviour. Before you know it, we have a society of layabouts with an attitude that everything should be handed to them and they shouldn’t have to work because they are raising a family. They rely on the state and we end up in huge debt. Sound familiar? (Yes, yes, I know not all young parents are like this, but one walk around my home town will show you a lot who are.)
“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.”
Fair enough, she raises a valid point when she talks about our biology and the fact that there is limited time for women to be able to have a baby, and as I have discussed before it can be life changing and devastating for couples to realise they are out of time. But does that mean we should be rushing and neglecting ourselves in order to raise a family we are not ready for, with a partner who might not be suitable, in order to continue the human race? It just seems sad to me. I’m sure if I came to a point in my life where I had met the man of my dreams and wanted a family but was nearing 40 and suddenly found I could not have a baby of my own – I have no doubt that would be devastating. But, there are a huge range of options available, whether IVF, surrogacy or even adoption and I think, or I hope, that would pacify me and would be enough. But I certainly don’t believe for one second that ditching university and my career in order to have a baby at 18 would have been a useful solution. I would have resented the baby for holding me back and I would not have been happy.I’ll be honest, my maternal instincts are not that strong. I have no deep-seated desire for children at this moment in my life. I can appreciate cute babies and love to hold and play with them, but I also love giving them back to their parents. I’m not in any way ready for children at 24 and I’m not afraid to say it. I actually had a dream the other night that I found out I was pregnant right before going travelling and I was so upset, it ruined my life. I see life as something that should revolve around you and you alone at a young age – call me selfish if you want. I feel quite strongly that your teens and twenties are about learning about yourself, who you are, and developing that by experiencing as much as possible, learning as much as possible and growing as a person so that in turn you can help your children do the same. This is done by working hard, playing hard and achieving things to be proud of while asserting your own independence. I feel Kirstie’s comments hark back to an age where women had to rely on their partners for financial and emotional support when raising babies, now I know lots of women who manage all by themselves.
These days your career is something you need to work on from as young as possible. As my boyfriend is finding out now, messing up your exams when you are younger can leave you in a job you hate, education is great key that is handed to us on a plate when we are young but some choose not to take advantage of it. By passing these exams young and by putting the time into placements, work experience and a degree, you can really help yourself in the long-run (I’m not saying this is the only option, just using myself as an example). Those who go back to studying and working later on often find it much harder because you don’t learn as easily as you get older and after a long time away from study and work it can be a real shock to the system. So if we women are to forget everything we learnt at school by going off and having babies and raising them for the next twenty years before heading back to work – who is going to employ us? With no experience and no education – who is going to employ us over those with qualifications, experience and a great CV?
“I don’t want the next generation of women to go through the heartache that my generation has. At the moment we are changing the natural order of things, with grandparents being much older and everyone squeezed in the middle. Don’t think ‘my youth should be longer’. Don’t go to university because it’s an ‘experience’. No, it’s where you’re supposed to learn something! Do it when you’re 50!”
I had hoped by the end of the article, might have a change of heart, but sadly it was not the case. Perhaps she is from a generation of women who put their careers first with many sacrificing families along the line. But I know so many strong, incredible women, my mum included, who had a great youth, trained and studied, had fun, fell in love later on and met a great man, who took time out to have children and went back to work as a nurse, but has now become a lecturer in healthcare. Say that’s not a success story, I dare you. For every case of heartache and sadness over not being able to have children, there are countless couples who have their own children, find another way and adopt or just live with it and still have a fantastic life. I refuse to go back to a time when having babies was the sole purpose of a woman’s body. I am here to learn, to experience and to live my own life before I create another.
I’m not saying that Kirstie’s ideas wouldn’t work for some people, but for many it would be holding them back and could create a country full of unhappy families and unfulfilled dreams which I think is far more dangerous than a couple of families who sadly cannot have children. Watch the discussion continue on BBC’s Newsnight.
How do you feel about Kirstie’s comments? Would you like to change your life around and focus first on family and then your career?