Mother of two and Location, Location, Location TV presenter Kirsty Allsopp recently gave an interview with the Telegraph and announced that women should skip going to college and have a baby instead. She continued, “I don’t have a girl, but if I did I’d be saying ‘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.”
Naturally her comments created a storm in the UK, and she appeared on UK television on Newsnight to defend her controversial opinions. There she stated, “Nature is not with you and I. Nature is not a feminist.” Back-tracking ever so slightly, she admitted, “By all means go to university, have a career, do what makes you happy — travel, write — but be aware of the fertility window and make your choices in an informed way.”
So does Allsopp have a point? In the Telegraph interview, she said that for women to go to college, get their career on track, try and buy a home, meet a man, settle down, and have children all within a 15-year window is a lot to ask of someone. Putting it like that — she has a fair point. How many women do you know who spent their 20s in college/getting on the career ladder, only to find themselves single in their late 30s with a rock-solid career but dwindling chances of having a family?
Believe it or not Allsopp thinks she is a feminist, declaring, “As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.” She added that young women who know they want to have children “should look at the choices in front of them and ask themselves, ‘Should I re-order these choices in order to reflect that the only window closing is my fertility window?'”
But Allsopp seems to forget that it takes two (usually) to make a baby. Having children early or late is not decided by our career choices but rather when we meet Mr. Right. On Newsnight, Allsopp’s views were debated by Holly Baxter, a journalist who co-founded Vagenda magazine. Baxter countered: “What I find is that women are constantly reminded in the media about their fertility, about their biological clock ticking, about how they should choose between having a career and children.” She noted that the question of fertility should also involve men, and that their choices should be equally affected by the desire to have children or otherwise.
But isn’t that wishful thinking on the part of Baxter? After all, men can remain fertile long after women have gone through menopause. Whilst obviously in every partnership a man should have equal say on the matter of having children or not, but the only sex that hears the loud ticking of the fertility clock is unfortunately women.
Allsopp claims that her opinions come from wanting women to avoid the “heartbreak of infertility.”
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!
Allsopp means well — that is undeniable. But I feel she is misguided in her “feminist” hopes for women. Isn’t she suggesting that in having children early we will be able to achieve all these great things, still possible in our 40s and 50s? As someone who had children at the ages of 33 and 37, I am relieved I left it later, because trying to achieve things I did at 24 with a family at home would have been nearly impossible. Nurseries and day care centers shut down at 6 PM on the dot, making many television jobs I did on-location in my 20s unthinkable. In fact I changed careers at 35 in order to accommodate childcare and being a mother. If I had tried to do this at a younger age, I would have been laughed at; the gravitas of being older made people respect me more and accommodate my situation. Also, who is willing to hire a mother of X many children who is fresh out of college at 35? I wish that I could say women should be appreciated at any age, regardless of motherhood, but judgments are made, whether we like it or not.
Surely we can dictate having a more flexible career if we’ve been in it for 10 years, which we wouldn’t be if we had babies at 23 and took 5 years to raise them! Plus, I don’t have the energy I had in my 20s, so trying now to foster a new career with children at school (and all the homework, housework, etc.) would be impossible. For me, it worked having children later, but I can appreciate that I was incredibly lucky.
I have several friends who had babies at 40 or chose to have babies alone, not waiting for Mr. Right to pop his head around the door. I know one friend whom had a baby with her best friend, and they are the happiest family I have ever met. Different things will work for different people, and we shouldn’t be stalling our daughter’s careers for the sake of having babies if they want to achieve other things. Allsopp assumes that every woman wants to become a mother, which is definitely not the case.
Now it’s time for the facts: Allsopp comes from an incredibly privileged family, whom no doubt would have been able to afford her all the childcare help she would have needed, had she herself had children young. But she didn’t meet her partner until her 30s and ended up having her sons at the ages of 35 and 37. She enjoys a career that takes her away on-location, with a husband who works full-time, and employs staff to help her. Not everyone having children before 27 can afford to then return to college or establish themselves in a career with the soaring costs of childcare — a fact that Allsopp glosses over.
Fertility windows are not shutting any sooner than before — if anything women are having children later and later. We fought to have choices — to vote, to work, to buy our own properties (it wasn’t that long ago women wouldn’t get a mortgage on their own!) — so Allsopp, please stop trying to send us back to the dark ages. We’ve come a long way from then … and still have a long way to go.
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