“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” said French philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir – the premise being that though we make choices that ultimately make or break us in life, society plays a stronger part in shaping those choices than it does for men.
Of course, she was writing in the middle half of the last century, but in essence much of what she said is still totally relevant today. Being left ‘holding the baby’ has never been a positive phrase. Childcare, like wet-nursing, was something that you give to someone else, if you had enough money to do it.
It does not exclusively suggest the subject is female – but the overwhelming reality is that the vast majority of people who carry out childcare, housework, cooking and other unpaid work, are women – on average doing 26 hours to men’s 16.
And in an ever-changing society demographic, this is a particular leveller. Where trans men and trans women are meeting the same barriers in having and raising children, it would suggest assigned gender was never really the issue. The issue is that being paid for a skill that we have honed and studied for gives us a sense of value and entitlement. And oddly enough, that is priceless.
For me, having my son gave me the opportunity to reflect on the career choices I had made up until then. At no point did I consider that his birth was in effect a retirement from everything I had achieved up until that point. Studying literature at uni and then teaching in inner-city London schools, I was arguably much, much better trained at civilian rather than domestic life.
And so it turned out. Like so many hundreds of thousands of women, if we’re completely honest, I found myself entirely nonplussed by the anarchic timescales of toddler life. Equally, if no more so, I found that – much like having a child with a visual impairment – I had absolutely no automatic bond with other parents at toddler group. The more parenty the parent, the more underwhelmed I felt.
It’s not rocket science. There is such a strange disconnect in navigating a channel between a life of after-work cocktails and DJ-set parties, and reading up on Annabel Karmel’s they’ll-never-know-there’s-veg-in-the-muffins recipes while swigging Gaviscon from the bottle. And we’ll say nothing of the clothes from that era. Nothing.
But…let’s not forget that being able to consider our options is in itself a privilege. Like so many working class families, my own history shows an unbroken line of women who worked and raised families, regardless of the choices their middle class sisters were making.
Education works wonders in flattening the downward curve of our options – and our spines.
And so it was for me. With my youngest at school, the completion of my MA in Newspaper Journalism, was in anticipation of the career I would be forging ahead with as I accelerated away from their early years.
From classroom to keyboard, it is proving to be a composite picture of juggling multi-disciplinary meetings with deadlines, and lately, shared home workspaces with online school. But I wouldn’t – I couldn’t swap it for the world.