Has feminism really “spooked” women out of having children?

According to journalist Angela Epstein – whom I hadn’t heard of until five minutes ago, when I happened to tune into 10 O’clock Live – feminism  has “spooked” a generation of women into not having children. Blimey! Poor women, and bad, bad feminists. What will they think of next?

Epstein was debating “feminism” (as if such a thing is debatable) with Christine Hamilton and Laurie Penny. Epstein has children, the other two do not. Epstein is anti-feminist, Hamilton and Penny are not (I know! Christine fucking Hamilton!). In such a situation, it’s clear that Epstein sees herself as the only person qualified to discuss what motherhood does to women and why certain women are missing out. This is total bollocks. Funnily enough, having children does not make a woman an expert on why other women should or shouldn’t breed.

I know this because I have had children (yeah, Epstein! Two can play at that game!). I may be a feminist but I also have little people who live with me and call me Mummy. To be perfectly honest, I’m not 100% sure why I had them, or rather, if I could pinpoint one reason, it’s because I got broody after a trip to Ikea. Plus I find babies rather cute. These are, let’s be clear, pretty flimsy reasons for changing the whole of one’s life and adding new people to the world. Even when pregnant I kept thinking “god, what if I regret this flat-pack furniture-inspired moment of madness?” Today I know that having children is the best thing I ever did but not all women feel that way (and not just because their children aren’t as ace as mine – although that is of course true as well).

So why don’t more women have children? There are, clearly, practical disadvantages. The main ones are failing to climb to the top of the career ladder and having to put up with all these bitchy feminists saying how crap you are and … only kidding. Some real disadvantages relate to work, certainly, but most of them are to do with discrimination and dealing with structures which prioritise those who don’t have domestic responsibilities (especially if they’re male). There are issues relating to the expense of childcare, a lack of support for stay-at-home mothers and an absence of support networks for mothers who work shifts. If you choose to have children (and for some mothers, it isn’t a choice), unless you are wealthy and well-supported, you lose financial and personal independence, and whatever is said about equal parenting, this is much more true for women than it is for men. And financial and personal independence aren’t luxuries. It’s not a question of smashing through the glass ceiling; for many women, it’s about being safe and healthy. If you have children and this hasn’t affected you, perhaps it is hard to understand (but it really shouldn’t be).

Maybe Epstein assumes that since, like all mothers, she also has experience of what it was like when she didn’t have children, this makes her an expert on “both sides”. It doesn’t. The trouble with having children – and a major reason not to have them, unless you’re 100% sure – is that you can’t un-have them. You can put them up for adoption, obviously, but unless you’ve decided this from the outset (and even if you have), you get quite attached to the buggers. The irrevocability of having kids is terrifying. It really isn’t something to be done simply because you might regret it later. It’s not a one-off event. You have two paths to choose from (if you are lucky enough to have a choice), and you can’t switch routes later. Unfortunately, if you’ve had kids and wished you hadn’t, it’s not really the done thing to get too vocal about it. It upsets people (not least your kids). It’s far more acceptable to mourn the kids you didn’t have than it is to curse the ones you do (and that’s how it has to be).

It is surprising, given the degree to which feminism has occupied itself with making the personal political, to see it boiled down to “feminists only want you to have a career”.  That women should have to choose between financial autonomy and motherhood is, without doubt, a political issue. Thus far, the only movements to engage with this seriously have been those related to women’s rights (whether or not they call themselves “feminist”). This is something we should be supporting. It matters to all of us, whether we want to have children or not. And yes, if you want to have them yourself, rest assured, the feminist elders have granted you permission.

To see a woman posing as someone who knows what’s best for all women  –  simply because she is a mother – really sticks in my craw. If anyone makes motherhood appear strange and frightening, it’s someone like Angela Epstein.

13 thoughts on “Has feminism really “spooked” women out of having children?

  1. Went to bed fuming about this and have woken up still angry so am pumping my fist in appreciation at your post ( looks very odd but who cares).

    The big point for me is this: Having children has made me more of a feminist, because i want things to be better for my children – both my son and my daughter. For me having children has connected me more with what is happening in the world.

    Wasn’t really clear what point the debate was making it was neither topical nor comedy – might as well have marked the centenary of Emily Davison’s actions with a chat about horse racing.

  2. I’m the same as Eeh Bah Mum; I became more of a feminist and accepted that that was what I wanted to be after the birth of my daughter. In fact I became more aware of human rights and problems with that and the world since I had my daughter and later my son. Being a parent made me look at the world differently and feel more aware of what goes on in it.

    This was probably something that was inevitable for me, but children accelerated that I guess.

  3. Of course the discussion is never about why men are or aren’t becoming fathers, or how childcare provision affects men.
    Maybe less women are having children because they can actually choose not to, and if they don’t want to it’s absolutely wonderful that they don’t have to, so thanks to feminism for that!

  4. Oh dear. Just watching the catch up…Angela Epstein ‘no-one’s going to punch me are they?’, really? Two fascinating women sitting at the table with her and she comes out with an inane comment like that. Anti-feminist? Binary tabloid mentality more like.
    Anyhow this article raises a good point – ‘if you have the choice to have children’, for many reasons not everyone can. What is the problem with that? We don’t have to reproduce for the survival of the species. In fact humans are currently very prolific, as children are neglected and abused across the globe, it might be better for a sustainable future if we did breed a bit less!

  5. Hellllooo. Earth to Space. It’s the love, stupid! All normal women LOVE children, especially their own. Only radical, second-wave feminists discuss children as though they were pets. And only neglected children of neglected children could become that calculating and heartless within regards to the possibility of having children. Pity, is all I feel for them.

    1. Okay, it really annoys me, when I hear stuff like this. It is quite alright if you don’t want to have children. That is anyone’s choice. Maybe the problems steams from the intention feminist have for not having children. As if a women having children is some how lessening herself. The only way she can obtain equality is through autonomy….independence from everything. That’s just selfish. They seems to forget that we all came from a mother. If all women agreed with this notion…what would happen to humanity as we know it. I have read a few interesting pieces, written by the children of prominent and notable feminist…and these children paint grim pictures of growing up as burden on their mothers. Feeling like they were some unwanted chore their mothers did not want to reform. That is such as sad state of affairs. Standing up for ones rights is awesome..but when it means neglecting and murdering a populous of people…children… there is a grave error in that mindset. So what if adults male and female decided they did want to care for the elderly… or the sick…because the would loose autonomy…and freedom. Or because they were not getting paid for it. We would not be human now would we…to discard someone because they are an in convince on our so called lives. Such a person has no humanity…and I dare say is not a human being.

      1. You are absolutely correct. Only women, who were neglected children of neglected children, and thereby infused with a deviant view their own humanity, could publicly espouse childlessness because of the “inconvenience” to potential mothers. This is just plain SICK. Unfortunately, the entertainment industries and the liberal news media thrive on humanity’s sicknesses, giving them some bizarre form of legitimacy. Keep the faith.

  6. I imagine that far fewer women would have children if:
    1 – They were encouraged to think about it rather than have it assumed that it is simply a natural stage of life that happens to everyone
    2 – It was socially acceptable to not have children without a barrage of questions, and the assumption that you are unnatural and uncaring if you don’t want them
    3 – It was socially acceptable for women who do have children to say that they could have been happy without them (let alone to say that they might have been *more* happy without them)

    To elaborate on #3. There are 4 states a woman can be in once she has passed her “childbearing years”. She can have children or not, and can have wanted children or not. The socially acceptable reactions to getting what you wanted vs not getting what you wanted are not equal.

    If she did not want children, and does not have children, she is allowed to say she is happy (because she got what she wanted), BUT she is also allowed to admit that she may have been wrong in what she wanted and to regret the path no taken, AND other people are allowed to suggest that she may have been wrong (and that she would have been more happy with children than without).

    If she wanted children, and has children, then she is allowed to say she is happy. Nobody is allowed to contradict this (including the woman herself).

    If she did not want children, but does have them, she is allowed a very limited amount of “this is not what I chose”, but is not expected to dwell on it or to say so in front of the children. Any attempt to say “actually, maybe it is okay, maybe I was wrong in what I thought I wanted”, is highly encouraged.

    If she wanted children, but does not have them, she is in receipt of a great deal of sympathy. All will agree that what she wanted was “correct” and that it is a tragedy that she didn’t get it. Any attempt to say “actually, maybe it is okay, maybe I was wrong in what I thought I wanted”, is not taken seriously and considered to be simply “putting on a brave face”.

  7. Having children makes me feel more feminist, but act less feminist.

    It’s a bit of an eye-opener about the ‘illusion of equality’, and I’m now full of ideas about the changes I’d like to see. At the same time, love, guilt, fatigue see me approaching my career/life in a very different way than I’d have predicted pre-children.

  8. Oh this Epstein woman….I wasn’t aware when a woman gave birth she suddenly earned her PhD on life and could suddenly judge all other women who didn’t and don’t choose to bear the fruit. I have respect for all you mothers out there, but let me finally say it I KNOW WHAT I WANT, AND MY LIFE IS PERFECT THE WAY I WANT IT. I AM FULFILLED. Thank you. Feminism didn’t take away the joy of pushing another human out of my body and taking care of it for the perceivable future, my soul and wishes prevent that from happening to me, and luckily enough feminism has wrung up enough power to allow ne to live my life without being forced to have a child. Please keep writing, this is top notch! But for all the women who think I’m missing out and you know what I really desire and need from life (a baby), please shut up.

  9. 40 years old. No kids. Why not? Please let me assure you it has nothing to do with feminism and/or the career ladder. I dont have kids because I didnt want to be an impoverished solo mum. I never met a man I trusted enough to commit long enough to raise kids. As it turns out, I was right. The most committed relationship I have had, the man didnt want kids. The next most committed relationship I had the man wanted kids but not marriage. The first guy is still a bachelor. The second has 3 kids to 2 different women, neither of whom he is still with. I only know one woman who is still with the father of her 2 boys. Every other mother I know is doing it hard on her own.
    The problem isnt feminism. The problem is the commitment to raising children. I do know some men who take that seriously but for the most part it is still the woman’s job 80% and the mans job 20%. I understand splitting up. Thats fine but where is the 50/50. Nowhere to be seen. Where I live, children after separation means lifelong poverty for a woman. No alimony, not even for a short time for retraining to re-enter the workforce and child payments as low as $20 a week which wouldnt even pay for 10% of the childs room rental let alone food, clothing, education etc.

    My solo mum friends are seriously doing it hard. One mum I know, heats the kids room in winter and goes cold herself because even that much is a financial stretch.

    If anything, feminism is whats needed to fix this terrible gender discrimination.

  10. Oh, the Ikea part gave me a great laugh! Thanks for that ! I love what you have to say. It sounds goofy but it isn’t–it is really, really important for women to get the part about there’s no way out once you have kids! I raised two, then remarried and adopted only to find my “I’ll stay at home, honey while you keep on with your amazing career that’s just peaking” husband announcing he’s going back to work. (Ah, yes, we divorced.) And I didn’t even get to birth this one! So, there I was with a 2 year old stranger in my house and I’m 50, at a high point in my career. What did I do? Tried to do both for about two years then bailed on the job. Just knew I’d never fully bond with the little feller if I kept working at what I was doing for a living–it was a 100% plus commitment kind of work. So now I’m home, broke,(3 1/2 years now) but really quite enjoying it (I think it’s the postmenopausal grandma hormone rearrangement effect–I’m finding school aged children rather fascinating–didn’t even feel that when my now 25 plus year olds were little!)
    In the end, a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do–They’re tough choices; gawd knows I could use a little support but it’s not coming anytime soon so I just get on with making the best of it. Sound familiar?

    A cool thing happened along the way–I went from being a scientist to discovering I have a quirky talent for writing musicals–lyrics, script, melodies–the whole she-bang.
    Political ones only.

    Who would have thunk it?

    Judy from Canada

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