The mother of ambitions

by Abigael Watson // 16 August 2014, 15:25

Tags: children, gender roles, guest blogger, having it all, maternity, motherhood, stereotypes, toys

This is how the conversation goes:

"What happens when you have children though?" (a comment made after I have declared an ambition that would not fit in with children. Note that the assumption here is I will have children no matter what - the "when" in that sentence is particularly prominently said.)

"Well, I actually don't want to have children, so it doesn't really matter."

"What?!?!?!? You don't want to have children?? Why?!" (Then they proceed to rant about how I ought to have children, and how I must use my body for what it was made for and how it is quite wrong and odd to have any other ambition in life apart from having two children and live in a lovely little house in suburbia.)

Okay, I concede I'm exaggerating just slightly but you get the point. I am also definitely not exaggerating as much as people might assume.

baby dolls.jpgSo, then the conversation would continue. It would probably result in more frankly sexist and derogatory statements about me and my ambitions in life. May I hasten to add that I am a 16-year-old girl, I am at school and at the moment my main ambition is to carry on with that and get a good job, have fun and gain experience in life. This seems like a fairly understandable goal in my mind, though perhaps I have missed the point of my life. You see, I was under the impression that my happiness is a good thing to aim for, but instead evidently it is succumbing to societal pressures that do not interest me at all.

Don't get me wrong; I do like children. I'm volunteering at a library at the moment and I'm helping in the children's section, so I have lots of contact with them. I love it; however this does not translate at all into me wanting to have children. It's just not something I see becoming part of my life. Of course, my views may change and I admit that but those are my thoughts currently.

I also don't have an issue whatsoever with my peers who hope to have children or people living a typical family life. The thing is, that's just not for me. I think it shows to great effect how far sexist social conditioning affects the world. Girls are still expected to grow up and raise a family. The fact that I'm barely out of year 11 and this is clear as day whenever the topic of children is brought up at school is noteworthy.

People should, quite simply, not be expected to have children, and one should definitely not have to endure insults about your purpose in life for just stating the fact that you don't wish to go down that path yourself.

The idea of motherhood and family is engrained into the minds of young girls from the very day they are born. Toys for little girls include kitchen sets, dolls and numerous other similarly themed items. This does not happen to nearly the same extent to boys. Girls will be encouraged to play at being mother, cooking and cleaning. Boys will be directed to play with cars, trains and building sets. This then continues throughout childhood with some help from the media. The ideal for women is too often portrayed as so called "having it all" and the media bombards us with this. To become a perfect example of a woman you will have children and also a high flying career.

This is clearly not for everyone though and no one should be made to feel inferior because they don't wish to fulfil their supposed purpose on earth of giving birth.

May I also point out that the observation that I would apparently be a good mother does not mean that I should therefore be a mother. Being good at something does not mean I like it and it does not mean I should do it.

This is obvious logic.

Already, not even past school, it seems as though one is more often than not put down for not wanting a maternal route through life. This seems so early and I can only imagine the expectation gets worse as one gets older. On top of this, I feel as though boys do not have to endure the same level of expectation as far as having children goes. It is harmful gender stereotyping, it is heavily engrained attitudes on life and children and it is a commonly held sexist outlook.

But it is not logical.

Why should I be made to feel inferior for wanting to pursue what I think will make me happy in life?

The image is by Aimee Ray and is used under a creative commons licence. It shows a Caucasian doll with tied back blonde hair and large green eyes, wearing a white dress and sitting down, holding a tiny baby doll, a grey toy cat and a rattle. She is surrounded by a multitude of more baby dolls and other animals, including two in a cot to her right.

Comments From You

The Goldfish // Posted 16 August 2014 at 17:39

Great article, Abigael! One great irony is that if, at sixteen, you declared the desire to have children as soon as possible, you'd also be met with a fair amount disapproval.

It sort of gets better and worse at the same time - worse for the reasons you'll have already thought of. But it gets better in that, when you're sixteen, so much of what you're supposed to talk about - with older people and your peers - is the future. People want to hear about your ambitions, there are gendered expectations to that and there are also no shortage of people wanting to give their advice, whether or not you have any need or desire for it.

It is absolutely true that boys are not under this pressure. It is a very rare thing for anyone to expect a teenage boy to think about whether or when he might become a parent. And that carries on; the expectation is that women want babies, men are either indifferent or apprehensive but sooner or later the ladies make it happen and the chaps go along with it. This isn't just about stifling women's reproductive choice, it makes having children all about women, it's part of what keeps childcare firmly part of a woman's domain and it is a dreadful disservice to men, some of whom have a very strong desire to be (or not to be) a fully-involved father.

Another thing always worth mentioning to a young feminist is that this, and other aspects of the sexism you experience, are likely to improve with time because you will gradually gather people around you who have similar values or, at the very least, have the utmost respect for your own.

Charlotte R // Posted 16 August 2014 at 20:24

So true Abigael, I'm 50, never had kids, never wanted them, never regretted it. It seemed like an awesome responsibility to me with so many risks and, even though the rewards may be great, I know a lot of unhappy parents. You might change your mind, you might not but it has to be for you to decide. A woman of any age choosing not to have children should not be seen as weird or unnatural, we're just leaving room for those that do. Right now in my life I'm choosing to give up working for a bad employer and deciding that I'm going to spend my time writing and drawing, getting out of the rat race. I'm not loaded but I can afford to do this because I don't have children. The thought of being trapped in a job I'd grown to hate so that I could pay uni fees or whatever is quite horrifying. I honestly feel that not having children is one of the best life choices I made and yet I still see that pitying look when people ask.

Jenny Mulholland // Posted 19 August 2014 at 20:45

Good to hear from you Abigael. I felt exactly the same as you at 16. I'm now 30 and still wondering whether I will ever change my mind and want kids (currently I don't). My mum has a good friend who has no kids and it's a perfectly valid choice but I do feel like the odd one out. The hardest part for me has been discussing it with my partners over the years, maybe they'll think I'm abnormal and dump me? But they haven't and I think you just have to take things as they come and try to be brave enough to have these sorts of difficult conversations.

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