An apology

// 21 July 2008

Earlier today, a post went up on the blog, following up on a Daily Mail story, which in itself was re-reporting a Nature story on the future of fertility science – including the prediction that women of 100 will be able to get pregnant. In this post, some offensive and ageist language was used, which was derogatory towards older women, and which quite rightly many commenters and some bloggers called her up on. This is a group blog, and we all post freely, without vetting individual posts before they go up – we wouldn’t be able to run this blog if everything was edited before it appeared. Sometimes we all slip up. This is one of those times.

In my own view, the Daily Mail was sensationalising a story for its own ends – using shock & horror predictions to critique women’s control of our own fertility and older mothers in general.

Much as we at The F-Word support Abby, there’s no excuse for this, and, as editor, I simply apologise. I took down the post earlier, but have now put it back up again for transparency – you can read it here, along with the comments. You can also read criticisms of the post here and here.

Comments From You

Debs // Posted 21 July 2008 at 6:06 pm

Thanks Jess, I really appreciate this.

Laura // Posted 21 July 2008 at 6:15 pm

For the record: I agree with the criticisms of Abby’s post and, had I not been at work all day (meaning I only read the blog just now), would have commented on it myself.

Anji // Posted 21 July 2008 at 6:44 pm

I am glad for the apology, it is good to see the post was not deleted, because it means the F-Word and the author are owning it and not trying to brush it under the carpet. Plus some of the comments were very well-written and it would be a shame to lose the dialogue that happened there. :o)

Sian // Posted 21 July 2008 at 7:20 pm

I’m glad there’s been an apology, and also that you’ve left the post up.

Anne Onne // Posted 21 July 2008 at 7:39 pm

I only just realised that I didn’t reply to the language, though it caught my eye and I had planned to reply to it. I’m glad it’s been picked up on by other readers, and the approach the F-word has taken has been prompt, mature and sincere. I think it’s important to remember that all of us, even F-word bloggers are human; being subject to the programming we have been conditioned with. It’s how someone reacts when people point out their words are harmful that is the real measure, and I think this has been done well.

Ruth Moss // Posted 21 July 2008 at 8:34 pm

Thanks for this; I’m glad you made this decision.

tom hulley // Posted 21 July 2008 at 9:12 pm

Even if I am ‘only’ 60 I have a bus pass. I am an oldtimer. Abby’s words may lie somewhere between offensive and realistic. My body is wrinkled, sagging etc and I am not fit to be a parent any longer. I hope I am a reasonably good grandparent and grand uncle though.

Offending people is linked to intention. Abby is often outspoken and full of feeling, I doubt if she would intend to offend people rather than ideas.

My main concern in the issue of late mothering is that children are not possessions. It is the same argument I have with the families need fathers crowd. Parenting is a privilege not a right.

Ironically many people are highly offensive towards young mothers yet there is plenty of evidence that they are doing well. Children need respect and a Dad of my age would seem disrespectful to them overall.

Please don’t censor Abby as she is wise enough to work out her own way forward.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 21 July 2008 at 10:42 pm

Well tom hulley, you may have your bus pass but you’ll have to wait another 15 years for the priviledge of a free TV license!

Denise // Posted 22 July 2008 at 2:22 pm

I agree with the basic tenets of Abby’s post. I have read most of her other posts and I do not think she is ageist or any other ‘ist’, and I don’t think she meant to offend anybody. From my reading of other F-word posts, it seems to me that some people are just a bit too ready to be offended, or misconstrue things.

I think the reactions to this are out of proportion and unfortunately reinforce the ‘humourless nitpickers’ stereotype of feminists.

And…maybe anyone but ANYONE who reads anything from the dreaded Daily Mail should take a course of antibiotics, because its virulence is truly a plague and its evil language can infect even the purest of feminist minds!

chem_fem // Posted 22 July 2008 at 2:49 pm

The humourless nit pickers stereotype is a successful ploy to silence people. I couldn’t care less what non-feminists think of me, hence I’m a feminist.

I don’t find dusty uterus’s or prune faced pensioners in the least bit funny. The old deserve respect and if they aren’t fit to reproduce then the facts should be enough to convince me of that. Hyperbole is unnecessary and irritating.

Zenobia // Posted 22 July 2008 at 4:42 pm

Yeah, I noticed the word ‘geriatric’ in a headline, thought that wasn’t exactly the type of word I’d use to describe an older person, and didn’t read the rest of the post, but I’m glad people pointed it out.

And I don’t think the ‘hyperbolic language’ excuse really stands up when you’re deploring that it’s ridiculous that prune-faced women with dusty uterusses will be carrying around babies made out of stale eccles cakes, or whatever it was Abby said.

m Andrea // Posted 23 July 2008 at 3:31 am

Very nicely done Jess.

Personally I could see the benefit for the 30-45 year old crowd. Some women are crazy about their biological clock (thanks to the media) and sometimes make bad decisions out of desperation.

polly styrene // Posted 23 July 2008 at 8:59 am

Can I please say a few words in Abby’s defence? I don’t agree with using ageist language and agree with the criticisms of this. Abby’s article should definitely have been writtten differently.

However – I do agree with the basic tenets of what she wrote. Simply because I am someone who was the youngest of a large family and my parents were much older than the average. So not only did I often get asked if my mum was my grandma, when I was a kid, but I lived most of my life with parents with chronic illnesses (they are now dead and have been for some time). Now while that can happen if you have a child at any age, it’s much more likely to happen with older parents because you’re more likely to develop serious illness as you get older. It’s really not much fun spending time hanging around hospital wards when you’re 10 wondering if your mum/dad is going to live or not.

Of course the Daily Mail article is hype. Big surprise. But there already women giving birth in their sixties, that isn’t hype. We already have far too many children who are carers for their own parents in this country. Do we deliberately want to create them?

Children are not a right. Children have the right to parents, not the other way around. I’ve been through premature menopause myself, (Yes I am post menopause, and I do dislike the constant derogatory use of ‘menopausal’) so I also know what I’m talking about from that angle. Although I’m appalled by the nonsense talked about embryo research, which actually might cure illnesses, I do think there’s also huge selfishness in thinking we have a right to a baby at any costs, at any age. And please note I’m including all the men who choose to have children they’re unlikely to live to see to grow up here as well.

lindsey spilman // Posted 23 July 2008 at 4:52 pm

It is an interesting scientific concept. I have a degree in biology. I think that over the next 30 years breakthroughs in biology will mean that life spans could exceed 120+. The concept of age will change. This new reproductive technology will involve making eggs or sperm from the stem cells of the body. It just happens there are stem cells in the skin. These are not the cells that flake off. The DNA in stem cells does not age like the DNA in other cells, so the new egg or sperm would not be old. The article also talks about artificial uteruses. So basically in this future reproduction could be done by anyone. It may be an older man wanting a baby using an artificial uterus. The daily mails are never good at looking at the positive side of things like this, even though there are many. This technology will take reproduction one step higher then just getting an older woman pregnant. The point of this example is that all people have stem cells in some form, so all will be capable of producing eggs or sperm or in other words cells that are capable of producing an embryo. Next century everyone could be reproducing in this way. A future where having children is not centred on women, or heterosexuals and where age is no longer an issue will create a type of equality that nature never could. At present men need a woman to pass on there DNA with. Technology like this would remove this responsibility from women.

Technology and science are things capable of bringing about big social change. As for designer babies. When this time comes everyone will finally realise that all the other chromosomes with the exception of the sex ones, are where a lot of important genes are. These important genes are present in both sexes. A lot of the innate traits in humans that have been attributed to gender are really unisex. In these times it is hoped that the desire to create gender stereotypical children will not be there. After all this technology does not need to be used for this. I personal believe that we will soon be at the dawn of a new age. The new reproductive technology will just be the beginning. After that it will be possible to alter the biology of anyone, just imagine a world where people go for constant biological upgrades. The may have to be a campaign to ensure there is no gender discrimination in the use of these technologies.

By the time this era comes, major advances in virtual reality will have been made. Those who want traditional gender roles could always get a virtual program set in the good old days that never was.

chem_fem // Posted 23 July 2008 at 5:27 pm

fascinating post Lindsey, thanks.

Shea // Posted 23 July 2008 at 9:40 pm

Thank you Lindsey for a reallly interesting post.

I agree with your basic argument Polly. I do think too often people feel they have a right to children, at any cost, without considering the child, their future, or the wider implications.

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