Wednesday Controversy: Must We Have Offspring to be Fulfilled?

This is excerpted from How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. It is in no way an endorsement of the book or its ideas (many of which I disagree with), nor a recommendation that you go out and read it (it’s sort of PG-13). I didn’t know it was some kind of feminist manifesto when I picked it up; I thought it was the manual nobody gave me at high school graduation. It wasn’t (and I still haven’t got my copy), but it was still a good read.

I found this excerpt interesting, coming from a mother. It states aloud some things I’ve suspected for years, watching many of my friends become mothers. Since it’s been quite a while since someone overtly told me that I don’t know anything about anything, I think it’s time to stir up some mud:

[Having children] is the easy option for women.

Because if you have children, at least people won’t keep asking you when you’re going to have children.  For some reason, the world really wants to know when women are having children. It is oddly panicked by women who are being a bit relaxed about it: “But your body clock!” it is apt to shout.

And if a woman should say she doesn’t want to have children at all, the world is apt to go a bit peculiar:

“Oooh, don’t speak too soon,” it will say—as if knowing whether you’re the kind of person who desires to make a whole other human being in your guts and then base the rest of your life around its welfare is a breezy “Hey—whatever” decision.

…It’s not simply that a baby puts a whole personful of problems into the world. It takes a useful person out of the world as well. Minimum. Often two. Before I had my kids I was politically informed, signing petitions, recycling everything down to watch batteries. It was compost heap here, dinner from scratch there, public transport everywhere. I rang my mother regularly. I was smugly, bustingly, low-level good.

Six week into being poleaxed by a newborn colicky baby, and I would have happily shot the world’s last panda in the face if it made the baby cry for 60 seconds less. Nothing got recycled; the kitchen was a mess. My mother could have died and I would have neither known nor cared.

Every day I gave thanks that both my husband and I were just essentially useless art critics.

“Imagine if you and I had been hot-shot geneticists, working on a cure for cancer,” I used to say gloomily.

“And we were so exhausted that we had to simply give up the project. Lizzie’s colic would be responsible for the death of billions.”

…We think of non-mothers as rangy lone wolves—rattling around, as dangerous as teenage boys. We make women feel that their narrative has ground to a halt in their thirties if they don’t “finish things” properly and have children.

Men and women alike have convinced themselves of a dragging belief: that somehow, women are incomplete without children. As if a woman somehow remains a child herself until she has own children. That there are lessons motherhood can teach you that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere—and every other attempt at this wisdom and self-realization is a poor and shoddy second. Like mothers graduate from Harvard, but the best the childless [woman] can manage is a high school equivalency diploma…

…No one has ever claimed for a moment that childless men have missed out on a vital aspect of their existence and were the poorer and crippled by it…

…It’s worth remembering it’s not of vital use to you as woman. Yes you could learn thousands of interesting things about love, strength, faith, fear, human relationships, genetic loyalty, and the effects of apricots on an immature digestive system.

But I don’t think there’s a single lesson that motherhood has to offer that couldn’t be learned elsewhere.

While motherhood is an incredible vocation, [a mother] has no more inherent worth than a childless woman simply being who she is, to the utmost of her capabilities. To think otherwise betrays the belief that being a thinking, creative, productive, and fulfilled woman is, somehow, not enough. That no action will ever be the equal of giving birth.

Let me tell you, however momentous being a mother has been for me, I’ve walked around exhibitions of Coco Chanel’s life work, and it looked a lot more impressive, to be honest. I think it’s important to confess this. If you’re insanely talented and not at all broody, why not just go and have more fun?

Besides, she concludes, single aunts make great short-order babysitters.