Childless by choice? Please don’t presume to speak for me
I read an interview with Gloria De Piero, Labour’s new shadow equalities minister, yesterday, in which she said she had ‘never had that maternal urge. I’m 40 now and I’ve always said I don’t want kids, but that decision will be removed from me incredibly soon.’
In other words, she’s childless by choice. And that’s her decision and her right as a woman to decide what she wants to do with her body; I know lots of women who are childless by choice – indeed, I’ve written features on it, and I completely understand that some women simply don’t want to be mothers.
I would question whether Gloria’s decision not to have children makes her best equipped to appeal to the mothers Labour so desperately needs to attract.
Because the fact is that when you’re a mum it influences every aspect of your life – and if you’re a working mum, that includes your professional life, too. You often have to fight, tooth and nail, to be treated as an equal, not only by male colleagues but by childless female colleagues too. That’s not to say all mums in the workplace support each other – sadly, as I wrote here, the opposite can sometimes be true. A woman who is a mum can understand and identify with the discrimination faced by women who are childless by choice; but I’m not sure the converse is ever really true.
And let me tell you, unless you’ve ever had to race home from work to collect a poorly child from school, knowing that it will earn you a ‘black mark’ in the eyes of your male and childless colleagues (and even some mums, ie those with live-at-home nannies); unless you’ve struggled through an intense day of meetings and presentations on two hours sleep; unless you’ve gone to work with breast milk still leaking from your nipples and baby sick on your jacket; unless you’ve witnessed pregnant women and new mums being made redundant simply because they’re seen as less valuable than their male or childless female counterparts; unless you’ve struggled to be treated as an equal and respected for your talent and ability in a male-dominated environment, you have NO IDEA how flaming hard it is to be a working mum.
In fact, I’ve seen plenty of discrimination against mums in the workplace – but I’ve never seen it against childless women (I would say that they actually get preferential treatment – particularly if they’ve made it clear they don’t want kids. CORRECTION: I have seen working mums take advantage of childless women, on the grounds they don’t have children, so can’t possibly need Christmas off, etc).
Nor can someone who is childless by choice really understand what it’s like to be a SAHM or a WAHM, either. To feel isolated and ignored; to feel that you don’t have a voice – and *shock horror* there are lots of of SAHMs and WAHMs who feel like this.
Being a parent gives you a unique perspective on life. You have to think about the needs of another human being (or beings) all the time, including health, education, and most importantly, keeping them safe, warm and fed. (NB: Of course I understand that carers also have the responsibility of always putting another human being first, regardless of whether or not they are mums, and this post is not meant in any way to denigrate that.)
Gloria says she wants to bring women’s views to the ‘top table’ of the Labour Party, ‘the sort of women not normally consulted’, which is great. But does she mean women who are not mothers, or women like herself? Does she mean working mums, or SAHMs? Because I’m really not convinced that someone who is childless by choice can speak for all women.
But perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps as a lifelong Labour voter I don’t want to see the party fall down in an area in which they should be able to succeed.
What are your views? I’d love to know.
NB: This post is NOT a personal attack on Gloria De Piero, on the childless by choice or carers (!); it’s raising the issue of how to appeal to the all-important mum voters. From over 25 years experience in the women’s press and parenting press, I know that mums often respond best to other mums – which explains the rise in popularity of parenting blogs and websites. So this post is simply raising the question of whether this appointment will help Labour to victory at the next election. All views on this subject are welcome, as long as they’re respectful.
I welcome comments but in accordance with the policy of this blog I will not publish anonymous comments unless there is a very good reason for doing so – nor will I publish comments which are personal attacks.