Yes, we know, the Daily Mail is looked upon by some as an unreliable paper, but we are finding it very interesting and have done so now for the last few months, as we find ourselves reading much of what they write and this article, although perhaps flying out on a limb in its translation of a comment made by a high-profile female historian, raises some really interesting questions about motherhood.
In the article, a high-profile historian, Lucy Worsley (we must admit, we have not heard of her nor read any of her books ), has been put on record as saying, “‘I have become the poster girl for opting out of reproduction. I am happy to stand up and be counted….. I have been educated out of the natural reproductive function. I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy.’
The journalist writing about this statement goes off on a rather long-winded, class-fuelled rant, which perhaps says more about the journalist’s own prejudices than anything else, but in there somewhere, is a very good point about the demeaning of motherhood amongst women who have chosen not to have children.
At first glance, we thought perhaps Miss Worsley might have passed her remark with a touch of almost intangible wistfulness, a little like a conversational consolation – “I’m 38, and perhaps reaching a point where I may not be able to have children, and that is daunting, but I’ve made my peace with it”, but we don’t know Miss Worsley personally, so we would rather assume that she genuinely does not want children. And for the sake of this post that assumption helps….
As it happens, we support women who make the decision not to have children. It is a hard decision, in relative terms, but kids need parents who are ready to let their worlds revolve around their children and women like Miss Worsley, are clearly not ready to do that. That kind of selflessness is mandatory. In this way, women like Miss Worsley do any potential offspring a wonderful service: they avoid bringing children into the world who will spend their childhoods suffering from neglect. And they keep the population from exploding – which is no bad thing.
But what of the idea that self fulfillment and intellectual pursuits are mutually exclusive and separate from motherhood and that motherhood is not enjoyable, as Miss Worsley implies?
This notion really just rests on a point of preference. Some women love having children and some don’t and there are all sorts of reasons why people come to find themselves in one camp or the other. Perhaps Miss Worsley did not have a wonderful childhood or perhaps she did not win the parent jackpot and was not lavished with love and affection, but either way, Miss Worsley has made a fundamental error in relation to motherhood, self fulfilment and the pursuit of intellectual accomplishment. Because, you see, to do any of these things well, requires passion.
It is true that reproduction is an instinct, sometimes a strong one in which women feel compelled to have children, quietly driven by chemical reactions or conventional pressures, but in the end, being a mother requires a level of intellectual involvement, which can be as little or as great as every parent wishes. The same is true for academics. Yet, to show the world to a child is to open up new worlds for yourself and there is no greater cerebral challenge than looking at the world through another’s eyes and re-evaluating your perceptions, prejudices and perspectives.
And as with any craft, learning, evaluating and plain old-fashioned hard work are all involved, but if we truly love what we do, whether it’s bringing up children, making mischief in a job we love or studying to make the world a better place, it is just like any other relationship: it demands us to engage, in sadness and in joy, through good times and bad and to take the rough with the smooth.
Miss Worsley has chosen to dedicate herself to history, which is a wonderful thing and has made the astute decision not to bring children into this world, after evaluating her own personal circumstances and views. But the bottom line has nothing to do with intelligence or lack of it, enjoyment or lack of it or even heaven versus hell, if women choose to bring children into this world or care for them. The bottom line, and we suspect it is one which Miss Worsley is tacitly aware of, is whether or not we feel we can be mothers.
Lucy Worsley (courtesy of the Daily Mail).