Young motherhood, feminism, and privilege

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

There's a good piece in the Telegraph this week. Written by Prymface, it discusses women who have children in their teens, the inequalities they have to battle, and how all this relates to today's feminism, which can focus overwhelmingly on taking a path through life that doesn't involve young motherhood. Prymface writes:
"As a society, we spend a lot of time helping those with the most options in their lives to have access to even more choices. When we talk about inequality, we need to look at where we are placing our values and whose values we are adopting."
This is an important point and of course, where privilege comes in. We see it in the focus on getting more women into boardrooms and in the way that media coverage of young feminists - and the activism of young feminists - is often limited to the experiences and concerns of middle-class university students and graduates. This isn't to say that these things aren't important, but it can all be pretty excluding for women who have different priorities and are facing different inequalities and judgement from people.

As a young(er) feminist issues surrounding children and motherhood weren't really on my radar either. I was one of the aforementioned middle-class university students and the big issues for me were objectification, (thin) body politics, rape and sexual assault, the media and advertising. Pretty typical, and it did take a while for my horizons to broaden. It's only been in recent years, as I started to consider becoming a mother, that the battles associated with what a speaker at a conference I once attended referred to, not entirely favourably, as "the mummy track" became apparent to me.

I couldn't find an up-to-date statistic on the percentage of women in the UK who do not have, and will never have children, either by choice or circumstance. One statistic from a few years back put it at around 20%, which indicates that therefore four out of five women do. This should tell us that feminist issues related to motherhood and children are pretty important. I hate Daily Mail-style handwringing that positions joyful motherhood as the ultimate goal of all women as much as the next person, but sometimes I think the inevitable ensuing chorus of "We're not just WOMBS, you know!" misses the point that these are issues that matter to women, whether you, personally, have chosen to have children or not.

I believe that the way we focus on abortion rights can often have the same effect - an emphasis on not having children, excluding those who have chosen otherwise and meaning that the issue of forced abortion as a form of abuse, and abortion as a way out taken by women who would have preferred not to have one but felt they had no choice (feminist issues both) get overlooked. I don't want to be misunderstood on that point - I say it as someone who is pro-choice and has written about it many times, but it ignores the full spectrum of issues.

Considering motherhood and children is hardly something new or revolutionary - free childcare was one of the seven demands of the British Women's Liberation Movement (and of course the cost of childcare remains one of the most important and limiting economic issues affecting women and their working lives). But in today's discussions of giving up careers to stay at home, or the "consequences of delaying motherhood", or  endless dissection of the choices exercised by relatively privileged mothers, the issues affecting young mothers - and by association working class mothers are left untouched.

I wonder, then, what needs to happen to encourage such issues to start appearing on the radar of many feminist activists today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great insight into a complex topic. Thanks for sharing!


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