I’m more than sure Kirstie Allsopp is going to take a beating from the Internet in the last few days over encouraging young women to forego higher education for a job, an apartment, a boyfriend, and a baby. She argues that career doesn’t have a time limit, while (for most people) child-bearing does.
I’m not going to call her anti-feminist, or a bad feminist, or whatever. She’s a person with opinions she’s entitled to — a few of which I agree with, notably that marriage is a big old WHATEVS. I just think there are some serious logical flaws to her argument.
Like, first of all, what’s with the imperative to procreate? Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to procreate one day, but I’ve never grasped why adoption is somehow “less” of parenthood to some people (not that Allsopp said so, but her negligence to mention the option speaks volumes in itself). Even if fertility has a time limit, adoption doesn’t.
Second, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the whole “Get a boyfriend, ladies!” thing. I got a boyfriend straight out of high school and wound up wasting seven formative, important years on a committed but really toxic relationship. I think the consensus is that it’s rare that young people actually know what they want in a partner or how to work in a relationship – this is why young couples are the most likely to get divorced. Even if you don’t get married in the first place, the idea stands – and at that, if young people don’t know how to stay married, why on Earth should they be making a commitment like having children?
Third, I agree that having job experience, and the experience of working while simultaneously being in a relationship or at school, are informative and important. But telling women not to get a degree is dangerous – in the United States, the percentage of employed women who have no college education has been declining over the past several decades, and the unemployment rate for people who have less than a college degree is twice or more the unemployment rate for people who have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree. Income is likewise almost twice as high with a bachelor’s degree than without.
Which, fourth, brings up the fact that a lot of people forego having children for their education and career because they want to be able to afford to have children. Which makes sense, because children who are raised in poverty don’t have the same access to educational resources that children in middle-income families have. Which is to say that although it’s possible to get those opportunities, it’s a lot harder the less income you have.
Does Allsopp mean that the onus should be on men to be the major income providers in this hypothetical? And what does that do for women’s economic and political voice? Sure, we can focus on our careers later in life – but if we’re going to talk frankly about our fertility, we should also talk frankly about age discrimination and how difficult it is to find a decent-paying job the longer you wait to get job experience and the older you are, regardless of your education level.
All of this is well beyond the incredibly hetero-normative tone of her comments, of course, but for the sake of my argument that’s worth mentioning but neither here nor there.
I think Kirstie Allsopp is correct, that we don’t talk about fertility enough. But to me a complete conversation about fertility would include why our culture’s mindset about childbearing hasn’t caught up to the real and crushing threat overpopulation poses; what kind of alternative options are available for people who want to be parents; the fact that our legal system has admonished gays and lesbians specifically on the grounds that people of the same gender can’t procreate with each other, and that our adoption system has been similarly unfriendly; that we’ve passed the point socio-culturally where it’s reasonable to expect women’s sexuality or even our entire life purpose to be centered around mothering, but we still do it anyway. It’s not enough to just say “We’re not gonna be fertile forever!” and have that be called a frank discussion.