On Tuesday 1st October 2013 I was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s flagship show for women, ‘Woman’s Hour’. For those of you who might have missed it, here it is again:
Woman’s Hour has been running since 1946 on BBC radio and although it’s a show I’ve listened to, on and off, since I was a teenager, in recent years I’ve found it less and less relevant to my life. Tsk… they should rename it bloody ‘Mother’s Hour’! I’ve said, switching it off yet again as too many items in the show focus on work-life balance (for which read ‘family’-work balance) or how to deal with childhood illnesses. Yes, it’s a show that’s on in the morning during weekdays, so I’m sure a lot of mothers who are at home with their children do listen… but so do many other women, including some of us who work from home, are caring for elderly or vulnerable family members, are unemployed, or listen at work, in the car, etc. After all, as 1:5 women born in the 1960s have turned 45 without having had children, and early indications look like it might rise to 1:4 for those women born in the 1970s, that’s an awful lot of women who aren’t ever going to experience ’empty nest syndrome’ or have to deal with playground bullies. We care about these issues, up to a point, but we get tired of extending our empathy to the mothers around us when our lives as childless-by-circumstance women are never discussed.
So it felt like quite something to be invited onto Woman’s Hour. And, moreover, to get the feeling that they genuinely welcomed my point of view and the chance to explore the experience of being childless-by-circumstance . Much to my pleasant surprise, the producer had clearly read (and enjoyed) my book and when the presenter Jane Garvey popped into the ‘Green Room’ to say good morning before the show went on air, I could tell that she was both interested and informed about our upcoming interview.
Since that short 8-min slot my email inbox and twitter feed have been overflowing and the Gateway Women website has been very busy. Women have been thanking me for saying out loud what so many of us have been trying to say to our families, friends, colleagues and prurient strangers for years – that we’re not freaks and that the level of loss, social alienation, prejudice and grief that follows the loss of motherhood is complex and misunderstood by many – including ourselves quite often!
In my book, Rocking the Life Unexpected (published September 2013) I write about something called ‘symbolic annihilation’ – it’s an academic term for how a marginalised group in the culture can be rendered ‘invisible’ by the media. Just think about this for a moment:
How many childless or childfree women can you think of in the public eye? And of those women, how many are shown in a positive light or one which reflects your own experience and not as:
- a bitter spinster (usually photographed by the Daily Mail on her own on a park bench looking wistfully into the distance);
- a ‘career woman’ (read, ‘unfeminine’, ‘unmaternal’ – but where are the ‘career men’? then)
- some version of the mad/sad/batty cat lady (usually living alone and perhaps even dying alone and being eaten by her cats. I don’t know which cats those must be as my cat would definitely turn her nose up at that!)
- a bunny boiler (thanks Glenn Close!),
- a lesbian (so gay women don’t have children then? Rubbish!)
- a selfish/evil stepmother (who somehow doesn’t get it as she’s not a mother)
- a crazy, man-hating feminist witch (Germaine Greer is the current holder of this position – even though it’s both lazy and insulting as the only word that’s accurate is feminist)
Makes you think, doesn’t it?! No wonder people treat us strangely when these are the kinds of narrow and reductive categories currently available. However, it’s only by having the courage to tell our stories that we will flesh out this repertoire. Story by story, woman by woman. If you’d like some real-life inspiration, I’m curating a gallery of childless and childfree role models – take a look – you might be surprised by some of the women you find here and I’d be grateful for any suggestions too.
As my interview on Woman’s Hour got a lot of attention from listeners, it was also featured on Weekend Woman’s Hour on Saturday 5th October with the addition of some very moving email responses from listeners. Quite a few members of the private Gateway Women Online Community listened again, some with their partners, families and friends, so validating was it to hear their experience being talked about on air – finally. You can here the Saturday version of the interview here – it starts at 25mins.
And if you’re wondering why I didn’t mention my book in the interview it’s a sign of my inexperience as an interviewee! I was waiting for Jane Garvey to ask me about it and suddenly the interview was over! I couldn’t believe it – 7mins 49seconds feels like about 2 minutes when you’re on live!
When a mainstream and agenda setting show like Woman’s Hour is prepared to embrace the experience of being childless-by-circumstance, I think I can safely predict that our years of invisibility are coming to an end. And if you’re looking for somewhere safe, friendly and understanding to start sharing your story, come and join us in the private Gateway Women Community. It ROCKS!!
Jody Day is a London-based writer and social entrepreneur and the author of #1 Amazon Kindle best-seller ‘Rocking the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfiling Life Without Children’ (Published 10 Sep 2013). She set up the Gateway Women friendship and support network in 2011 to support, inspire and empower childless by circumstance women (like herself) as they develop meaningful and fulfilling lives without children. Jody runs private sessions, groups, workshops and retreats for women coming to terms with the fact that motherhood didn’t happen for them. She speaks regularly in public, in the media and online about issues and prejudices facing childless women in our society today and is becoming known as ‘the voice of the childless generation’. Neither a bitter spinster nor a dried up old hag, Jody puts her heart, mind, and soul into lovingly and mischievously subverting the stereotype of the ‘childless woman’. She is living proof that your Plan B can rock too! Watch her talk at the Women of the World Festival in March 2013 on “Creating a Meaningful & Fulfilling Life Without Children” in under 10-mins, with jokes!