In this interview with Christopher and Heather on their 'Virgin.Beauty.B!tch' podcast, we go deep into some of the societal and structural issues around both voluntary and involuntary childlessness that I'm absolutely passionate about, but which rarely get discussed. About how pronatalism + consumerism have fetishized and commodified motherhood and how this oppresses all women, whether they are mothers or not. And how it all started with that Demi Moore pregnancy bump shot on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991 (which doesn't look quite how I remembered it; my memory has actually merged together 3 separate Vanity Fair covers!). The clip above is part of a longer (48-min) interview which you can listen to here or search 'Virgin.Beauty.B!tch' (the exclamation mark is crucial for search) wherever you get your podcasts. You can also follow VBB on Instagram and Twitter. Buckle up, this interview goes places other interviews I've done have not and you may find it quite provocative! And if you'd like to learn more about this issues I mention and the data I quote, it is all academically references in my book 'Living the Life Unexpected'.
FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW
Virgin Beauty B!tch podcast, appealing to powerful, resilient, feminine women and the men who man-up in their presence. Your hosts, Christopher and Heather. Let’s talk, shall we?
Christopher Kennedy (00:28):
This entire month we’ve been exploring different aspects of motherhood. It’s been an education I must say, I think I speak for Heather as well, but we both feel that an incomplete education, if we don’t give a voice to the original victims of cancel culture, women who remain childless. I can’t tell you how privileged and blessed we feel to share this conversation with Jody Day psychotherapist, author, and founder of Gateway Women. So all the way from Ireland, welcome Jodi to Virgin Beauty B!tch.
Jody Day (01:07):
Thank you so much for having me. I’m really, really excited to be here.
Christopher Kennedy (01:10):
Fabulous. Now, before connecting with your work, this term gateway women I’ve never heard of before, can you share a little background on your inspiration and what has now become your creation?
Jody Day (01:23):
Yeah, sure. I mean, Gateway Women is the name of my organization and I’ve often been asked why gateway women? And it was a bit of a download at the time. I used to be in marketing. I used to love naming companies and products and I just, it just came to me. So afterwards, when I was asked about it, I thought, “So what was my unconscious up to?” And I thought about it and I realized, what is a gate? It is a threshold from one state to another. It can either be something that is in our way that bars us entry, or it can be something we step through. And I realized it’s about thresholds and I am fascinated by thresholds. I’m fascinated by those times in life when we move from one identity to another. As a psychotherapist, as a writer, as a thinker, these are the liminal moments of life when we transform, they are the powerful moments of transformation in life, birth, childhood, adolescence, becoming or not becoming a mother, menopause, aging, death. These are the big, sexy, dirty transformations of life. And I love them.
Christopher Kennedy (02:35):
Fabulous. You’re in the right place. I just want to mention the name of your book, Living the Life Unexpected: How to Find Hope, Meaning and a Fulfilling Future Without Children. Provocative book, provocative title, please indulge us.
Jody Day (02:55):
Thank you. Well, my book really came out of my work, working directly with childless women, first of all, in groups and then in my workshops and then online with my courses and really creating material to support them through the transformation. And really at its core, recovering from involuntary childlessness is a process of grief. And it’s a form of grief, which is called disenfranchised grief. So it’s a grief which is not socially recognized and it’s not socially acceptable. However, it is a very powerful, grieving process. There are many forms of disenfranchised grief. Childlessness is one of them. And grief is a process of identity transformation. We are transformed by the grieving process. It is a form of love and it is the shadow side of love. And just as every love transforms us, even if it’s a relationship which doesn’t continue, we can never go back to the person we were before that love. And grief is the same. It transforms us.
Jody Day (03:58):
So this book really takes you. It walks you through the process of identity transformation. It validates your experience as an involuntary childless woman, and it helps you to unpack some of the stigmas and prejudices and stereotypes that have accrued around the childless identity in our culture. And how understanding that those are beliefs, they’re not gravity, they’re beliefs, and you can choose different beliefs about yourself as a childless woman. And that can hugely liberate you from the opinions of others, from the opinions of yourself. And so that you can work out, well, I have this unexpected freedom, this life unexpected. It’s still a precious and beautiful human life. How am I going to spend it? That’s what my book is about.
Christopher Kennedy (04:45):
I just want to give an understanding that this is just not… You said you’re in marketing and you love marketing, but this is not a marketing process for you. This is your life. This is something you have-
Jody Day (04:57):
This is my life.
Christopher Kennedy (04:58):
Yes. Can you give us a bit of history as to your transformation into this life?
Jody Day (05:04):
Sure. Well, as a little girl, I didn’t think I wanted children. I grew up in an unhappy home. I could see, my mom had me very young. I was a child ‘born out of wedlock’ as they would call it back in the ’60s, to a Catholic teenage mum. It was very traumatic for her and for her family. And she got married when I was three to someone who was not my dad; he didn’t stick around, my dad. And so there was this, I grew up with an inexperienced and unhappy mum who really me coming along had transformed her life. And the beginnings of her ’60s groovy London life was cut short by me arriving when she was 18. But then I did my growing up years in the 1970s when the women’s liberation movement was really starting to offer new opportunities for women’s lives, opportunities that weren’t available to my mother’s generation and which they saw for us.
Jody Day (06:06):
So I was really brought up in this atmosphere of, there is so much more you can do with your life than have children. And an underlying message that came from school and all around me that somehow children ruin your life as a woman. So there wasn’t this adoration of motherhood that we’re experiencing now. It used to be characterized very, very differently. It was a private family affair. It wasn’t something that got you on the front cover of a magazine. It was, if pop styles or film stars got pregnant, they had to go into hiding. Nobody wanted to see someone who was pregnant. It was very, very different to how it is now. So I left home. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to have kids. And actually in one of my first very serious relationships when I was 21, I accidentally got pregnant.
Jody Day (06:55):
I was terrified that this was it. I was repeating the pattern of my mother and my grandmother and a long line of women of having children young and not being able to really have life fulfill my potential. So I was terrified. I chose to have an abortion. I don’t regret that because I wasn’t ready to be a mum. I was unconsciously still very damaged from my childhood. I was emotionally very immature. I would have been a terrible mother at 21. Sadly, when I later tried to conceive in my marriage, I wasn’t able to conceive. So at 29, I married. When I met my husband, I said to him, “I don’t think I want children.” He was like, “Okay.” And then a few years later I went, “I think I do want to have children.” He was like, “Okay.” This huge, huge decisions luckily he was very laid back about them, but I wasn’t able to conceive.
Jody Day (07:49):
I had an operation to check there was no damage from the abortion. We were both checked out. Everything was fine. In fact, my very avuncular Harley Street sort of surgeon said to me, “Finest uterus I’ve seen all week, you lovely young people just go off and have lots more sex.” That was it. That was all the fertility advice we got. So we did and nothing happened. And so I moved through my 30s. My then husband we had a business together. We had an interior design business together because I gave up my business in PR and marketing to put my energy into his business because I thought, well, that’s going to be the one that’s going to support us as a family, so I’ll put my entrepreneurial skills there. Once again, unconscious sexist thinking, hello.
Jody Day (08:37):
So I carried on, we carried on working. We became sort of very minus Z-list celebrities in London as interior designers. It went to his head a bit. It got a little bit rock and roll a bit messy behind the scenes. So we moved through my 30s. I’m holding everything together, the business, his personal life, my personal life, my infertility, his drinking and partying until 37, I just lost it. I had a, as St. Brené would say, I had a nervous breakdown/spiritual awakening. My marriage ended and I found myself at 40 as a single childless woman dating. And I hoped to meet someone and do IVF. I had no idea that it actually fails 75% of the time. And once you’re 40, 95% of the time, but I didn’t meet the right person in that small window.
Jody Day (09:35):
And at 44 and a half, I realized that my 15-year journey of hoping, dreaming, planning to become a mother was at an end. And it came crashing down on me. I didn’t know it was grief. I didn’t find out I was grieving until a few years later when I was training to be a psychotherapist and we were doing a weekend course on bereavement. And I was like, “Hang on. This all feels very familiar.” Went home that evening, mapped out what I was learning against what I was experiencing as a childless woman. I was like, “I’m grieving.” And a lot of childless women don’t discover their grieving except through my work. But you have to think I was seeing therapists. I was training as a therapist. I’d seen people over the previous years trying to help me with the distress I was in, in my life.
Jody Day (10:25):
Nobody named it as grief. And once I knew it was grief, that was the beginning of my healing. And that in a way was I started writing a blog called Gateway Women, typing into the void thinking maybe one woman will read this and understand because I was getting no understanding in my private life or whatsoever, none. I was just getting bingos as we call them. So I would try to talk about my experience and someone was like, “Oh, but you’re still young. You still got time.” “Oh I read about this woman who…” Insert, bizarre, expensive, and experimental medical procedure here. Or, “Why don’t you just adopt or kids aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Why don’t you have one of mine? Oh, lucky you, you get to sleep in and travel.”
Jody Day (11:12):
But these kinds of statements would just come at me from even empathic, kind, thoughtful people. They’re these kinds of impact thick shortcuts. And we can talk a bit more about what’s driving them. But I was at a talk actually in 2013 that Brené Brown gave in London. And I asked her about this. And she said that in her research, infertility and childlessness has been shown to be the number one area of human empathy failure.
Christopher Kennedy (11:44):
Jody Day (11:50):
And the numbers are huge. I mean, in the developed world, it’s an average of one in five women is reaching mid-life without having had children. It’s one in five, currently in the UK, one in six, currently in the US. I think we’re going to see a massive bump with the millennial generation. The eldest of them are now just joining my community. Some of them are just coming into involuntary childlessness. And sometimes there is a confusion by journalists in the media, quite understandably about the numbers, because that’s not one in five women is childless not by choice or by choice. What the data would suggest is off those one in five women arriving at midlife without kids, 10% have chosen that what’s called child-free. 10% are childless due to infertility or another medical issue. An 80% eight zero, eight zero are childless by circumstance.
Jody Day (12:44):
And what I’m seeing is that the biggest circumstance is that women are not finding a willing or suitable partner during their fertile window. And I would say the amount of single, not by choice women that are joining my community and are seeking support from Gateway Women has astronomically changed over the decade that I’m doing this work. So there are some really, there are lots of social systemic and cultural issues that underpin involuntary childlessness. And I think we’re going to see a lot more child-free women amongst the men at millennial generation as well. Because I think the idea of choosing not to have children is becoming less stigmatized and it’s a very valid choice. And I wish that more people would talk about it with young people younger.
Jody Day (13:34):
I mean, I remember when one of my nieces, when she was about 18, 19, she said to me, “So you mean you don’t have to have children.” “No, no. No, you don’t have to. You can choose not to.” And it blew her little mind, and now she’s a young woman in her mid-20s and she’s identifying as child-free. She’s one of four sisters, the other three all very much want to have children. Two of them are having children, but nowhere in her environment was that message that this can be a thoughtful choice either way.
Just in hearing what you’re speaking towards, and I think you’ve already touched on some of it with the stigmatization of choosing not to have children. Could you let us know what are the other big changes that you’ve seen in the decade from this journey that you’ve been on?
Jody Day (14:27):
Yes. I’m seeing many more women joining who are what I call are childless by relationship. So in a way that’s a form of childless by circumstance. So they are with partners who either don’t want to have children who are child-free, but most commonly, already have children by a previous relationship. And for many reasons, either it’s, they don’t want to do it all over again. It’s like, “I’m done with that.” Or it’s just too complex to bring a child into that blended family. It’s just like, “We can’t do this.” And one of the difficulties about that, and people can be so flippant with these comments. It’s like, “Well, you chose him. So you made your bed. If you want kids, you should have chosen someone else.” Well, we all know love doesn’t work like that. If you’ve spent a long time waiting for the right person to come along, and you’ve now met that person that you feel you have that really powerful connection with and you make that conscious choice, “Okay, this is a really hard thing for me to give up, but he’s worth it or she’s worth it.”
Jody Day (15:36):
People can be very black and white about it, but that is a very painful situation. And being a childless stepmom is really, really painful. Especially if you’re longing, if you’re processing the grief of not having your own kids, whilst also being in that neither one thing nor the other place that is often the role of the stepmother, it can be a great relationship, but it’s often quite a tricky one. And so I would say that’s risen also women who are childless due to chronic illness, including mental illnesses. So they’ve either it’s difficult for them, or they don’t feel it’s fair that they don’t have the energy or the support perhaps to have children. And this is something that we’re seeing a lot of is complex, systemic thing around how unstable our cultures have become economically, politically. Women are working incredibly hard to try and build a stable foundation in order to bring a family into it, but even getting to a stable housing position or a stable job position compared to 15 years ago is really, really difficult.
Jody Day (16:45):
And certainly, in Europe, I’m not sure what it’s like in America. A lot of young people, even by the time they’re 30 and they have good careers and savings are still, they are nowhere near being able to afford a home of their own. And very few jobs have that stability and pensions and things that make the expense of having a child, something you can consciously take on and know that it’s going to be okay. So there’s a lot more instability and also a lot more instability in the culture, what’s happening to the climate, what’s happening to democracy. Is this a world that feels safe to bring a child into? I mean, the world’s never safe, but I think that’s a moral question that the millennial generation are struggling with in a way that is new.
As a millennial, I can definitely attest to that. But there was something else that you wrote about that just really fascinated me. And you talked about the fetishization. I can’t ever say this word, but the fetishization of motherhood. And could you dive in for our listeners of what you mean by that?
Jody Day (18:00):
Absolutely. A little bit earlier, I was talking about how, as I was growing up in the ’70s, motherhood was not groovy. It was not groovy. If a pop star had a baby, they had to disappear because we didn’t want to see them. And then I was 18 when Lady Dia. She was then got married and became princess Diana. And she wore this, was 1982, I think, she wore this enormous voluminous pregnancy smocks, navy blue with a little white collar. And there’s like these tents and that was the socially acceptable way to be pregnant. And it was very much a private thing and the body was private in a way that we fast forward several years, I think the first real crack in it. I don’t know if you remember this, it must have been around, it must’ve been the early ’90s. It was a vanity fair cover with Demi Moore on the cover, heavily pregnant and only wearing body paint with Cindy Crawford behind her dressed up in a man’s suit looking like she was going to shave her.
Jody Day (19:13):
It was a really, I think it was a Annie Leibovitz cover. It was extraordinary. So she had like a man’s suit painted on her and her belly. And she was very, very pregnant and it was extremely shocking because it was the first time we’d sort of seen that fetishization. It is a hard word to say, of the celebrity bump.
Jody Day (19:36):
And that was the beginning of “I’m pregnant. I’ve got a bump. I’m going to show it off!” – of the pregnant belly becoming a status symbol. So I think what happened in the ’80s and the ’90s is that pregnancy became commodified as a sort of celebrity product as a way of performing your femininity for the cameras. Something very, very strange happened. And then we have pronatalism, which is the ideology that underpins all of this, which is the ideology, which is a subset of patriarchy, which says that the most valuable way to be an adult is to be a parent. That the needs and thoughts of parents are more important than non-parents. You can see it in the, as a mother state, as a mother status immediately sort of elevates a woman’s statement. No one says as a childless woman, they say as a mother, oh, it’s a lean-in moment.
Jody Day (20:30):
So we have this gradual sort of amping up of the power that the performative power of motherhood in the public sphere, it moves out from being a private thing that happens within the family and starts to become this public thing. Celebrities used to make sure their children weren’t seen on camera. There was no Instagram. There was no social media. Now, even a Z-list celebrity, I’m sorry, but in the UK, all she’s got to do is get knocked up to get on the cover of one of those magazines that has loads of pictures on the cover of people I’ve never heard of, but then I’m 57. So I’m like, so out of the loop, I’m just like, I have no idea who any of these reality TV stars are. All I know is they’re all pregnant in skin tight clothes, or little skimpy tops with their bumps. And I’m thinking, wow, this is when you stand in a supermarket and you see a whole rack of these pictures, I find it actually quite obscene. There’s something really, really weird going on there.
Christopher Kennedy (21:29):
Explain that, explain that feeling, or if you can decipher that for us.
Jody Day (21:36):
The feeling I get is the commodification of the female body. A sense as I could be looking at pictures of pregnant animals, a line of heifers.
Christopher Kennedy (21:49):
So we’ve basically expanded that fetishization from what it used to be just skinny women with no clothes on basically, now we’ve taken it into motherhood, into [crosstalk 00:22:04].
Jody Day (22:04):
You have to be a skinny pregnant woman, by the way. You can’t be a pregnant woman with big swollen ankles who’s put on weight all over, who’s got sort of waterlogged flesh, whose boobs have gone huge and unshapely. You can’t sit there looking exhausted and with your varicose veins and goodness knows what else that might happen. It’s an incredibly stressful thing on the human body to have a pregnancy and give birth. It used to kill most women. Let’s be honest. This is hell of a thing for the human body to do. Now, there’s just one way to have that pregnancy bump, skinny body, skinny hips, perfect bump.
Christopher Kennedy (22:42):
So we’ve kept the profile, we’ve just added pregnancy to that profile.
Jody Day (22:48):
Yeah. And then the women also then have to be back on the same cover like a month or six weeks after giving birth with their flat belly. Which I’ve never in my life with all of my friends who’ve had children. I did see one that did happen to one of my friends that she just popped back into shape. [inaudible 00:23:13] years to lose that baby fat because it was there for a purpose. They had to expend these enormous amounts of calories producing breast milk. They needed the fat reserves to make the breast milk. Nature is wise. It knows what it’s doing.
Christopher Kennedy (23:33):
You know what this reminds me of? And it’s really sad the way that we have commercialized the production of cows and other animals like they’re not able to live a decent life.
Jody Day (23:46):
They’re not sentient beings worthy of respect.
Christopher Kennedy (23:52):
This is exactly what we’re doing to ourselves.
Jody Day (23:58):
Also, if we add capitalism into the mix by making motherhood performative, it also creates a whole new product line, a whole new market. So all of those baby magazines or those parenting magazines, I mean, if you type in advice on motherhood into the internet, you break it. It’s like all of the mommy blogs and the books. And I’m not saying that I don’t want people to think that mothers shouldn’t get support and advice, but once again, there’s been a commodification of something which actually used to be a very natural female process. It used to be the advice and support you would get in your community from women who had already become mothers. So once again, that sense of community and connection with others has been commodified.
I find it interesting what I’m seeing with that commodification, especially with celebrities these days, because a lot of the celebrity pregnancy photos that I see, yes, certainly there’s a lot that skimpy. But there’s a lot that’s kind of ethereal, like Virgin Mary, as if they’v got some sort of halo around that you’re almost in this divine state, which, it’s just interesting how that builds into the commodification of women as well. So I mean, in some ways I feel that it’s trying to show motherhood as this sacred divinity experience, but it’s at the cost of saying that motherhood is going back to the ties to history like a woman’s purpose, which is such a dangerous narrative that women have been fed for so long. So I find it fascinating that in the ’70s that it was not groovy to be a mom. I feel like that was part of the fuel in women’s lib at the time.
Jody Day (26:06):
Absolutely. And I think that the fetishization of motherhood is actually part of a cultural backlash against the women’s liberation movement. Because if you make, if you absolutely valorize motherhood and make it, as you say, this divine experience, which is not something that any mother will tell you is true. It’s a way of pushing women away from the agency that we have obtained through the work of our ancestors. If you say, well, if you don’t have children, either by choice or by chance, somehow you’re missing out on this, the most meaningful thing you could do, the most culturally acceptable thing you can do. It’s really setting that up against the idea of the career woman, which is another really interesting trope, because where are the career men? I don’t know any career women. I know women with jobs.
Jody Day (27:03):
It’s not like having a career or a job is a choice for most women now. When I was growing up again in the ’70s, some mums worked and some didn’t and some moms wanted to work and that their husbands didn’t want them to and some working-class women have always worked and brought up their kids at the same time. But this is a sort of a middle-class phenomenon. But now, most middle-class families that I know apart from extremely wealthy ones, rely on the income of both parents. It is no longer an option. My grandmother used to call the money that she brought in from a part-time job that she had, pin money, which comes from Victorian times. It was literally money to buy your pins so that you… Because they were a new, expensive thing. So you could carry on with your dressmaking at home. It was just a bit of extra money for special things around the house.
Jody Day (28:02):
It wasn’t essential to the household economy in the way that it is now. So to call women career women, implies there’s a choice and that they made the choice to do that instead of motherhood, because they are inherently unfeminine. There is a subtext in that statement, career woman, which basically says bitch, hard as nails, unempathic, probably not motherhood material, a bit of a ball breaker. It’s like, what’s going on there?
Deviant from the patriarchal standard. Yeah.
Christopher Kennedy (28:37):
So where’s the middle ground in all this? What is the truth is basically the question.
Jody Day (28:46):
That’s such a good question. I don’t think we’ve found the middle ground yet. I think as human beings there are more than enough of us on the planet. And for population stabilization, the fastest way to stabilize a population, reduce its birth rate, is to educate the women, is schools for girls. It is the fastest way to reduce the birth rate is to make sure that the females have as much access to education as the men, and then the birth rate starts to come down. So in a way, what I would like to see is these hysterical articles that you read about population shrinkage and how all these old people and there aren’t going to be enough young people to look after them. And we need to encourage people to have more children. That’s pronatalism talking again.
Jody Day (29:36):
It’s like, “We have to grow. We have to grow. The only solution is to grow. More people, more people, more taxpayers.” We need to get a lot more creative because actually having a shrinking population is something many, many developed countries need to look at and manage because we need a more sustainable population. And also childless women by choice or not by choice are really powerful agents of change in the culture because we are not taken up with the 20 to 30-year task of child-rearing. So we can use our education and our talents and our desires to do different things in the culture. Single childless women in particular have been shown over and over again to be the biggest supporters of political campaigns, the biggest volunteers to charities, and to various sort of volunteer organizations. We are that village that helps to raise all those children in many ways. We are those taxpayers that aren’t using the money for the schools, for the hospitals, for our kids. We are not deviant women; we are actually integral to the civic fabric of society.
Jody Day (30:43):
And I personally don’t think, when I think of all of the women in the world, not bringing up children but who have those empathic mother’s hearts, there are so many things in this world that need that love, need that care, need that attention. I would just, my middle ground for me, would be a place where all of us are valued as individuals, as humans, as contributors, whether we have children or not. And that includes men because there are almost as many childless men as there are childless women. If we do a meta-analysis of the stats, but for example, in the UK, the UK census doesn’t even collect that data.
Jody Day (31:21):
They do not ask men, how many children do you have? They don’t even bother. That’s pronatalism. Again, this is all about women. It’s like, hello, women need men to have babies. Even if it’s sperm donors, even if they are a gay couple, whatever, this is not a one-person deal, this is not all on the women. But when people talk about sort of population decline or pregnancy or motherhood or families, it’s always focused on the women. And I think not only does this do a great disservice to the men of the world, but it also perpetuates this idea that all of the structural change that is affecting women is all about women’s choices. Women’s agency. We don’t exist in a vacuum. The choices we make or are forced to make are a product of the environment we’re in.
I think that’s so real because it just reminds me of for how many decades this with ‘divorce rates’ the way they are that this breakdown of the family unit has been because of women. And again, it comes back to this, what you’ve been speaking towards during this whole session is the onus is always on the woman. Maybe not always, but more often than not. And so when I think of a middle ground, I really like to think of autonomy and agency for all genders. And that, that requires talking about what it means if you want by choice or by circumstance to have, or to not have children. And that there is, like you said so much space for both or all of those realities to socially remove the shame that women feel as you said, what they put on themselves or what society puts on them to free them of that shame or guilt so that they can just be who they want to be in this world. That is, to me, that’s the middle ground.
Jody Day (33:23):
Yeah. And to contribute to the world in the way that suits their talents, their skills, their personalities. And one of the ways this is going to happen is it needs to start happening structurally within the legal system, within the taxation systems, within employment laws. There are a great many antiquated taxation codes and law that privilege, for example, married people over single people and parents over non-parents. I mean, we see it all the time in the workplace where someone who doesn’t have children will be told that they can’t have Christmas off. It’s a small example, but this can create a lot of resentment, particularly in companies with a lot of women where the childless person or the child-free person will endlessly be covering maternity cover for women in the department who are leaving to have children.
Jody Day (34:18):
In the UK you get about a year of paid maternity leave when you have a baby. So for example, if you are working for a company for many years and you don’t have children, for whatever reason, you can end up doing an awful lot of other people’s jobs over that time, without reciprocity, without recompense, without recognition. It’s like, “Well, you’re the childless one. You just have to keep picking up the slack.” And a lot of childless and child-free employees really, really valued human assets in organizations leave because they’ve just had enough. So a lot of, in a way, organizations need to get a lot smarter about… I mean in my TEDx talk I said that “women without children in the workplace is the biggest diversity issue HR hasn’t heard of”. We are 20 to 25% of the mature female population. Much bigger if you include those who are younger, who are not parents yet, who are also experiencing the same stigmas and prejudices and unfairnesses.
Jody Day (35:18):
And I think companies that start to recognize that by having a policy that is fair to all of their employees that supports those who are parents, but not at the cost of those who are not parents. Those organizations will be great places to work, will retain key staff, will have a culture of fairness and it will show on the bottom line. Companies need to wake up. This is not a nice to have. This is I think, for the millennial generation, for whom fairness and meaning, and transparency within organizations is so much more important to them. And they’re prepared to stand up for it. Organizations of the future need to be more aware of the totality of what their employees bring to work. And they need to recognize that and their employees will fight them for it and they will stay and they will create profits for those organizations.
It’s so refreshing to hear you say that, Jody, because I don’t think that… I’ve personally and I listen to a lot of different podcasts and stuff, and I’ve never heard that talked about. Because I think there’s so much that you look at the states and they still haven’t gotten to maternity leave, right? Paid maternity leave or paternity leave. Let’s talk more about parental leave as we look at all genders and what it means to be a parent. But also the other side of that for the people who, for whatever reason have decided not to have children, what does it mean for them when people leave? Not that we want to take that away from folks, but how do we find compensation for the folks that do not have children?
Jody Day (36:55):
It’s about recognizing that it’s a benefit and therefore it’s a benefit that needs to go across the board. One of the things a lot of women I’ve worked with over the years is they have asked for unpaid leave or a sabbatical because maybe they’d been working for the organization for 10 years and they need an extended break maybe to do some study or something like that and it’s denied. Or they want to do flexible working because they don’t want to be schlepping into the city every day anymore. And it’s like, “Well, you don’t have children, why do you need flexible leave? Why do you need to work from home two days a week?” I’m really hoping that post-pandemic, a lot of people will discover actually, quite a lot of people can work from home and things still work.
Jody Day (37:37):
But it’s that sense well, if you don’t have children, particularly as a woman, you don’t really have a life outside the office we need to care about. So we don’t value you as a person. Once again, it’s that commodification, it’s the well, what do you have outside your life that we need to take into account? I mean, you can bring in caring for a sick partner or a vulnerable elder member of your family. There will sometimes be some recognition around that. But once again, it’s about valorizing that the only meaningful role for a woman is care. “Oh, she’s got to care for her sick mum.” Maybe you’re doing an MBA. Maybe you’re, I don’t know, maybe you’re learning limbo dancing. Who cares? It’s like, it’s your time. Yeah. We need to really recognize that that is such an important part of the future of work is understanding the totality of a person rather than putting them into boxes and going, okay, we care about these employees. And the amount of organizations that conflate family-friendly policies with women-friendly policies, not recognizing that perhaps 25% of their workforce cannot take advantage of those benefits.
Jody Day (38:51):
They don’t need family picnics. They don’t need a creche. They don’t need tax breaks on a minivan. All of those things are great, but they may still need support and there may still be vulnerable parts of their lives. And the other thing is aging without children. I was the co-founder and a board member of an organization that started in the UK in 2014 called Aging Well Without Children, where we started campaigning and raising the issue of what it means to become vulnerable in old age when you don’t have children for whatever reason.
Jody Day (39:30):
And that might also mean that your children have predeceased you, they live on the other side of the world. They have care needs of their own. They may be incarcerated. There can be many reasons you may be estranged from them. There can be many reasons why you arrive at a vulnerable part in your later years without children around you. But the rhetoric, the political rhetoric is always around families and families stepping in. And what they mean by families is women. That’s what they really mean. Number one, those women are all at work now. And number two, if you don’t have a younger generation around you, who is there to be your advocate? What’s happening is that people aging without children are 25% more likely to go into a long-term care facility at a younger age and with lower dependency needs. Because actually what they need to remain living independently is an advocate, is someone to come and… I mean, you and I know modern living is mostly about admin, endless amounts of admin, digital admin, online admin.
Jody Day (40:36):
Well, that can become quite complex to keep up with. I mean, I struggle to keep up with that now, but as you get older, it’s really helpful to have a younger person to help you with your online taxes. When one of your local services that you relies on goes totally digital and a grandchild or a nephew or niece comes in and helps you sort that out, those kinds of things, who can drive you to places who can get you to appointments, who can ring up certain departments in organizations and go, “I’m ringing on behalf of blah, blah, blah, that thing it hasn’t arrived.” Make sure that their care package fits together so they can carry on living independently. That’s what most of us want. That is actually one of the challenging things about aging without children.
Jody Day (41:22):
The thing is that those adults who are aging without children, they have been taxpayers and citizens their whole lives, but people say, “Well, it’s your fault you didn’t have kids.” I mean, literally, or people will say to me, “Well, I didn’t have my children so they could take care of me when I’m old.” And I’ll go, “Yeah, I believe you. When I was trying to conceive, that was not in my mind.” So I said, “So I really appreciate that you don’t want your children to take care of you when you’re old?” “No.” I said, “So what plans have you put into place to make sure that doesn’t happen?”
Jody Day (41:55):
Because actually unconsciously, they have this get out of jail free card, which is that they don’t have to think or plan for that old age because they can keep pushing that decision-making process further down the line, because they know when push comes to shove, their kids will deal with it. When you don’t have children, you have to face up to this much earlier and start making plans. And it’s really confronting, really confronting emotionally and financially. But if we’ve been taxpayers all our lives paying for hospitals and schools and roads and scout huts, and all of the things that make the civic and fabric society for families, why is it such a big ask that at the end of our life, when we might need a little bit more support that the state might step up just a little bit to fill that gap?
Jody Day (42:48):
But it’s amazing. We’ve got, I think four million people in the UK over the age of 65 without children. And goodness, how that has shown up in the time of COVID. I mean, the rhetoric has all been around people not being able to see their families, older people not being able to see their grandchildren. But one’s been talking about what it’s been like to be single, childless or a couple and childless, at home, unwell, scared, no one coming to check on you. It’s absolutely scandalous. I mean, I could just go off on one. I’ll have to stop myself there because it actually breaks my heart.
Christopher Kennedy (43:29):
Yes. We want to thank you for opening up that Pandora’s box. It’s very deep and very wide. And like you said, yes, you could talk on that for hours on end [crosstalk 00:43:42].
Jody Day (43:42):
I have a plan though.
Christopher Kennedy (43:43):
Oh, do you?
Jody Day (43:44):
I have a plan.
Christopher Kennedy (43:45):
Jody Day (43:47):
One of my dreams for Gateway Women over the next 10 years is that because it’s 10 years old this April. Is-
Christopher Kennedy (43:54):
Jody Day (43:55):
Thank you. Yeah. From a blog to a global organization, that wasn’t the plan, but hey, that’s life. Is to really start to create those intergenerational connections. So we have our gateway gatherings, which are our social meetups that happen all over the world. I really want to create connections in local communities between older Gateway Women, women in their 60s and 70s with women who are 20 years younger to start really building these intergenerational relationships. Which is something else that childless and child-free women sometimes miss out on easy intergenerational contact.
Jody Day (44:32):
My partner’s 90-year-old mum lives with us, and it has been such a blessing, such a beautiful experience to share my home with someone who’s much older than me. It’s made me realize how much so much of us are missing out on that experience. But I want to help create those connections between the generations. So that advocacy piece that I was talking about that by the time you get to the point as a childless woman when you need advocates, you will have a posse of Gateway Women in your local area, a little bit younger than you, who can step up for you. You can be their mentors, they can be your advocates. And then in time, they can become mentors and advocates. So the tree that is Gateway Women is not one I’m going to shelter under, it’s got deep roots and I really hope it’s going to create a real step-change in how childless women are seen in our society over the next 20, 30, 40, 50 years. So childless women can be good ancestors too.
Christopher Kennedy (45:35):
It’s great to have the conversation. Yeah, it’s great to have the conversation and get that message spread around as much as possible.
Where do people find you? How do they get more information about your organization? Please let us know so we can share that.
Jody Day (45:49):
Thank you. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @gatewaywomen. You can go to the Gateway Women website, which is gateway-women.com. And we have workshops and Gateway Gatherings and online courses also in the USA and across the world. And we have an amazing online community, about 50% of our members are from the United States. So there’s always someone online to support you and inspire you. And I look forward, I’m sure you have a pretty radical set of listeners. So they are so welcomed.
On that, Jody, thank you for that. We love to ask our guests if one of the names in our podcast spoke to you or all three, virgin, beauty, bitch.
Jody Day (46:38):
Oh, definitely ‘Bitch’ for me! I think there is this idea that childless women, as you said, are deviant women. And I think sometimes that label like for me, it’s ‘Witch’ as you get older is applied to us this idea that we are not coloring inside the lines and we really need to be quiet. And yet still it’s got very hard feeling that word bitch, but what it actually means is a powerful woman. Get back in your box and dance.
Not having any of it.
Jody Day (47:12):
What a pleasure, Jody. Thank you so much.
Jody Day (47:20):
Well, thank you, Heather and Christopher, it’s been an absolute delight. Thank you.
Christopher Kennedy (47:25):
If there’s anything we can do as you move forward, please call on us, we’re here. And we definitely resonate with your message and your cause. And if we can help in any way, please let us know. It’s been an absolute joy to get to know you and meet you.
Jody Day (47:42):
You can listen to the full interview here or search 'Virgin.Beauty.B!tch' (the exclamation mark is crucial for search) wherever you get your podcasts. And if you'd like Jody to be a guest on your podcast, or you'd like to suggest a podcast you'd like her to approach, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org