Sunny holidays, funny moments with her kids, her lover taking her away somewhere special for her birthday so that they can have some time, ‘alone’…
How come her life worked out and mine didn’t? What about me?
How to meet your soul mate, arranging the perfect hen-night, your dream wedding, what to expect when you’re expecting, keeping the passion alive in your relationship…
Where’s my soul mate? Isn’t there meant to be one for everyone? Where do I exist in women’s magazines? Where are the articles about coping with a lodger in your 40s just to pay the electricity bill? When did ‘life-work balance’ come to mean ‘family-work’ balance? Doesn’t my life count? What about me?
One Born Every Minute, Call the Midwife, 16 and Pregnant…
Where am I on TV? Where are the single and childless or childfree women in their 40s and 50s? Where are the couples who couldn’t have kids and who have come to terms with that and are moving forward with their lives in exciting and fulfilling ways?
What about me? Don’t I exist too? Am I not a part of this culture, this world, this life?
From the moment we wake up, we are bombarded with images of mothers, mothers and children, ‘fertile’ (ie: young) women, grandmothers, nuclear families. In fact, US academic Martha M Lauzen reports that:
…women in their teens, 20s and 30s are 39 percent of the population, yet are 71 percent of women on TV. Women 40 and older are 47 percent of the population, yet are 26 percent of women on TV. […] There’s actually an academic term for that. It’s called ‘symbolic annihilation.’
What about me indeed!
It’s hard to feel good about yourself when the only messages coming back at you are that your best days are behind you, and it looks like you screwed those up anyway. But you were there, you made those decisions to the best of your knowledge. Other women you knew made what looked like much worse decisions at the time, but they ‘ended up’ with a family and are now considered to have ‘got it all right’, whilst your role seems to be some kind of cautionary tale for younger women…
This is toxic thinking that overvalues motherhood and undervalues womanhood. It doesn’t help mothers either, who are meant to be having it all, and loving it. All they’re allowed to say about motherhood is that it’s the most meaningful thing they’ve ever done. Maybe. But every day? All the time?
No one ever has a shit day on Facebook.
Looking at Facebook when you’re childless by circumstance and not yet OK with this is an act of self harm. You need to ask yourself what possible good could it do you? Even if you found a cure for cancer you’d get might get less ‘likes’ that day than a flipping pregnancy announcement. We’re living in a pronatalist bubble, it will pass. (Read Laura Carroll’s book The Baby Matrix if you’re not sure what I’m on about).
It’s time to take control of what messages you consume:
- Look for positive role models in the culture. You’re unlikely to find them in mainstream media, so you might as well stop bothering with it. Check out my Gallery of Childless & Childfree Role Models, and I’d love to hear your suggestions too.
- Hang out with your childless and childfree friends. If you don’t have any yet, get some here. They’re not as weird as you think, that’s just internalised prejudice talking. In fact, in my experience, they’re actually pretty amazing women. There’s nothing like running up the down escalator of life to make for an interesting person…
- Stop watching TV shows about dating, marriage and families. This pretty well much only leaves nature programmes, detective shows and vampires so you might want to try giving up watching the TV altogether for a week and doing something else to see what happens. Start creating something. Anything. Giving birth isn’t the only act of creation a woman is capable of.
- Give up reading women’s magazines, colour supplements and avoid as much advertising as you can. Listen to the radio instead (if you can get a commercial free station, goddess bless the BBC!) or podcasts. Start reading some of the fantastic blogs and websites for women who want to see things differently. I enjoy The Vagenda, Salon, Feministe, The Bitter Babe, From Forty with Love. I’d love to know what you like to read that makes you feel good about yourself and excited about your life again…
The status quo can’t see us, we’re invisible. You can feel that space as emptiness, or you can begin to see it as possibility. It might feel uncomfortable at first, which may be why you’ve been trying to fill it with TV, magazines and Facebook. And bitter daydreams of what could have been, if only…
We cannot control the world, and we have less control over our lives than we’d like to imagine. But we can choose how we think about it, how we feel about it.
It’s time that we, the invisible women of this world, stopped worrying about what others think about us. The fact is, they don’t. And therein lies our power, once we have the company and encouragement we need to take advantage of it.
I dare you. Take your life back from those who’ve convinced you you don’t have one. Because the last laugh is always still up for grabs.
Jody Day is a London-based writer and the Founder at Gateway Women. She set up the Gateway Women 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 groups, workshops and retreats for hopeful mothers-to-be who are ‘running out of time’, as well as for those women reluctantly coming to terms with the fact that motherhood didn’t happen for them. Jody also consults with individuals and organisations and she regularly speaks out in public, in the media and online about issues and prejudices facing childless women in our society today. 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!