Today is International Women’s Day 2018. Started by the Suffragettes in the early 1900’s, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911 and this year’s theme is #PressforProgress.
Yet it can be hard if you’re a childess-not-by-choice (CNBC) woman sometimes to feel that you belong to the global tribe of women, as womanhood and motherhood are routinely conflated.
Whether it be the way that Facebook algorithms target you with nappies, ‘back to school’ offers and prams, the rise of terms such as ‘Mumpreneur’ or even, for heaven’s sake, a local women’s running club calling themselves ‘MumsRun’, it seems that whichever way we turn, the one in five of us who aren’t mothers (90% of those not by choice) can feel invisible.
At work, this invisibility shows up in the way that organisations routinely conflate ‘female-friendly policies’ with ‘family friendly’ ones. And in the way that women without children are expected to uncomplainingly pick up the slack for their colleagues on maternity leave or with childcare issues. Yet if they seek compensation, recognition or reciprocity for this, or even have the temerity to point out that they too ‘deserve’ to spend Christmas with their loved ones, are branded as ‘unsisterly’ or ‘difficult’.
In public life, it shows up in the way that political rhetoric rarely strays from addressing ‘hard-working families’, entirely ignoring all those who willingly pay their taxes to maintain our civil society for everyone’s use. It even happens to future Prime Minsters too – who can ever forget Andrea Leadsom MP’s gaffe about how being a mother gave her a more tangible stake in the future than her childless rival Teresa May MP? Or the way that the former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard was derided for her childlessness. So much so, she joked with former US President Barack Obama: ‘You think it’s tough being African-American? Try being me. Try being an atheist, childless, single woman as prime minister.’
And at home it happens behind closed doors when childless daughters are left out of important family discussions about wills, inheritances and family plans. And you’d be surprised how common it is that she’s given the sofa to sleep on at Christmas (and not expected to ‘mind’ about it!) whilst her sister’s kids get ‘her’ old bedroom. (No, it’s really not just YOU this has happened to!)
As someone who is no longer slammed to the floor by grief over my childlessness, I now have the strength to point these things out and to try to do something it about them. It’s why I gave my TED talk in 2017, hoping to create a short video that could be shared by you to help explain our situation to others. Because when just getting through the day is a major achievement, speaking up for yourself as a disenfranchised minority is really not top of your to-do list.
This #IWD2018 I stand up for the 2 million childless-not-by-choice women in the UK, and the many more globally who read this blog and gain strength from the community of childless women that gathers here, and over in our private online community.
It’s time for an end to unfunny ‘jokes’ about ‘crazy cat ladies’ and sneering jibes about ‘career women’. It’s time that workplaces recognised that women without children (by choice or not) aren’t there to carry the load for inefficient workflow planning when our colleagues are on maternity leave (and which we are happy to support by the way, just not at the cost of it all landing on our desks!) It’s time that marketeers and social policy thinkers understood that not all women are mothers or grandmothers and that not everyone has a family poised to take care of them in old age.
The shaming of childless women is a way to keep us silent, to keep us apart from each other. But our numbers are growing and our influence, when we act together, will be substantial.
You have done nothing wrong by being childless. You are nothing wrong by being childless. You are a woman and you as valuable as any other woman, any other human being. So, as we #PressforProgress for women, let’s make sure that includes childless women like you and me too.