I just finished reading the Ex-expat's blog post at the hand mirror on the SST’s article "Kiwis with empty nests"and find myself in complete accord about how annoying it is that the article focuses on the fact that WOMEN are choosing not to have kids. It brushes over the context in which decisions about having a family are made and foists responsibility for the reproduction of the body politic exclusively on women. These are ideas that should have rotted with the Arc.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I started a Masters looking at why educated women in their twenties are choosing not to have kids. The women I spoke to wanted to finish uni, be in a career, and married with their own homes before they became pregnant. And they wanted to delay getting into stable "marriage-like" relationships until they'd graduated and established themselves in a career. Ethically and morally, they believed they would be better mothers if they waited and became more stable in themselves. They mostly shared the idea that successful women don't have kids too early. Bad for them, bad for the baby. This idea did not happen in a vacuum – it’s too pervasive for that. This is a shared concept - this is about what's happening in New Zealand right now. And rather than being prompted by any idea of preferring life without children as implied by the SST article, it was motivated by wanting to have them under the best circumstances.
Waiting can be a dicey proposition of course, but this isn’t something you think about in your twenties. I can attest to the fact that it’s remarkably easy to somehow get to your mid-30s and have none of the accepted prerequisites for optimal child-bearing in place. My doctor keeps telling me I should think about it since my ovaries are not in the best shape. But since I’m not that keen and I’d prefer not to bring a child into the world when I have neither the personal nor financial resources to do it alone, it really becomes a no-brainer. Trawling the bars of Ponsonby looking for a likely casual shag who might be persuaded into a bare-back fuck or forking out for donor sperm are just not options I want to pursue, and whatever one's politics, at this point in history, a male of the species is still required for progenation. Something the SST seems to have forgotten. Where are the MEN in all this?? Why do demographers (or journalists) never ask a man why he isn't married and/or doesn’t have kids? It’s exactly as statistically likely that a man will become a father each time he has sex as it is that a woman will become a mother.
To be fair, there is a pragmatic answer to that question - it's the underlying assumptions that get to me. The biological reality of childbearing means any woman will know if she’s a mother, and so will most of the rest of the world. Parturition and nurturance are difficult to hide. And, if all children are assigned to a mother but not a father, then they don’t get counted twice. Which is handy for demographers who deal in stats. But alongside and even within the demographic information shared in the SST article is an underlying set of assumptions about motherhood, femininity, masculinity, desire and identity that are unaddressed. The article indirectly implies that women are supposed to want motherhood – it’s normative, and if we don’t, even if it’s for perfectly conventional social reasons (like “ I don’t have a husband”), somehow we’re deviant, will die alone and are also responsible for New Zealand’s failure to replace its body politic (or citizens).
Frankly, these ideas are direct from the Old Testament. It’s more than a little disturbing to find them in a broadsheet article in the cold light of a 21st Century day.