I’m often told I don’t look my age. I have to admit I rather enjoy the look of shock that usually appears on people’s faces when I tell them my actual age. It’s usually followed up with “what’s your secret?” Depending on how well I know them and their sense of humour the answer tends to be one or a combination of…
- Good genes, thanks Mum
- Stay out of the sun, don’t smoke
- You should see the state of the portrait in my attic
- It’s mostly because I act like a child
- Bathing in the blood of virgins
- My dress sense never grew up
- Ritual sacrifice
I don’t really mind being told I look much younger than I am – I generally take it as a compliment, and I am sure it’s meant as one, although I do have some complex feelings over why looking ‘young’ is a good thing and looking ‘old’ must be avoided. That’s probably enough of a subject for a blog all on its own. But anyway, once it’s found out how old I actually am, it’s almost inevitable that a follow up question is coming. I can see it coming. A certain furrow of the brows, a questioning look, a slight tilt of the head. It comes in different forms of course, but the meaning is the same.
“You never think about having children?” or “Aren’t you worried you haven’t had children yet?” or perhaps “haha you must look young because you haven’t had children yet” or my personal favourite is when they don’t even bother with the question and go straight for “don’t worry, lots of women have children when they’re older these days”. I’ve usually already prepared my answers, again depending on how well I know them and how a joke might work, while they were tilting their head and furrowing their brows…
- I can’t even keep a plant alive
- Children are awesome but I like to be able to give them back when I am bored
- I have no desire to foist my genetic material onto another living being
- I’d rather have a sausage dog
- No, but I’ll be a brilliant aunt
Occasionally, people take my answer for some sort of deep seated sadness that I haven’t given my womb any other sort of purpose other than making my life difficult on a monthly basis, and reassure me that “it’s not too late” which leads to more awkwardness as I have to reassure them that no, really, it’s ok. I don’t have children, I don’t really want children, I am not sad that I don’t have children, I do like children, I just don’t really want one of my own, and that’s ok and OH LOOK OVER THERE A SQUIRREL and I run away while they aren’t looking. Or fake a text message. Or hide under my desk until they’re gone.
I know I am getting on a bit in terms of producing a new human. I mean, a friend of mine was age-shamed by the nurse when she got pregnant at 34. THIRTY FOUR. I am older than that, and I still think of things in terms of “when I grow up”. I can’t imagine myself ever feeling “old enough” for that sort of responsibility.
I genuinely CAN’T keep plants alive, not even mint, or bamboo, and the thought of being responsible for a whole human? That’s terrifying. Look, when I moved out of the former Mr RDPs house he originally wanted me to keep the cat because he thought the cat loved me more than him. It was a huge relief to me when I couldn’t find somewhere to rent where the cat was welcome and the cat stayed with him. It was a huge relief to him too, as really, he wanted to keep the cat. I kind of wish he’d been up front about that in the first place, as I wanted him to keep the cat too. When it was still undecided I was lying awake at night panicking about how I was going to be responsible for this furry little life. What if he got sick or lost or ran away or abducted by aliens? It would be MY FAULT. How on earth would I keep him safe? How will I live with myself if I can’t? (It worked out fine in the end and the cat now loves the ex more, in that easy way cats have of transferring their affections to the nearest reliable source of food and head skritches. I visit him occasionally, he looks at me with suspicion then ignores me. This relationship works for both of us. The cat, I mean. Not my ex. Head skritching your ex is definitely crossing some sort of boundary.)
I find having responsibility for my OWN life hard enough work without also having responsibility for the life of something else. So not having plants, pets or human children suits me just fine. But no one ever asks me to defend why I don’t have plants or pets. For some reason, asking a woman WHY she doesn’t have children is perfectly fine. And for some reason, my genuine answer, that “I am just not really a nurturing person, actually. I am a bit selfish, and quite chaotic, and I struggle with my own mental health, and most of my energy is spent on taking care of myself, and actually, I am ok with that” is not a good enough answer for many people. People assume that, because I am female, I MUST be a nurturing person with a desire to look after a small human really.
But I am not. I mean, I like to make sure my friends are ok, and I have empathy, and I care about people. But I can’t do it to anyone all the time. I think it’s one of the things that has affected many of my long term relationships; because I just find it really hard work to have responsibility for someone else’s emotional wellbeing. I don’t really like looking after people. Or doing caring nurturing things. Perhaps I am doing myself a disservice, perhaps my friends are reading this thinking oh, shush, you are SO a caring person. And yes, I am sure I am, but caring is not the same thing as nurturing.
The thing that really pisses me off about this all is this idea that women are “meant” to be nurturing. We’re “meant” to want to care for people, small animals, plants and friends. It’s in our socialisation, in our toys, in the advertising and in the movies; women are the caring, life giving, emotionally supportive gender, and men are the emotionless, self sufficient problem solvers. And when we’re not, it’s questioned. Either we don’t know our minds yet, and we’ll change them, or there’s “still time”, or we “haven’t met the right person yet”. Or perhaps we’re cold and heartless.
Honestly, truly and honestly, how many men get asked repeatedly why they don’t have children, and when saying they don’t want them are pressed for reasons why? How many men ever feel shamed or “wrong” because they don’t want to be the emotional support for someone else, who want to be “selfish” and be on their own? I am willing to bet very few. It’s seen as perfectly ordinary for men to be insular, more selfish and less nurturing. On the flip side – how often are men’s desires when it comes to this ignored? Men who really want children, who really want to parent or give love, who want to nurture? The shaming of men in caring professions like nursing or childcare; or the comments when a dad is with his children that he’s “babysitting” or that it’s “mum’s day off”. (No. he’s PARENTING.)
Well I am not a nurturing person. I don’t want my own children (although I probably will be a fantastic aunt one day) and that’s ok. No one, of any gender, should be made to feel guilty if they are, or aren’t, the nurturing type.
You know that scene in Mad Max Fury Road when [SPOILER] Max saved Furiosa by literally giving her his blood? A lot of feminists (including me) flipped their shit over the scene. Furiosa saved them all by being asskickingly badass and strong; Max saved Furiosa though nurture. It was a juxtaposition so perfect, so stark; and says a lot about how wedded we are to gender roles that it was so powerful – we’re simply not used to seeing them represented like that.
It’s about time we stopped shaming women for not being nurturing enough, and shaming men for wanting to nurture. It helps exactly no one. And please, stop asking women of any age why they don’t have children. Because that’s just fucking weird.