Stop Saying Not Wanting Children Means I’m Not A ‘Real’ Woman

childless woman autumn walking

by Lucy Vine |
Published on

‘Real’ is a word that has jarred with me on three specific occasions in the last week – and every time was in conversation about babies. Firstly, a man I follow on Twitter was talking about reading to his child, and pronounced this to be ‘real love’. Secondly, was in conversation with a newly pregnant acquaintance, who giggled as she told me that ‘real life’ was about to begin. And then, last week, Serena Williams served up the ace; ‘I have so much respect for so many women [for giving birth]. I am about to be a real woman now, you know?’ No Serena, I don’t know, because I haven’t had a baby, and I have zero plans to do so – ever. So clearly, I will never be a ‘real woman’, right?

I hear this kind of comment often; how I will never know true love, or understand what life is about without having a baby – and I can’t overstate how reductive and diminishing it is. I don’t entirely blame Serena, because we’ve all been brainwashed and conditioned with this kind of thinking. We put mothers and babies on a bizarre kind of pedestal, one we refuse to let them down from – even when they want off. We treat pregnant women like they are public property and we tell them they are doing the only important job in the world. And then we shame them at every conceivable turn for their choices. Last week was another reminder of that, when midwives finally ended their patronising promotion of the ‘natural birth’ – a campaign which has been making new mums feel like failures for the last 12 years. To me, this kind of messaging is just another way to control women.

We teach women their worth lies in being a vessel. That their place is at home, where they will find ‘real’, authentic happiness. Never mind 39 Grand Slams, being the world’s greatest female tennis player – or even starring in a goddamned Beyonce video – Serena will finally be a real women when she’s changing nappies.

There is, of course, a fine line here, because I’m not looking to dismiss motherhood either. I just want my choices to be recognised, without being casually told that I am worth less because I don’t want children. The fact is, fewer women than ever are having families, and recent figures found one in five will never have them. Which means it’s time for attitudes and perceptions to change. Childless women are not amorphous genderless beings, floating barren and sad in a wasteland of loneliness. I’m full of purpose and love – and yes, believe it or not Serena, I am real.

Hot Mess by Lucy Vine, Orion, is out now

READ MORE: Stop Asking Women Why They Don’t Have Kids

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