Sometimes things change. We realise that using plastic is bad for the world. It becomes socially unacceptable to judge a woman for having sex. We go from one series of Love Island per year to two.
But other times, things stay the same. And one of those things is the hideous balancing act that women are expected to put up with when it comes to having a career or having a family.
One such woman is writer of Sex and the City, Candace Bushnell. The super-star writer, who came up with the iconic Carrie/Samantha/Charlotte/Miranda combination, has stated this week that she regrets how she handled her personal balancing act.
She told the Sunday Times Magazine last weekend: ‘When I got divorced and I was in my 50s, I started to see the impact of not having children and of truly being alone. I do see that people with children have an anchor in a way that people who have no kids don’t.’
Admitting to wishing that you’d put having kids above having enormous career success feels like a bit of a diversion from the feminist playbook, a playbook which claims to value motherhood and personal success equally sometimes doesn’t follow through on that promise.
It’s scary to read someone like Candace Bushnell, who taught my generation that they can live in big cities, have lots of sex and enjoy a couple of selfish adult decades free from responsibility, saying that she feels she made a mistake. Are we all making mistakes if we follow in her footsteps and choose cocktails over nappy changing and casual sex over stretch marks?
Increasingly we are told as women that if we wait too late, we'll miss the baby boat. Just yesterday a viral tweet was all over the internet, warning women that by 30, 90% of our eggs are dead. And now women who ignored those message are telling us that they have regrets.
As a woman who has put her career above anything else, Bushnell’s statement almost feels like an attack on the way thatmodern women like me, who are increasingly putting off starting families or skipping it entirely, are living their lives. Especially given that she created Samantha Jones, the poster-woman for having an amazing life without kids.
But it’s not an attack. It’s just an honest reflection on where life has left her at 60. Rich, successful, attractive and without children. And sometimes in order to be honest about our feelings, we have to break the rules of being a ‘good’ feminist.
The reality is that Bushnell is a victim of sexist biology. It’s not fair that women are less able to have children later in life than men - giving them a smaller window of time in which to procreate if they wish to do so. It’s not fair that women are the only ones able to breastfeed children. It’s not fair that human babies are born at a stage of their development which means they are incredibly reliant on their mothers for an extended period of time. None of it is fair. But it is true.
If we were designing the reproductive system from scratch it wouldn’t put the majority of the burden on the female partner. If we were to redesign the working week from scratch, it wouldn’t be mutually exclusive with being a new parent. But in the current situation, where women carry and mostly care fore babies, and offices generally require employees to be present for 40 hours a week and leave their children at home, doing both is hard.
The options for women who want to have it all are to have babies very early, then go back to work. That hinges on finding the right person, having enough money and sacrificing your young and selfish years.
You could put of having children as late as possible so that you’ve made career progress before you go on maternity leave. But that means playing a dangerous game of risk with your fertility, and a lack of financial support from the NHS if you reach the age of 40 and need help.
Or you could do what the majority of women do and have a baby in your late twenties or early thirties, try to do both and end up feeling guilty most of the time.
Given that these are the options it seems no wonder that women like Candace Bushnell decide to skip the whole family thing and focus on enjoying their talent, money and fame.
When you list the options out, it seems pretty clear that ‘having it all’ – the dream we were all raised to expect - the amazing career, a wonderful social life, a 'perfect' body and a big family (while also staying happy and sane) is pretty much impossible.
Women who have children and ditch their career often regret that. Women who have more than one child sometimes regret the second. Women who go into law firms when they really wanted to be ballerinas sometimes look back and wonder what might have been. Having children is not a way of future proofing your choice. Nothing is.
Acknowledging that there is a risk that you will regret your life choices does not condemn them.
It’s not anti-women, or ant-feminist to admit that there are only so many hours in a week, and it’s not possible to excel in every single area. Nor is it feminist to, like Bushnell, admit that , in hindsight, you regret the choices that we made.
No woman should have children because she feels obliged to, and there are women all over the world who have chosen not to have kids and never regretted it. But we don't alleviate the pressure on women to have children by pretending that it's always the 'right' choice. Just as some women will regret having children, others will regret not having them.
Feminism is, and always has been, about choice. Bushnell made her choice back in the years when kids were an option. Now she’s being honest about that choice.
We should laud her for opening up about her experiences, not condemn her for deviating from the script which said children weren’t an important part of a fulfilled life – even if it is a script that she helped write.