I’ve always been suspicious of people who declare themselves to be animal lovers – and usually have a veritable collection of four-legged friends to prove it – whilst disdaining children. Preferring the company of animals does not mean that you have to loathe children, does it? Believe me, I can well see the attraction of eschewing parenthood, but why is it socially acceptable to flout one’s antipathy towards children? Anyone openly espousing the same views of cute little kittens would be accused of being a dour old fart (and at least kids don’t shit in other people’s gardens).
As a feminist, I was saddened and frankly pissed off to see Julie Bindel use the Guardian as nothing more than a platform to slag off those of us who are mothers. I’ve followed Julie Bindel for long enough to know that she’s not a big fan of children but I didn’t realise the extent of her aversion to the little blighters (‘I have always been clear about children – some are fabulous once they grow into adults’) and the women who have brought them into the world. According to Julie Bindel, ‘All the promises such as “I’ll still come on that march/go to that conference/burn down that sex shop” disappear when [feminists] sprog.’ Yes, perhaps being a parent gives some women fewer opportunities to have a life outside the home, particularly single mothers. It can be hard relying upon babysitters all the time, even supposing a single parent could afford to pay someone to mind their kids. But most of us manage it when required – for example, lots of mothers have arranged childcare for two days to allow them to attend RadFem2013 in June. Julie Bindel perpetuates the myth that it is impossible to be both a feminist and a mother, and her statement that parents ‘actually enjoy dragging themselves around the London Aquarium’ [my bold] couldn’t be any more condescending.
Yes, mothers sometimes do things that the kids enjoy doing and, yes, that does include dragging ourselves around places where we’d rather not be. Given the choice, I’d rather not have visited a local farm last Bank Holiday Monday, but we were only there for about three hours. It’s no big deal. The kids enjoyed it, I enjoyed spending time with them (shock, horror!) and when we got back home I kicked off my shoes and curled up with a coffee and a book.
‘Having your own child is a selfish choice’ Bindel opines, using the over-population argument. She’s right on this point: I selfishly added two people to the world’s population. I like to think I can make up for that fact by bringing up children who go on to be productive members of society. The most problematic part of her statement, however, is the assumption that every mother has become so through choice. This is simply not always the case and Bindel, as a feminist, should appreciate this more than most. It’s not as if mothers are undercover despots who are on a mission to bring the world to its knees. Being a mother does not make a woman any more or less selfish than non-mothers and it’s patronising and short-sighted to suggest otherwise.
Bindel works hard to free girls and women from sex trafficking – amongst other things – so she is absolutely correct when she states: ‘My legacy – what I leave behind – will not be my DNA but my contribution to the emancipation of girls and women.’ But the implication that mothers cannot be ‘good’ feminists – or ‘good enough’ feminists – completely disregards the hard work carried out by feminist mothers. How arrogant does a person have to be to infer that mothers can only ever be faux-feminists at best? What sort of feminism is it which scorns those women whose life choices you disagree with? As mothers, what hope do we have if we face prejudice not only from a classist, capitalist, patriarchal society but also from fellow feminists?