"Real" is a word that has been jarring for me on three specific occasions in the last week — and every time, it 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, the word came up 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 patronizing promotion of the "natural birth" campaign, which has been making new moms feel like failures for the last 12 years. To me, this kind of messaging is just another way to control women.
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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 making her the world’s greatest female tennis player — on top of having starred in a Beyoncé video — Serena will finally be a real women when she’s changing diapers.
There is, of course, a fine line here, because I’m not looking to dismiss motherhood either. I just want my choices to be recognized without me being casually told that I am worthless because I don’t want children. The fact is that 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.
This post was written by Lucy Vine. For more, check out our sister site Grazia.
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