** HEY KIDS! LISTEN, I’M SORRY ABOUT THIS BUT I’M BACK TO TALKING ABOUT BORING GROWN-UP STUFF AGAIN. PLEASE ASK YOUR GROWN-UPS IF THEY ARE OK WITH IT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO READ THIS POST …. THANKS! **
I just want to take a minute or three to discuss something. Its not a particularly comfortable topic for me and I think a lot of other women feel the same way. There are a few questions I have been asking myself about this topic, and they are as follows:
Firstly. Is it coincidence that, shortly after the only chick in my nest exited tiny-babyhood forever, I took up collecting dolls – small, cute, in need of dressing and grooming, reminiscent of childhood? Similarly, earlier in my life, was it coincidence that while I was at my most biologically fertile age I suddenly started acquiring cats at a rather alarming rate – small, warm, cuddly, in need of affection and care?
Secondly. If I decide that the answer to my first set of questions is “nope – you were obeying some kind of biological imperative to nurture” … well, should I feel bad about this?
Lets think about why I should feel bad about this. Reason one – the society I live in tends to be a bit appalled by this kind of behaviour. It seems to me that nurturing for the sake of nurturing is socially acceptable when the nurturer is, for instance, a recently bereaved chimp. However, when the nurturer is a childless woman or an empty-nester, as far as society is concerned, it kind of smacks of mental illness or at least some sort of mush-brained emotional instability, doesn’t it? Let me ask all you single, cat-owning girls out there – how many times have you been compared to the crazy cat-lady from the Simpsons? Do you still find it entertaining, or have you reached the point where every time you hear it, your smile is ready to crack, fall from your face and shatter into vicious shards on the floor? Regardless of how happy you and Tiddles are together, society still reserves the right to curl its upper lip at you. Thirty years ago you could have taken the phrase “cat-lady” and replaced it with “spinster” and the attitudes would have been basically the same.
Personally, I think that reason one is more bizarre than supposedly inappropriate nurturing anyway. If we are talking about biological imperatives, consider what sort of social phenomenon might be assignable to the effects of testosterone on behaviour. I leave you to draw your own conclusions about this, and to compare it with all that social harm caused by buying dollies, taking in strays, knitting acres of baby clothes for the local charity raffle and occasionally dressing up the dog in a frilly bonnet. Maybe in very extreme cases, animals might be made unhappy by inappropriate treatment (bonnet-wearing, for instance – by the way, I’m using this phrase to refer to the cliche, not to anything I do – just to make it really clear, my animals DO NOT wear clothes). This isn’t good but I bet its still a damn sight more comfortable than being shot with an air rifle or blown up with a firework by some confused, hormonal teenage boy … see what I am getting at?
See, I think that reason one is a direct result of the impulse many people have in their teenage years to flee the nest, reject sentimentality, escape childhood and nurture. I think that society has picked this up and ran with it because, well, its an attitude that some women and a lot of men never completely grow out of. I don’t know why. Hangover from the great rock ‘n roll rebellion of the last century? Another example of the way that mothering is devalued by contemporary values? Monkeys basically looking for ways to justify creating a rampantly aggressive society? You decide.
On to reason two. Some people might say that I should feel bad about obeying a biological imperative to nurture because, well, it doesn’t exist. If it does exist, its only a little thing, and social values have caused me to blow it massively out of proportion. I am basically being duped by oppressive social norms and it follows that, actually, I could choose not to feel like this. Which means I could have chosen not to get the cats or collect the dolls – or have the child – but instead, I don’t know, taken up boxing or started my own business or something. To which I would say, “er, I know – but I didn’t want to”. To which my “some people” would say, “yeah, that’s because you’re being duped.” And so on, and so on. My problem with reason two is that there’s a pretty big “shouldn’t” right in there that completely disregards my experiences, my history and my feelings on the matter. I’m not keen on feminists who have hard-line opinions on what women “should” be like (“shouldn’t wear make-up”, “shouldn’t let their girl-children play with dolls” etc), any more than I am keen on the people who hold directly reversed opinions – I’m more a “respect difference and right to choose your lifestyle” kind of girl (“shouldn’t refer to grown women as girls”, yeah yeah). But actually, do you know what? Most of the people who have criticised me from a reason two sort of position (“shouldn’t want babies, shouldn’t be so sentimental, shouldn’t moon over animals and toys, because you’re pandering to outdated, offensive social expectations”) have been men, although not the boyf, I would like to add – bless him. For this reason, I think that sometimes, reason two is just reason one dressed up in trendy clothes.
Anyhoo, I don’t expect you to give up your job so you can stay at home making babies and trying to knit the perfect hat for Mr Woofles. I don’t – I work my arse off and will continue to do so until the current Government succeeds in its goal of getting me back in the dole queue (stat services, darling). However, from time to time I do think about the following. On a school trip to some Cathedral or other, I once saw the grave of a woman who had born thirty children in her lifetime. Thirty! Honest to God. My cat had kittens when she was eight months old (it was an accident, by the way) and as soon as they were weaned, she was back in season and desperate to get out of the house to make more kittens. On the other hand, by the time I reach menopause, I will have had somewhere between thirty and forty fertile years, but I only have one little chick in my nest. Females are designed by nature to breed, and breed, and breed, but these days in the UK, a brood even a third of the size of the Cathedral woman’s would cause raised eyebrows – yes, and a permanently empty wallet. Its good that most of us now have a choice, as poor old Cathedral woman died relatively young. But this leads to loads of non-breeding time, and I don’t think its unreasonable to presume that on a psychological level, whether for biological or social reasons, this is going to have an effect on some women. If it doesn’t, ace – crack on. If it does, and you find yourself taking any of the baby-replacement routes that make society giggle behind its hand at you, I don’t think you should be feeling bad about it. Isn’t it great that women can take an urge that they can’t, or won’t, fulfil, and turn it into something creative, something useful and nurturing, or at least something neutral in its wider effects? AND it makes them happy. That’s getting a lemon and making lemonade for you, so go pick on someone else.
PS. The doll in the pictures is my beautiful 90s Bubble Fairy. I lost her wings long ago, but I still have her fairy outfit somewhere. In these pictures, she’s wearing a suit that my sister made by hand (oo, she’s good). Isn’t it strange, there are millions of dolls with this face but for some reason I think she’s the best of the lot – I’d never part with her. I got the dress-wearing dog with a job-lot of toys I bought a while ago, I have no idea who made it. Sometimes Barbie animals are a bit cartoony for my tastes but I think this one goes very well with my dolls.