If Diane Abbot is correct in her observations that there is a crisis of masculinity in the UK, and indeed the western world, nothing exemplifies this better than two very different campaigns, both predominantly aimed at women and motherhood.
The first is an American campaign called ‘No Teen Pregnancy’ which aims to stigmatise teenage mothers. The campaign is, as Prymface notes, virulently anti-mother, with posters such as these.
The inference is clear, motherhood is unsatisfactory and unfulfilling, no great achievement and only a valid choice later on in life when you may have fulfilled greater, more important goals. Motherhood is, according to the geniuses behind this campaign, a chore, only something to be embraced when you are otherwise tired of life in the fast lane and possess plenty of cash to lavish upon one’s beloved offspring. What does ‘changing the world’ consist of when you are a teenager, in any event? Going out, getting hopelessly drunk, having numerous sexual relationships and emerging battle-scarred, world weary and wiser? Going to University? Why can’t you go to University and be a mother at the same time? Why does motherhood ‘suck’.
Whilst the adverts seek to speak to those teenagers on their level, they are offensive in as much as they seek to appeal to the basest instincts of materialism, consumerism and selfishness.
Admittedly splashing out on consumer goods for your precious little bundle is fun and pleasurable pursuit when pregnant, the idea that the baby needs luxury or designer goods is one dreamt up and promoted by the retail industry. Whilst the latest designer pram or gadget might be fun, the baby knows absolutely no different – so long as they are safe, dry, warm, fed and held, they couldn’t care less whether or not they have co-ordinating crib sheets in a shade of pink or blue, and as a point of safety, the cot in the photo above looks ideal. Drapes, fripperies, pillows, quilts or even soft toys are superfluous in a cot with a newborn baby and all pose potential hazards. Expectant parents who go out and flash the cash do it predominantly for their own pleasure, whilst persuading themselves it’s an altruistic gesture and measure of love.
The message is clear. If you are a teenage mother then you are a failure, you have let yourself and your baby down and should be utterly ashamed of yourself. No-one should be encouraging teenagers to become mothers, but in a society which has failed our young people in terms of the mixed messages that it imparts, seeking to punish and marginalise teenagers who have been sold the lie that sex can be safe and that all choices are equally valid, for not aborting their unborn baby or for getting pregnant in the first instance, is not the answer.
Moreover adverts such as these are a total gift to the abortion industry. This, they say, is the real attitude towards teenage mothers and why abortion is necessary. Teenagers will have to face so much stigma for becoming pregnant in the first instance or not giving their babies up for adoption, that abortion has to be the kinder option. The posters reinforce the notion that unless a pregnancy is planned with ruthless efficiency to occur at a time when a woman is financially and emotionally ‘ready’, she is not capable of being a good mother and doing what is best for her child.
The really insidious agenda here is one which seeks to promote and assert children as having consumer needs which blend into ‘rights’. According to this logic, unless a child can be given a very specific, middle-class start in life, then he or she is going to endure a life of poverty, deprivation and misery and it would be better and kinder if they were not born in the first place, forgetting that the right to life is the most basic of all human rights and supercedes every other consideration. A right to life, is not the same as the right to a comfortable Guardian-reading, middle-class life and should not be confused as such. Furthermore such patronising attitudes display total contempt and arrogance towards those of a different social strata, forgetting that concepts such as joy, happiness, contentment, fulfillment and spirituality transcend man-made social constructs.
The second campaign is one fronted by the TV presenter and journalist Kate Garraway, called Get Britain Fertile which aims to improve chances of conception for couples and stop women from ‘sleepwalking into infertility’ as according to a YouGov survey, 70% of women believe that women having a baby in their forties is too old.
Let’s not fool ourselves here, this campaign is not one of altruism, it’s sponsored and promoted by First Response, a company who manufactures ovulation and pregnancy testing kits and therefore has much to gain by increasing women’s awareness of their fertility.
Like the No to Teen Pregnancy campaign, Get Britain Fertile is based on a sensible premise. Just as it isn’t advisable for most teenagers to become pregnant, we should also not be encouraging women to wait until their are in their late thirties or early forties, before they think about becoming mothers. In the same way that teenage mothers can be a massive drain upon the country’s resources, older mothers can also cost significantly more, not least in terms of cost to the NHS.
Of course cost shouldn’t really be a consideration when we are talking about the welfare of individuals but we also know that becoming a mother at a significantly younger or older age is likely to put additional burden on the individuals involved. In the case of teen mothers these burdens will as likely be financial, in the case of older mothers, the burden will be physical, but both will have psychological knock-on effects. Both ages of motherhood can be ethically problematic, an older mother being more likely to resort to IVF and encountering more health issues, a teenage mother being more likely to be without a partner and/or stability.
Being a younger mother or an older mother has its advantages and disadvantages and one shouldn’t cast generalisations about either group of women. I know plenty of inspirational women who fall into both categories. Friends of mine got pregnant at seventeen, had their children and have wonderful lives and careers with almost grown up children of their own at a stage when I am still knee-deep in feeding and nappies. Other friends have conceived their first child in their forties and have a wealth of wisdom, experience, not to mention enough money to be able to become full-time mothers. Some older mothers I know are total control freaks, used to being in charge of every element of their lives and unable to cope with the sheer unpredictability of an infant, some younger ones have a tendency to irresponsible or feckless behaviour. Mothers aren’t a species apart from the human race, age does not confer or remove an ability to parent, it simply presents a different set of barriers.
But both campaigns are equally frustrating, in that by and large they hone in upon the woman, her needs, wants, desires and physical abilities. In focusing upon age, both campaigns miss the point. The most important thing about having children, is neither age, nor even family income, but family stability. Of far more significance to the overall wellbeing of a child is not the age of their mother, but that they have a mother and a father. The greatest barrier that women face in being mothers, is a lack of support from their children’s fathers. Being a single mother (or father for that matter) is one of the hardest jobs in the world. What mothers need is for the fathers of their children to support and encourage them in their attempts to fulfill their potential as great mothers. What fathers and men need, is for women to support and encourage them in their attempts to be good fathers. Not having a biological parent with an equally vested interest in doing the best thing for the child, to emotionally and financially support mother and child is the biggest obstacle that exists to motherhood – age is utterly immaterial.
A poster campaign isn’t going to change hearts and minds, most younger or older mothers find themselves victims of circumstances, but policy-makers wishing to prevent teen pregnancies and single mothers, need to axe the various government quangos that validate feckless sexual behaviour and disincentivise marriage, misinforming young people that sex can be ‘safe’ and consequence-free.
Equally vital is informing men about the duty and respect that they owe to women, the inherent dignity of motherhood and the importance for children that they are supported by two loving mutually supportive parents. If men are suffering from a crisis of masculinity, it is precisely because sex has been decoupled from procreation and issues related to romantic relationships, parenting and childbearing have been advocated as being solely in the realm of women’s rights. Men have been left out of the equation and seem to be relegated to the role of mere sperm donors.
If it is in the interests of society that women begin to start their families earlier then men need to buy into this concept and learn about their responsibilities towards women as potential and actual mothers of children, as opposed to co-workers, rivals for promotion or recreational sexual partners or objects.
Speaking as one who has had children in her twenties, thirties and will in all probability have another child in her forties, I would state that as long as one is biologically capable of naturally bearing children, one’s ability to mother should not be judged in terms of age. Women of all ages and in all situations are capable of being good mothers. It’s the lack of a father, not the digit on a birth certificate, that needs the most compensating for.
It’s not the age of mothers we should be concerned about, but the role of fathers. Get the importance of families, commitment and stability straightened out in the minds of politicians, alongside the vital and crucial work of motherhood, the average age of the first-time mother will plummet as will the teenage pregnancy rate.