I think it’s OK to like babies

7 Apr

‘Me with Sarah’s new bub. How adorable is this pic?? 😀 ….I’m not clucky, just saying she’s a cute kid’.

This is an approximation of several recent facebook posts that have appeared on my newsfeed from friends. The phrase ‘I’m not clucky, but…’ seems to be coming up more and more often as friends reach their late 20s. While male and female friends alike are posting pics of themsleves holding friends’ babies, it’s always women that feel the need to ‘defend’ themselves in this way. What I want to ask is, why is it so bad to like babies? Why should women be afraid to say that they like them?

I read an article in The Atlantic recently about how modern, educated women in their 20s are increasingly reluctant to admit that they want a boyfriend. It describes a situation where anyone who identifies as a self-respecting, ambitious, career-driven woman feels they are under enormous pressure to ignore – and publicly deny – any desire for a serious, long-term relationship. It’s as if acknowledging such a natural and perfectly acceptable feeling is tantamount to announcing that career is no longer important and their ultimate goal is to get married and bake scones for the rest of their lifeless and obedient days. They are “living [their lives] in accordance with the new taboo, investing in experience but not in relationships.”:

Some young women deeply desire meaningful relationships with men, even as they feel guilty about those desires. Many express the same sentiment again and again: “Why do I, a young and highly educated woman in the 21st century, value relationships with men so highly?” To do so feels like a betrayal of themselves, of their education, and of their achievements.

I can understand this concern for preserving the delicate perception in society that women actually do want careers. It’s a shame that some women feel so compelled to convince others that their only ambition is not to be a homemaker, but to have a fulfilling career, that they suppress their desire to also have a fulfilling relationship.

But I think babies suffer from a far worse stigma.

As a woman in my 20s, people often ask me when I am going to have kids. Particularly my mum. And my boyfriend’s mum. I don’t feel like this is an infringement on my control over my own destiny or my body – it’s an expression of love and interest in my future. But it’s also other people who make these comments. And assumptions. And this is where the defense of being ‘clucky’ comes in.

I like kids. I think babies are cute. I  would like to have a child or two one day. This does not mean that I am predictable, driven by my hormones, inferior or silly.

All these things are implied when someone calls me ‘clucky’.

‘Clucky’ is a term reserved almost exclusively for women. I have heard women as young as 16 described this way, and women all the way into older age. The implication being that this person feels uncontrollable urges to procreate, and is probably consumed by thoughts of having babies, to the detriment of any rational thought. In younger women, this is a patronizing but delighted way of dismissing any other talents, abilities,  interests in career or future. In older women, it’s a mock-pathetic reference to the inability of these women to do any longer what their bodies and brains are supposedly built to do.

Sometimes it comes out of the woodwork, sheds any semblance of subtlety, and openly proclaims that cluckiness has killed feminism, proving it beyond doubt to be a hollow victory for women, who could have careers but really prefer motherhood:

Feminism has fizzled, its promise only half-fulfilled. […] American women are better educated than they’ve ever been, better educated now than men, but they get distracted during their prime earning years by the urge to procreate. As they mature, they earn less than men and are granted fewer responsibilities at work. Fifty years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, women represent only a tiny fraction of corporate and government leaders, and they still earn only 77 cents on the male dollar.

…The implication being, of course, that it is women’s cluckiness, their ‘urge to procreate’ that has ensured their underpay and underrepresentation in boards and governments around the world. (Read the rest of this NYmag article here – but don’t blame me if you throw up a little). While most sensible people would conclude from these stats that feminism still has some work to do, the cult of clucky dictates that  women have achieved the aims of their revolution, but those aims have been shown to be biologically faulted (a bit like socialism – ‘it’s a great idea in theory, but we’re human, so it failed’).

Which is why women feel the need to defend themselves against accusations of cluckiness. I personally feel rather uncomfortable around children now, primarily because any expression of delight or engagement allows people to assume and comment that I should quit my job, get on my back and start producing sprogs. I watch jealously while my boyfriend is able to goofily entertain friends’ children without a second glance from our friends or family, much less comments about what he should do with his body and his career.

I hate this word, and its deeply patronising, disparaging subtext. There’s only one way to challenge people’s prejudice and stop its use: cast off the shame of liking babies.

If women of all kinds – those in corporate careers, academics, mothers, grandmothers, managers, homemakers and everyone else – make a choice to never ‘defend’ ourselves against charges of cluckiness, we can challenge the assumptions that liking children is a blanket indicator of thoughts, actions, intelligence, or choices. Liking children does not give others permission to make assumptions about who we are or what our prospects are. Liking children is not the preserve of women. Liking children should not be shameful.

It’s ok to like babies – whether you’re a man or a woman. Being part of a family is an important part of who we all are, and we should be able to celebrate small children without being labelled or denigrated. Hooray for babies!

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