Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.
So I know I said last time I wasn’t releasing a new show for a bit. But I wanted to release this short show that picks up on a theme I covered last year – professional women who aren’t mothers. This topic was really popular – much more than I thought it would be. And it was personal for me.
Today I wanted to use some more of my interview with Melanie Notkin.
Melanie was one of three guests I had on the original show. She’s the author of a book called Otherhood – it’s about women who are approaching the end of their childbearing years, always wanted kids, but don’t have them. And if you’re a woman without kids, whatever the reason, you can get a little weary of those happy family ads you see all the time – or the occasional comments about everything you’re missing out on by not being a mother. Particularly if you live outside a big city – you’re unusual if you don’t have kids by your early 30s. And you feel it.
But in countries like Britain and the US about 20 percent of women today end up not having children. That’s millions of people who aren’t society’s default setting. Melanie and I started to talk about the words ‘women’ and ‘mother’…and how sometimes they’re used interchangeably.
"I think that we need to really understand what we say when we say women in the workforce, because often enough it’s about mothers.”
AM-T: “Yeah, we’re all conflated as if everyone is a mum.”
“And whether or not we want to be that woman, or if we became that woman later in life, we are not the same woman. And what happens in the workplace is because of that, when mother…and this idea of the most important job in the world, and more so often than her job. And when a woman leaves her job...and I champion and support this idea, when she needs to take time for this newborn...of course, I wish I had that opportunity to take care of my newborn. But in the meantime we have to understand, maternity leave outside of it, just leaving early for a sick child, who is picking up the slack? Often the single and childless women. And that means who is working on holidays? "Oh, Christmas. I have to be with my kids, oh you can stay late to finish the report, I've got to get home to my kids." As if the single woman, or the childless woman, has no life outside of work. Or even if that life is recognized, it's less important, it’s understood, than taking care of a child.
I’ve read a couple of horror stories of single women who needed to take time off for serious health issues. Their bosses weren’t supportive and ultimately they lost their jobs. Now people have lost jobs over sick kids too. But the problem with being single is that if you are ill for a long time…
“There's no law in America that says any family member can take time off to take care of a single woman. God forbid you end up in the hospital and nobody can take time to care for you. You have to take care of yourself.”
Now in the past that wouldn’t have been such an issue. People lived in smaller, closer communities, not thousands of miles from family or close friends the way some of us do today. But what really interests me about the past is there were always some unmarried women in communities. And yes, they were called spinsters…but quite often they had important roles to play in their town, they looked after nieces or nephews. They worked. I read a great book a few years ago called Singled Out. It’s all about the British women who were coming of age right around the time of World War I. Hundreds of thousands of British men died in that war, and it created a big group of women who never found mates. This went against everything they’d been brought up to do… but they made lives for themselves – good ones.
AM-T: "It was such a wonderful book about what these women did with their lives. For many decades, I feel like it was more acceptable for women not to marry. What’s happened since then?"
"I call it ‘ momopeia’ – the myopic view is mother as the ultimate woman.
AM-T: “I wonder why though?”
“Just like any trend, whether it’s to be stick skinny, there seems to be this aspiration -- we’ve made it aspirational and a lot of is…”
AM-T: “Celebrity stuff.”
“Yes, it’s pushed out by Hollywood. And if you look at the front page of magazines and other gossip blogs, that need content and a lot of content all the time, and the interstitial content of even a weekly magazine, the headline is always who is pregnant, who has a baby, is she pregnant, a baby bump...And now let’s not look at A-list celebrities, let’s look at b-list celebrities, forget b-list celebrities let’s go to reality show celebrities. We have extended this to anybody who remotely may have a baby. And this ‘momopia’ has made so many of us, ironically today in America more than ever before there are fewer mothers, and we have made motherhood the ultimate way to be a woman. In fact, Jessica Alba said once on Jay Leno’s tonight show, when she was pregnant with her second, that with this second now she’ll really be a mother. The first was yeah okay she gave birth, but now with two she’s really a mother. As if now, she’s extended the line of what you need to achieve in order to be a real woman with two kids. And the pressure on women to have to live up to that can be quite detrimental."
Maybe you agree – or disagree – either way I love hearing from you. You can post a comment under this episode at the re-vamped Broad Experience website OR on the show’s Facebook page.
And if you didn’t catch my first episode on professional women with no kids it’s show number 48 – and that includes a married woman who never wanted to have children – and she finds that pretty tough to explain to most people.
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I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.