When I go grocery shopping, I take a list of what I want and need. I plan my list based on what I usually eat over the week and my ideal-world healthy eating plan. I take into account any desperate cravings I may have, as I do not believe in self denial, especially not when it comes to cake. My list is a microcosm of my life. I am the list. The list is me.
Often I notice, as I push my trolley of vegetables and fine cheeses round the supermarket, a rumble of dissent from my fellow shoppers. They peer into my trolley, reluctant to let me proceed, unimpeded, in that great adventure I call ‘Keeping Myself Alive With Food’. They stop me down aisle 3, aisle 6, aisle 8. They ask me, “What’s on the list, love?”
“Fruit and veg, Unfamiliar Person,” I reply, coyly, always a little surprised to be asked such a personal question by a stranger.
“No canned tuna?”
I shake my head, and politely explain that I don’t like tuna, and I have a vague notion that tuna is irresponsibly fished because my flatmate said so. But really, I just don’t like tuna. It’s nice to have a political reason to dislike things though.
“Oh no, love. You should buy some tuna. You’ll change your mind.”
I tell them I don’t like tuna, again. They repeat that I’ll change my mind, and press a soggy, irresponsibly sourced can into my hand. I fling it to the ground, and cry, “If you like tuna so much, YOU have it!” and run away, abandoning my trolley.
Of course that doesn’t happen. That was an allegory. What does happen, to me and just about every other lady-type, is no more acceptable than relentless tuna-bashing (contrary to very popular opinion). I’ve experienced it regularly, ever since I was about eight years old and started to definitely look like a human female, rather than a large, hairy rat or a garden gnome, and it goes like this:
An acquaintance of my parents, or a friend’s parents, or some wandering stranger with an overly intimate manner, asks me if I want children, having either seen a child existing nearby or simply noticed that I am of the female persuasion.
I say, “No, probs not, LOL,” in the language of an obnoxious, careless youth.
They tilt their head at me and touch my forearm in a wanton display of maternal/paternal affection, and chuckle to themselves.
“Oh, you’ll change your mind,” they say conspiratorially, and I feel my uterine fangs gnashing and grinding together in indignation.
There are few other circumstances where strangers so delight in uselessly invalidating a person’s life choices. Needling children on the matter is one thing; if all the little kids who said they hate babies actually didn’t have children, ever, we would live in a very under-populated country. But adult women are another kettle of fish. Are we really such a flighty, senseless demographic that we genuinely can’t figure out, without the ‘help’ of strangers, whether or not we want to spend 20+ years and a few hundred thousand pounds running around after another life form? It’s not like you’re guaranteed your money back, or any return on your efforts.
There are myriad reasons why this is a stupid conversation topic to wade into with people other than one’s intimate friends. Not all women can have children, for one thing, whether it be for physical, financial or romantic reasons. How cruel to press a lady on such a personal matter, when her reasons might be rather painful. Of course, not all women do want children. Some women aren’t worrying about it until they’re in a position where it might be more financially feasible. And most women just don’t want to answer foolish questions. Perhaps, Uterus Snoopers, we’ve forgotten that we’re rarely entitled to the answer of any question.
One might suggest that repeatedly having to suffer the same obtuse conversation does no real harm, anyway. I would beg to differ; society still clings on to this idea that childfree women are tragic figures, and the more we foist child-talk on girls and women, the more we perpetuate it. What, really, is there to resent about a woman who doesn’t have a child? Who loves and supports her friends and family? Who doesn’t destroy the environment with a child-shaped carbon footprint, and goes about living for herself and having a lovely time? Do we just NOT LIKE women who have FUN? (Go and read Auntie Mame right now.)
If we ladies choose not to have children, there’s the nagging feeling that all of our other achievements count for nothing in the eyes of society. Our dear, childfree gentlemen friends, on the other hand, are dashing singletons; the hard-working hunks who never took their pick of the girls. It’s bachelor o’clock (with martinis) for them, and the spinsters’ knitting circle (with cats and crying) for us, when all should be thanked and doused in champagne for being nearby pillars of strength, support and fun in the emotional jungle of parent-child relations. We all know that if a woman does have children, she doesn’t get celebrated either because she’s definitely a terrible mother because the papers told us so. How dare you feed your child processed food, Working Woman? How dare you work at all!
Children are a societal issue. But that doesn’t make it acceptable for individual, random members of society to get all up in our grills/internal organs. None of us are warranted an answer on the interior of someone’s womb, any more than we’re guaranteed a polite response when publicly inquiring, uninvited, after the health of a man’s prostate. Pregnant bellies are not ours to touch without asking, and far be it from our place to tell another person that they’ll change their mind.