Recently Naomi Campbell announced she had become a mother to a baby girl at the age of 50. Everybody thought it was something wonderful to celebrate. Previously, Naomi had said she was not overly worried about the ticking biological clock as science had overtaken nature’s limitations. She is of course far from unique if she ‘had it (a baby) alone’ as she said she was prepared to do a few years ago. There are certainly a number of issues of concern about raising a child as a single, older mother with half or more of the child’s biological family written clean out of his or her life script from the very start.
There are also issues of concern when women with fertility challenges use modern medical technology to have a baby using an egg donated by one woman and the womb of another to carry the child to birth. It is always other less fortunate women who ease the paths of their high achieving sisters when it comes to looking after their children. Looking after their children can nowadays mean gestating them and giving birth to them as well as caring for them afterwards.
Yet, these ethical questions don’t seem to trouble feminists as much as a discussion about the reasons women, without Naomi’s financial security, feel they have to postpone motherhood until late thirties or even early forties.
On Mothers Day this year, columnist Elizabeth Bruenig wrote an op-ed in the New York Times (NYT) on this very theme. She and her husband decided to be ‘counter-cultural’ in the Washington DC milieu in which they lived and have two children in their twenties before their careers were established and while they were living in a small flat. She wrote about the amazement of the much older parents of her daughters’ kindergarten friends when they came to her home for a birthday party. The thrust of Bruenig’s article is not to talk up the merits of being young parents and criticise the decision of the other parents to wait until the ticking biological clock could no longer be ignored. She is coming from a social democrat political perspective and blames the lack of state support for ‘mothers who also want careers’ for the trend in delaying parenthood.
One might have thought that was within the bounds of political correctness but for a number of reasons it stirred up a hornet’s nest on twitter as prominent radical feminists piled in to denounce Bruenig’s presumption to speak on motherhood as an ‘affluent, married, white, straight, Christian mother in a monogamous relationship’. She certainly was not affluent at the time she had her two daughters but the claim certainly feeds into the stereotype of privilege the commentator is trying to construct . But, why wouldn’t anyone celebrate the ‘privilege’ of being in a monogamous relationship with the father of your children and having him around to help you raise them? What is wrong with the ‘privilege’ of having relatively youthful grandparents on hand to offer practical and emotional support and leave a rich store of memories and family stories for the children when they pass one? Before the woke era, such ‘privileges’ would be considered something like normality and the best milieu in which to raise a child.
Much has changed in a few short years. It has become more and more difficult to defend the right of a child to a mother and father and the family network that generally comes with that. Any defence of the value of natural ties, that used to be considered so important and nurturing, can cause serious offence. Anything that suggests a hierarchy in relationships is likely to trigger outrage across social media especially when the offending writer can command a prominent media platform like the NYT.
So what is the basis for this outrage and anger? It is in part that women like Bruenig appear to be setting motherhood and family life at a higher premium than levelling with men on the careers’ ladder and eliminating the gender gap at the top of professional and corporate life. But the language of the critics suggests a much more radical objection and that is their fundamental antipathy to traditional, or more accurately speaking, natural, biological family structure. To this thinking, what ‘we used to describe as mothering’ is something men can do equally well, as a bunch of feminist writers to the Letters page of the Irish Times informed Maria Steen after the paper published an article of hers claiming that gender mattered in parenting. We are now at a point where all configurations of family structure are officially considered to be on a par where outcomes for children are concerned, contrary to all respected research on the subject. The age, gender identity, sex of parents don’t matter either or so we are pressured to believe.
Yet, in parallel to all this, we have an equally growing insistence on the value of self-selected identities. There may be three declared ‘parents’ on a child’s birth certificate, under Canadian law, without any one of them having a biological link to the child. Mothers or ‘birthing persons’ may be either male or female. Marriage that everyone wanted a part of in 2015, when we voted to open marriage to everyone irrespective of gender is now considered an exclusionary institution that should not enjoy special constitutional protection, according to Tanaiste, Leo Varadkar. Every household, however it is constituted, can identify equally as a family.
These new identitarian dogmas are not discretionary. They are already worming their ways into our school curricula. They are an attack on freedom of belief and the constitutional rights of parents to be primarily responsible for their childrens’ ‘moral and religious education’. Writing in the Irish Times recently, David Graham of Education Equality, declares that ‘religious teachings should never be imposed on children without their parents’ explicit consent’ and immediately goes on to say ‘children should have the same experience of school, irrespective of their families beliefs’. He may have been speaking only for himself and his organisation but the contradictions of his thinking are those of our elected representatives too.
We may ask ourselves how ever did we get here? It is one of the awful lessons of history that people rarely heed warnings that freedom is slipping away until they wake up one morning and find it’s gone.