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You've got our priorities all wrong, Kirstie Allsopp

3rd June 2014

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If Kirstie Allsopp had a daughter, she would advise her to ditch all thoughts of university, before providing her with a hefty deposit, placing her in a nice flat, and setting out on a manhunt so that she could have a baby by the time she was 27 – according to her interview with the Telegraph, which was published yesterday.

Predictably, Allsopp's comments have caused all kinds of debate.Her reasoning is that women should know about the “fertility window”, and that they’re much less likely to conceive after the age of 35 – which is true; it irrefutably is something that women (and men) should be aware of.

As a result of the narrow window in which we can realistically (according to Allsopp) graduate, climb the career ladder, buy a house, get married and pop out a few kids, we should prioritise family first - because the chances of that happening after we’re 35 are slim. Then, when our kids are older, we can disappear to uni and get the education we’ve been waiting patiently for for three decades (a career, presumably, will come sometime afterwards.)

But just because Kirstie Allsopp might have desperately wanted a baby for her entire life and almost missed the boat (she had her first child at 35) it doesn’t mean she is in a place to assume that her priorities are in any way similar to those of women currently in their twenties.

Women currently at university, and those in the immediate post-graduation years, want jobs, and eventually careers, and knowledge, and excitement, and travel, and experiences – and they want them now, not when they’re 50, and not when they have mortgages and spouses and, of course, children to think about.

A point that Allsopp seems to have missed here is that a career is something that you can control, solely and 100% committedly, for yourself. A career, and an education, is yours, and you don’t have to rely one iota on anyone else in your pursuit of it. Finding someone and settling down, on the other hand, is a shared experience in a way that your career is not. It’s certainly not something that you can manufacture in the same way. And it’s something that can be pulled from under you without warning, leaving the foundations of your life in tatters if you don’t have anything other than it to fall back on.

Our real, complex, modern lives are not the stuff of a Jane Austen novel. We don’t need our mothers to set out on the husband hunt as soon as we’re old enough to breed, lest we fall into the ultimate unmarried spinster trap and shame our families by failing to give birth 12 times before the age of 25. The priorities of the majority of women are somewhat different now.  Owing to the fact that we’re not 1812 or 1950 (or, indeed, one of the many other places in the world where, right now, women are denied an education due to early marriage and motherhood), we want more than to just be seen as walking wombs. If we’re going down the Kirstie Allsopp route, why don’t we just encourage girls to pack in school at 15, get married to the first eligible male they encounter and start popping out offspring immediately? Because remember – that’s when girls are most fertile, and that’s what our priority should be! And hey, it doesn’t matter – we can just get an education later, right? Right...?

Let’s talk about what these degree-less mothers are going to do for work. We know that having a degree is one good way into a career you can plan for, work towards, and ultimately enjoy. I know that without having this for myself, I would feel less than fulfilled, wholly unambitious and ultimately, in the future, not be as good a parent. Not all of us, in the manner of Kirstie Allsopp’s hypothetical daughter (and thank god she doesn’t actually exist) have a fat deposit from our Honourable mother and can sit in a nice West London flat knitting tea cosies until a virile Prince Charming springs out of the woodwork to immediately impregnate us. As if the majority of 20-odd year old women would ever want that.

Also, isn’t it the best situation for a child to grow up with parents who are educated, who have had time to consider their beliefs and the world and their place in it, to develop opinions and passions and strength – essentially to have had time to grow up and become self-sufficient adults, rather than 27-year-old children, sitting pretty in a flat around the corner, paid for by mum?

Kirstie Allsopp’s comments are assuming that motherhood and domesticity are the ultimate desires of most women, from an early age. In this conclusion she is ignoring history, gender politics and current public feeling completely. Her ‘feminism’, as she believes it is, might be making an attempt to stir things up with its regression to gender norms of time passed, but however much she espouses that our bodies will have given up by the time we’re 35, the fact that family life is just not a priority for women in their twenties in 2014 means that her points will fall on unsympathetic and uninterested ears. Above all, Kirstie Allsopp’s version of feminism is absolutely unaware of the audience that it is preaching to.  

I don’t think teenage girls, students, graduates or women in their twenties are going to be overly affected by Kirstie Allsopp’s views on what they should or shouldn’t be doing with their wombs. Clearly her views on what women’s life plans should be are annoying, out of touch and basically Victorian, and we might feel enraged by them for a couple of days – but it’s the media and the policy makers that really need to listen to her, and to the reactions to her Telegraph interview, rather than the women she’s attempting to advise.

So, those in charge of reflecting and driving public opinion have now heard it: Kirstie Allsopp, homemaker supreme, thinks having an education and a career and children are mutually exclusive things for a woman in the 21st Century. As we’re now being told once again, we can’t have it all, and the best thing we can do is make a choice early on and stick to it, because this ain’t no women’s world.

This, of course, is wildly and overwhelmingly depressing. The fact that being a mother whilst still having aspirations outside the home is a choice that is being pushed on us, still, and that the assumed choice seems to be babies, and babies right now, is the one thing that needs to be addressed here – and it’s got very little to do with Kirstie Allsopp herself.

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