In a 2013 study conducted by the Co-operative, the marriage and procreation statistics of three generations of people in their 60s, 40s and 20s were analysed. The general findings were as follows: couples are tying the knot and beginning their families later in life than they were forty years ago. Plenty of people assume this cultural shift to be rooted in the women’s rights movement – it is, after all, a woman’s choice when she bears children, if ever, and today’s women are in a better social position to utilise these rights than they ever were in the past. However, is a woman delaying motherhood in favour of pursuing a career the ultimate image of contemporary feminism?
In a word: no. Allow me to elaborate.
At the moment, there are a lot of the jokes made within my social circle that revolve around the fact that we’re getting older. Yes, we’ve acknowledged the aging process. Ground-breaking, right? My friends and I have begun to think about real-world, post-college employment; our twenty-two year old bodies have decided to teach us what hangovers actually are; some of us (read: me) have been the victim of many a grey hair already. The agonising goes on. You get the picture.
Recently, however, I made a throwaway one-liner that I heard as if it had come from someone else’s mouth; “We’re growing up. Soon, people are going to be getting pregnant on purpose.”
My friends laughed. I laughed. Still, it buzzed in my brain for days like a trapped wasp.
When I was seventeen, relatively clean-livered, and still stumbling through a mist of Leaving Cert and CAO-related jargon five days a week, I sat next to a girl named Kate in History. Let’s not beat around the bush, here – this girl’s name wasn’t Kate, and I never took History, but everything in this story beyond those two privacy-protectors is true, if my memory serves me right (which it might not; my liver, after all, isn’t so clean any more). Kate was, in a word, lovely. Hailing from different groups, we weren’t friends – but we played the part for each other three times a week in a class neither of us particularly enjoyed. We swapped stories to kill the time, allowed one another to cheat off tests every Friday, the works.
The Leaving Cert came and went. Kate and I both did honours History, and both did just fine. The last time I saw her in real life was during our graduation party at the local GAA. That said, leaving someone’s physical company actually doesn’t count for much these days as long as they have a substantial Facebook presence, which we both did.
Two months after we graduated secondary school, Kate gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Let me help you out with the next logical leap – yes, this means she’d spent seven months of the school year pregnant. You’re probably wondering how nobody noticed, and I’m not going to satisfy that curiosity. This isn’t a tutorial on how to disguise a teen pregnancy. This something bigger.
Kate, at eighteen, had planned her pregnancy with her boyfriend. As far as I know, the two of them, together with their son, are now very happy, especially if the recent engagement pictures are anything to go by. I’ve watched their baby morph into a toddler over the last three years and felt all the more mystified by this bizarre thing called the aging process. At twenty-two, pregnancy and marriage isn’t a path I’m planning to take in my own near-future – at this point in time, I’ve barely given a thought to when I’ll raise children, if ever. My intentions for the next few of years are geared towards carving out a semblance of a career for myself, ideally travelling a little and not starving in the process.
The question I’d like to put out here is a simple one: between Kate and I, which of us is the more modern woman? Whose life choices are more contemporary? More feminist? Better?
The answer, as I’m sure you’ve reached yourself, is neither of us.
In becoming a full-time mother at the age of eighteen, Kate made a choice. Every time I use birth control, I make a choice, too. Here, lovely readers, is the essence of progress: when a legal adult is capable of making a decision in favour of their own future plans and happiness, we know for sure that our society is moving forward. When we succeed in satisfying those plans – as I think Kate and I both have, in equal measure (I haven’t starved yet!) – I think it’s safe to say that we’re on to something good.
Living in today’s world means that those of us who are lucky enough can set their biological clocks to the beat of their own heart. So take pride in that unique rhythm. Do you, potential procreators of Maynooth. Do you.