February 08, 2006

Family Planning

I don't know why I am so surprised by Amanda Platell's contribution to feminism on Channel 4's 30 Minutes last Friday. It was exactly what I ought to have expected from a former Conservative press secretary.

I'm not sure what disturbs me most. The way that she does her level best to undermine the progress women have made in the last 50 years? The hypocrisy displayed by Platell (described by Channel 4 as a "high-profile career-woman"), who implies that women should abandon career hopes if they wish to have a family? Or the fact that one of my friends - herself a career-focused woman in her mid-twenties - said this weekend that she thought Platell might be right?

I agree with Platell to an extent - we shouldn't be encouraged to start families in our late 30s and early 40s. The health risks have been well documented, and besides, who really wants to be approaching retirement just as the kids' university fees are due?

What I object to is the suggestion that we're all mapping out our futures on a neat little time-line like school children scrawling 'i luv billy' on our exercise books. I had many a schoolfriend who had everything planned at 13 – when she would marry, how many children she would have and what she would call them (incidentally, none of them envisaged giving birth at 43).

But life has a knack of being incredibly non-compliant with our plans. Has Platell considered that maybe women don't plan to wait to have a family, but have yet to find the right man to have one with? Perhaps if we were content to simply marry the first person who asked and stay together 'for the sake of the children' there would be less of a problem - but I think we've moved on from there.

Platell is right when she says we have to make compromises if we want a work/life balance. But why do only women need to be told this? Somehow men have managed to 'have it all' for years without anyone agonising over how, god forbid, they can have a career and raise a family. Maybe women might manage better if society didn’t expect them to take on the family part by themselves, and make them feel guilty when they find they can’t cope.