Elle Ayres discusses why we should disassociate gender from motherhood and parenting so that our generation have a better chance of making the choices that they really want to make…
Tokophobia. The fear of being pregnant and/or giving birth.
I am very scared of getting pregnant. I view it as one of the worst things that could happen to me and whilst I know that the majority of 20 year old uni students don’t exactly plan on having a baby anytime soon, I would go as far as to say my feelings knock on the door of anxiety at times. I’m not going to disrespect and undermine those with a very severe pathological fear of pregnancy by diagnosing myself with Tokophobia but I can relate to the repulsion felt by the mere idea of having a baby inside of you. I’ve always viewed parenthood as an incredible experience but one I was happy to miss out on and recently I noticed something about my childhood as I was thinking about this. It didn’t involve toy prams or baby dolls or toy hoovers or cookers or anything like that, things that were included in many of my girl-friends toy boxes.
It’s been well researched and is now common knowledge the influence that child play has on how we grow up and maybe because domesticity and motherhood were never overtly part of my playtime, and even despite the gendered affiliation with being female in society that they have, they always felt like somewhat foreign concepts to me. I asked my parents if this was an assertive decision to confront such gender associations or just a by-product of their attitudes; my mother said that buying me baby dolls never really crossed her mind but that she deliberately didn’t get me a cooker or hoover because she didn’t want me growing up thinking that domesticity was expected of me just because I was a girl (on a side note, mum you’re cool, thanks). So I’ve grown up intrigued but also scared of the idea of being a mother, I feel as though my having a womb connects me to it in a biological sense but at the same time it is alien to me. I look at a baby and think of all its potential, all its life ahead of it. I’m both in awe and horrified as I squirm thinking about the possibility of another living being inside of me. Fingernails: tiny, tiny fingernails.
Maybe it’s natural to have such convoluted feelings towards such a life changing thing (or, you know, potential person). Why, then, does it feel so momentous to me? Feminism is about being able to choose the life you lead regardless of your gender. The choice to pursue the career you want, the choice to be a mother, the choice to do both. But there’s a subtle consequence of contemporary Feminism which can manifest in a mentality that becoming a mother and starting a family is conforming to oppressive ideals: ‘No you should continue your career and fill your life with other pursuits! If you just settle down and have a baby that’s letting the patriarchy win!’ It’s not explicit, in fact I’d go as far as to say its unconscious, but it’s definitely there. And it’s definitely a mentality that I have partly subscribed to off the back of a fear of pregnancy.
When it came to myself, I just didn’t think being a mother was a choice I could (or indeed wanted) to take in the future. Against a backdrop of fear I used this mentality to support my rejection of the classic get married-have kids-settle down. I was seeing my gender when it came to parenthood, when really it shouldn’t be relevant: wanting children and a family doesn’t mean I’ve failed just because however many years ago that’s all I could have achieved. The patriarchy doesn’t own motherhood and it’s sad that in some weird way I had aligned the two.
It also feels like, as a woman, I’m expected to know what I want from my future because growing up a woman, you’re at an immediate disadvantage from the off. We feel like we need to have our shit together and know exactly what we want because it’s going to be a battle trying to get it. In the same way many women want to have a family and be settled by 35, I didn’t want to have children but a life filled with all the things I’m interested in. I guess when people asked ‘do you want kids in the future?’ the truth was ‘I don’t know’ but I somehow ended up always answering ‘absolutely not’ as I shuddered at the thought because I didn’t want to have to think about that before I had even graduated uni or figured out which damn fork was the salad fork.
I’m recognising now I thought I had beat all the stereotypes and expectations because I didn’t want to be a mum and so I would be living my life just the way I wanted. The thing is, I was tricked myself. This ‘snobbery’ didn’t stem from my fear of motherhood, tokophobic tendencies definitely spurred it on but it stemmed from insecurity. I looked at my flaws and I looked at how they made life more difficult and figured that I wouldn’t ever be able to look after and a guide another human being in this world. Sorting myself out is hard enough. And I know I’m young but I’ve heard enough adults say that you don’t ever really feel like a grown up. This insecurity in part is due to me being me but certainly was cultivated by a society that has been telling women from birth that they’re just not good enough. Sad how we always seem to wind up at the same origin.
I still think it’s important that girls aren’t brought up to think that by their thirties they should be married and have kids because they’re a women, just like I think it’s important that guys grow up thinking that being a stay at home dad is an option (maternity/paternity leave are things we really need to maintain progressive dialogues about). It’s just another aspect of us trying to disentangle ourselves from sexism so engrained in our culture in the effort to find out who we really are what we really want.
I know to many I sound like a young woman over-thinking something that isn’t relevant to my life right now, but that’s the point. I always have and I still do think about it a lot, there are remnants of society that suggest I should be thinking about it. Maybe I’ll have children when I’m older, maybe I won’t. The idea of pregnancy still makes me panic, perhaps more than your average young woman, but renouncing motherhood to stick it to the man (literally)? That doesn’t mean I’m living for myself.
We need to move away from an expectation of motherhood and towards a conception of parenthood disinterested with our sex or gender and focussed on whether nurturing a new person is something we actually want. It isn’t about reacting. It’s about creating a world where someone’s daughter, or son, lives their life without having to worry about conforming or avoiding gendered expectations because they simply don’t exist anymore.
Follow Elle on twitter @ayreselle
Illustration: Sara Stefanini