Kirstie Allsopp has said this week that women should skip university, concentrate on buying property, settle down as quickly as possible and ultimately have children in their 20s. I didn’t completely know how I felt about this when I read it, but now I can see that she’s missed the point entirely.
In this article, Allsopp argues that if women start having children at 20 (20! My mind is flashing back to how immature and inept I was at that age), they would have their life back by 45 – still early enough to establish a career.
So let’s assume that’s the case: a 45 year old has grown up children and has finally begun her own adult life. She goes to university, gets a degree and looks to starting a career. Can she work as an intern the way 21 year olds are expected to? No. She probably has a mortgage to pay for. Can she compete in interviews with others half her age for entry-level jobs? No, she would most likely be judged for not having had a career yet and not be taken seriously enough as a candidate. (I’m not being ageist here, just frank and honest.) So she may ‘have her life back’, in the sense that she doesn’t need to find a babysitter before leaving the house, but is she free of responsibility? Absolutely not.
But that’s not even my main point. My main point is this: Allsopp is only stating here what most of the population think of, in that the main things in life are having children, buying property, and getting a good job or securing a career (not listed respectively, just in case you’re reading, Kirstie). But what about anything besides? Travel, living abroad, volunteering, making friends, eccentric and slightly dangerous hobbies. None of these things are impossible to do later in life, but would the opportunity ever be as present as when you’re 20? Allsopp famously discourages the idea of university in favour of going straight into work, and thereby making a home, but doing so is giving up all the opportunities that go with it.
University is neither just an education or just an experience of living away. It is essentially three years of allowing you to discover what you love and spend time doing these things. A 45 year old with financial committments and parents living in retirement properties could hardly take a last minute flight to Asia or decide to spend a year working on a farm in Australia. And while these experiences may only last a fraction of a life, they are too important, and honestly, too much fun to be overlooked. And isn’t that what life should be about: enjoying it?
People do centre their lives around children and work, but these are not the only things in it either. And besides, how many 20 year olds know what they want from life anyway? I can only assume the divorce rates would soar (beyond what they already are) because people had settled down with their first serious partner and a decade later found that first does not mean forever. Nobody is the same person at 40 that they were at 20, but this scenario would mean minimum flexibility in what could be changed about your life. Settling down at 20 pretty much means settling down forever.
The one thing I did agree with Allsopp on is her point that “We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35.” This is a vaguely separate point but still worth addressing. Women should choose to have children whenever it is right for them. But this huge belief in society, and particular in feminist society, goes on to instill the belief that warning against the biological clock is anti-feminist somehow and unfair on women’s choices. Like pointing this out is offensive as a statement and that this is not just a fact. Society goes so far to not appear offensive or anti-feminist that people would rather deny the fact that fertility is limited by age than accept the fact that cannot be changed, and in some cases, find this out the hard way. Women should make a choice right for them, but not one clouded in false equality.