Monday, 11 July 2016

Why Andrea Leadsom Got Non-Mothers SO Wrong...

Photo from the Conservatives' website.

If you haven't heard of Andrea Leadsom, don't fret.  She's just withdrawn from the race to become the UK's next Tory Prime Minister, so you needn't spend too long, familiarising yourself with her.  She withdrew from the Conservative leadership race, following an enormous backlash to comments she made in an interview with The Times newspaper, in which she emphasised the fact that being a mother means she has "a real stake in the next year, the next two," when guiding the UK into the future.  The implication seemingly being that Theresa May, who does not have children, has less of a stake, due to her lack of direct descendants.

There were other reasons why Andrea Leadsom would have been the wrong person to lead the UK into a positive future.  For a start, she admitted that she "didn't like" the legalisation of gay marriage, as it "hurt" Christians.  Despite the fact that she then claimed to be in full support of gay marriage, this comment showed an enormous lack of consideration for the gay people whose sexuality had been illegal for decades and many of whom had been subjected to vile homophobia from the very Christians whose feelings Leadsom was so keen to protect.

She also suggested that she'd be "absolutely" in favour of overturning the UK's fox hunting ban, rather ludicrously suggesting that the ban did nothing for animal welfare and a legal hunting regime would do more for the welfare of animals.  This was in spite of the fact that only last July, a poll showed that a whopping 74% of Britons would be against the fox hunting ban being overturned.

So, is this a woman with her finger firmly on the pulse of the nation?!

But, as it turned out, it was Leadsom's comments on motherhood - and how she dealt with the fallout from them - that derailed her leadership campaign completely.

Leadsom and her supporters have rushed to insist that there was no insinuation that motherhood would make her a better Prime Minister than Theresa May and that The Times were guilty of "gutter journalism."  Still, it's difficult to interpret Leadsom's comments in any other way.  

Yes, she highlighted in the interview that it would be "horrible" to focus on the fact that she has children, whereas Theresa doesn't, but she went on to suggest that having children gives her a "very real stake in the future of our country," and highlighted that "(Theresa) possibly has nieces, nephews...but I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next."

It's not hard to read between those lines.  And if you do, there's little way of reading them aside from "I have children, therefore I have more to lose if I make bad decisions, because it could affect them." 

The trouble is, rather than publicly apologise for any offence caused, Leadsom's first reaction was to blame the press for twisting her words.  Even after The Times released a full transcript of the interview, Leadsom continued to say she had been misrepresented.  Only today did it become clear that she had even apologised to Theresa May for her comments.

The worst thing about all this?  It's just another casual example of the hostility non-mothers so often get from mums.

There appears to be a section of society that genuinely believes that pushing a baby out of your vagina gives you some kind of superpower that makes you better than women without children.  Having a kid somehow provides you with all the answers to life and if you don't have them, your life must be terribly lacking.  If you choose not to have them, you must be inherently selfish.

Every time I hear such crap, I think of one of my favourite pieces of Bill Bailey stand-up:

"There’s this one celebrity, Rosie O’Donnell, a talk show host, and she said this: “I don’t know anything about Afghanistan, but I know it’s full of terrorists, speaking as a mother.”
So what is this “speaking as a mother” then?
Is that a euphemism for “talking out of my arse”? “Suspending rational thought for a moment”?
As a rational human being, Al-Qaeda are a loose association of psychopathic zealots who could be rounded up with a sustained police investigation. But speaking as a parent, they’re all eight foot tall, they’ve got lasers under their moustaches, a huge eye in their foreheads and the only way to kill them is to NUKE every country that hasn’t sent us a Christmas card in the the last 20 years!!
“Speaking as a mother”.
- Bill Bailey
Look, I've been really honest right here on this very blog about my own longing to have children and my fear that at 33, being seemingly terminally single, my chances sometimes feel as though they're slipping away.
But over the course of my life, I've met negligent mothers.  I've known people who were physically and emotionally abused by their mothers.  I've met women who freely admitted they shouldn't have even become mothers, because they resented having to give up their social lives and their sense of freedom.  So, when someone so much as comes close to insinuating that motherhood makes a woman somehow better than a non-mum, it practically brings me out in hives.
Now, I know some amazing mothers, my own being one of them.  In no way am I dissing all mums, because that would be ludicrously judgemental.  But I am saying that being a mother alone is not enough to guarantee that a person is compassionate, thoughtful and liable to really consider how their decisions may affect the future for the next generation.
I know women who can't have children.  I know women who have chosen not to.  And some of the women I know who fall into those categories, are amongst the most thoughtful and considerate people I've met.  Many of them are passionate campaigners for the future, doing their bit for the environment, campaigning for those worse off than themselves and genuinely considering what kind of a world we want to leave for generations to come.
And yet, if we take Andrea Leadsom's words at face value, it would appear that surely, those women without children - whether or not by choice - don't have as great a stake in the future of our country.

Except Andrea Leadsom is forgetting something.  It's not being a mother that makes you automatically care for the future of the country, or indeed the world.  It's being an empathetic, considerate human.

At the time of writing, I don't have children.  But I recycle.  I campaign to raise awareness of abuse.  I speak out against bullying.  I get incensed when I see people dropping litter.  Why?  Because I care about the future of this planet and the people living on it.  I want a nicer, kinder world for the next generation to inherit.  I want Earth to survive long after I'm gone.  And I do all that without having had a child.  Because - shock, horror - it's perfectly possible to do so.

Leadsom confidently said that she had children who would go on to have children of their own.  But what if they don't?  What if they can't?  How would Andrea Leadsom feel, if she thought someone was implying that they cared more about the future of the country, or indeed the world, than her kids do, because her kids didn't grow up to become parents, themselves?  Oh, sure, they might grow up to have nieces and nephews, but no direct descendants, so they wouldn't have as "tangible" a stake in the future...  At least, according to their mother's own words.

And to follow Leadsom's words to their own logical conclusion - if having children gives you more of a stake in the future, doesn't that mean you're only concerned with your own descendants, not with the future of the wider population?  Because that seems rather selfish, to me.

Substitute "cunning plan" for "words."

If it seems as though I'm misinterpreting Leadsom's words, it's worth noting that I'm taking them from the transcript released by the newspaper itself, after she complained at having been misinterpreted in the first place.  It's difficult to interpret the words any other way.

And it's difficult to interpret the reaction any other way, too.  From angry non-mothers like myself, tired of hearing insinuations that we're selfish, devoid of meaning in our lives, or somehow not as important, the reaction was the same one I've see time and again when something like this crops up (and it does so with rather depressing frequency).  From Leadsom's supporters, the tired old "she didn't mean it that way" defence came out, only for it to be rather quickly ditched by some, in favour of "you're not a mother, you couldn't possibly understand."  And yes, I had that response from her supporters, when I dared to question Leadsom's comments on Twitter.

Leadsom herself rushed to the stance of angry self-defence.  There was no "I apologise for any hurt caused to women who don't - or can't - have children, as we would expect from someone looking to lead the country.  Of course, it must be scary and horribly unpleasant to be judged and criticised for comments you didn't think were going to cause offence.  But as I've said many times over on these pages, if you say something that does cause offence on such a wide scale, you should be the bigger person and offer an apology.  Leadsom's lack of one - and her subsequent insistence on playing the misinterpreted victim, despite the interview transcript being readily available - shows that she was not in a position to ever take on the stressful role of Prime Minister.  And her apparent views prove that she's wildly out of touch with a huge proportion of the electorate.

Whether or not you care about the future of the country or the wider world has very little to do with whether or not you are a parent.  It has everything to do with your sense of humanity.  Andrea Leadsom would do well to remember that in her future endeavours.

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