I have to take issue with journalist Petronella Wyatt. I am reluctant to do so as I am also a woman engaged in journalism and I want to be loyal to the sisterhood. But her recent article in the Daily Telegraph, entitled “Single, childless and very proud” really got under my skin. It’s best to voice my objections in open court.
Ms Wyatt describes herself as a SAC (i.e. single and childless). Using the same acronym-type language, I am a MAM: “Married and Mother”. She is annoyed by society’s habit of ignoring people like her in favour of people like me, pointing out that her numbers are “on the rise”. (This is true, actually. I was reading a book the other day by a chap called David Pullinger, an active (single) Anglican layman, entitled “A desire to belong: thinking about single people in church”, and he states that one in three adults in Britain are now single. It strikes me as a pretty disquieting figure.)
Ms Wyatt’s article goes on to tell us she is fed up with being treated as a social Cinderella and has now come out fighting; she is proud of being a SAC and can see lots of advantages to this state. That’s fine by me and good luck to her. But what was offensive was the way she deliberately denigrated us MAMs along the way: apparently we inhabit a smug, Jane Austen world where marriage is the only possible goal; when the goal is achieved we sit around in self-satisfied, middle-class, Mumsnet-type coffee mornings talking twaddle.
“Getting married and having children is not normal, it’s just very common” she announces, adding that “the notion that reproduction is the highest calling for a female is utterly outdated”. She quotes the TV historian Lucy Worsley who said in a recent interview, “I have been educated out of the natural reproduction function. I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy.” Ms Wyatt now thinks she has better things to do “than attend ante-natal classes. I thought of all the advantages I had over those who have lost their identities (not to mention their figures) by turning out children.” She ends on a triumphal note: “I have three men pursuing me, and each one respects me for my decision to be a person before a reproductive automaton.”
Wow. How to respond to all this verbal aggression? Leaving aside her deliberate use of demeaning language – “female”, “reproduction”, “turning out”, as if she were referring to rabbits, I’ll simply make the following points: getting married and having children is normal – indeed it is the norm, or should be, if society is to function at all and if civilisations are to be built. If it is true that one in three adults in the UK is now single it is a deeply unhealthy and alarming demographic trend. Again, the vocation to marriage and children is still a very high calling (though, supernaturally speaking, the vocation to the priestly or religious life is higher because it aspires more closely to heaven.)
Further, it is nonsense to suggest that higher education makes having children the option for dummies. Ms Wyatt, I understand, went to Oxford – “the other place” as we Cambridge alumni call it. After Cambridge I got married and went on to have eight children (without once attending ante-natal classes, I might add.) I have never for a single second regretted this choice – or the decision to stay at home to bring them all up (here I must thank the ever-gallant William Oddie for his blog defending stay-at-home mothers against career-woman Cherie Blair’s recent attack on us.)
As MAMs know, children demand every ounce of one’s physical strength and every shred of one’s intellectual resources. In comparison, being prime minister would have been a piece of cake. Again, becoming a mother doesn’t mean you lose your identity; indeed, it helps you to become more yourself. Pope John Paul II says much more about this in his great encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem. I strongly advise Ms Wyatt to read it before sounding off again so intemperately.
This is a trivial point, but suggesting that mothers inevitably lose their figures is also simply untrue. I have the same dress size (10) and am the same weight (8 stone 4oz) since I was at school. As for being “pursued by three men” – what’s that to write home about? Right now I am being pursued by a builder who is doing some work on our house. He himself has six children, he tells me; they started out living in a 2-bedroomed council house along with his Nan but luckily, being a builder, he was able to knock down a few walls, knock up a cabin in the garden and add an extension. His wife sounds terrific.
Petronella talks about her new-found superiority as a SAC. Christian women know they are not superior to anyone, whether married or single: we all have a vocation – if only we can discover it – and we all have struggles, whatever our state in life. Being single can be hard – especially if it is not the life you would have chosen for yourself. Some women are single by nature; some are single through circumstances; and some are single for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. We are all part of the same sisterhood. And now I lay down my cudgels.