Women are forever subjected to the "tick tock" body clock media narrative. Photo: Getty
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We know we won't be fertile forever – we don't need misinformed media dropping "fertility timebombs" to keep reminding us

A message to those constantly deploying the "tick tock" body clock narrative: we already know we can't "have it all", so stop reminding us.

I can’t be the only one who wants to crawl into a hole whenever the phrase “fertility timebomb” hits the news. To have your entire multifaceted being reduced to the status of a time-stamped broodmare with a ticking clock chained around its neck is not the most pleasant of sensations, especially when accompanied by statements such as Professor Geeta Nargund’s, who said over the weekend: “We can’t rely on net immigration to increase the country’s birth rate. It’s not a permanent fix.” Well, excuse me if my decision to procreate involves a few more considerations than the “obligation” to maintain population levels.

The coverage of Nargund’s comments was yet another example of the kind of haranguing pressurised remarks that always make you want to throw up your hands and declare in a thick New York accent, “who are you, my mother?” Despite the fact that it was revealed two years ago that the “wisdom” that a woman’s fertility “falls off a cliff” in her thirties (another charming analogy – why don’t you just push all the selfish childless whores off Beachy Head and have done with it?) is actually based on a study of peasant women living in France in the 1700s, this debate continues apace. Yet I’d hazard that modern women share very little in common with those living in French hamlets 300 years ago other than a nagging sense of malaise at being reduced to little more than our biological parts and a desperate desire for carbohydrates.

More irritating still, if that is indeed possible, is the suggestion that women of my generation are ignorant of their fertility to the point where we just rock up to the doctors one day in middle age, menopause looming, and demand to know why we are not yet impregnated. In reality, the pressure to conceive from the media is so predictably frequent that you might as well set a reminder in your phone. It’s only a matter of time before they start putting little slogans on your contraceptive pills. “Tick, tock…”

It’s all rather quaint, really, this notion that we’re all just hanging about, as though it’s a lazy Sunday on the sofa, Netflix punctuated by frenzied masturbation, and tea. It’s not as though women of my generation have other concerns, such as how exactly we can go about being responsible for a whole other human being in the midst of a housing crisis, the quagmire of zero-hours contracts, patchwork careers and low-paid work, and a post-Tinder dating market. The need for a reliable partner is, for many, a concern. Last time I checked, unattached women who had babies who couldn’t afford it were feckless, scrounging single mothers. The same newspapers surely couldn’t be telling us to throw caution to the wind and get birthing? Could they?

I suppose you could argue that delaying motherhood is the plight of the modern urbanite, and that all these educated women in their late twenties should be shipping themselves out to the suburbs or even the country if a child is what they really want. Sure, it’s an economic model that belongs in the Fifties (pass the barbiturates), but what’s the alternative? Affordable housing and childcare? Proper paternity leave? Don’t make me laugh. A future of garden cities populated by frustrated, lonely Stepford baby-machines surely awaits those of us who know we want children but can barely afford a studio somewhere in Zone Q.

We’ve been told that we can have it all, but any woman living in Britain today knows that this is some savage bullshit. In my more optimistic moments I comfort myself with the knowledge that skint human beings have been procreating and managing for hundreds and hundreds of years (see aforementioned French peasant women), but one must also take into account the fact that they had support networks of mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers to help share the childcare.

When most of the work available to career-minded, educated young women is concentrated in urban areas, this is not always achievable. Also to consider is the disturbing notion that women who are starting to think about children might also seek fulfilment in other areas, and that the fear of a disrupted career path is not one solely dominated by financial considerations, but ideals and ambition and the desire to create, to change, to influence, to be independent. I know that, should I choose to have a child now, there is a very real risk that I would lose the chance to have that. I know others feel the same.

The choice to be a stay at home mum is, of course, a valid one. But many of us who want both (and do not have parental financial support, nor will marry rich) are in an impossible situation, with many factors against us. I wish, truly, that it were easier, but it isn’t. Indeed, thinking too much about the obstacles that we face induces a kind of despair that is difficult to articulate. It is a despair rooted in the knowledge that a tough, anxiety-inducing choice and almost inevitable sacrifice awaits us. It is scary, profoundly sad, and, like the hum of an intrusive fridge, is difficult to tune out.

So, to anyone who feels the need to invoke the “fertility timebomb” argument in public again, I say only this: we know we won’t stay fecund forever. We know with painful clarity of thought. For fuck’s sakes we know. We know, we know, we know. You’ve told us enough. Now shut up.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a writer for the New Statesman and the Guardian. She co-founded The Vagenda blog and is co-author of The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media.

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What happens when a president refuses to step down?

An approaching constitutional crisis has triggered deep political unrest in the Congo.

Franck Diongo reached his party’s headquarters shortly after 10am and stepped out of a Range Rover. Staff and hangers-on rose from plastic chairs to greet the president of the Mouvement Lumumbiste Progressiste (MLP), named after the first elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Diongo, a compact and powerfully built man, was so tightly wound that his teeth ground as he talked. When agitated, he slammed his palms on the table and his speech became shrill. “We live under a dictatorial regime, so it used the security forces to kill us with live rounds to prevent our demonstration,” he said.

The MLP is part of a coalition of opposition parties known as the Rassemblement. Its aim is to ensure that the Congolese president, Joseph Kabila, who has been president since 2001, leaves office on 19 December, at the end of his second and supposedly final term.

Yet the elections that were meant to take place late last month have not been organised. The government has blamed logistical and financial difficulties, but Kabila’s opponents claim that the president has hamstrung the electoral commission in the hope that he can use his extended mandate to change the rules. “Mr Kabila doesn’t want to quit power,” said Diongo, expressing a widespread belief here.

On 19 September, the Rassemblement planned a march in Kinshasa, the capital, to protest the failure to deliver elections and to remind the president that his departure from office was imminent. But the demonstration never took place. At sunrise, clashes broke out between police and protesters in opposition strongholds. The military was deployed. By the time peace was restored 36 hours later, dozens had died. Kabila’s interior minister, claiming that the government had faced down an insurrection, acknowledged the deaths of 32 people but said that they were killed by criminals during looting.

Subsequent inquiries by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch (HRW) told a different story. They recorded more fatalities – at least 53 and 56, respectively – and said that the state had been responsible for most of the deaths. They claimed that the Congolese authorities had obstructed the investigators, and the true number of casualties was likely higher. According to HRW, security forces had seized and removed bodies “in an apparent effort to hide the evidence”.

The UN found that the lethal response was directed from a “central command centre. . . jointly managed” by officials from the police, army, presidential bodyguard and intelligence agency that “authorised the use of force, including firearms”.

The reports validated claims made by the Rassemblement that it was soldiers who had set fire to several opposition parties’ headquarters on 20 September. Six men were killed when the compound of the UDPS party was attacked.

On 1 November, their funerals took place where they fell. White coffins, each draped in a UDPS flag, were shielded from the midday sun by a gazebo, while mourners found shade inside the charred building. Pierrot Tshibangu lost his younger sibling, Evariste, in the attack. “When we arrived, we found my brother’s body covered in stab marks and bullet wounds,” he recalled.

Once the government had suppressed the demonstration, the attorney general compiled a list of influential figures in the Rassemblement – including Diongo – and forbade them from leaving the capital. Kinshasa’s governor then outlawed all political protest.

It was easy to understand why Diongo felt embattled, even paranoid. Midway through our conversation, his staff apprehended a man loitering in the courtyard. Several minutes of mayhem ensued before he was restrained and confined under suspicion of spying for the government.

Kabila is seldom seen in public and almost never addresses the nation. His long-term intentions are unclear, but the president’s chief diplomatic adviser maintains that his boss has no designs on altering the constitution or securing a third term. He insists that Kabila will happily step down once the country is ready for the polls.

Most refuse to believe such assurances. On 18 October, Kabila’s ruling alliance struck a deal with a different, smaller opposition faction. It allows Kabila to stay in office until the next election, which has been postponed until April 2018. A rickety government of national unity is being put in place but discord is already rife.

Jean-Lucien Bussa of the CDER party helped to negotiate the deal and is now a front-runner for a ministerial portfolio. At a corner table in the national assembly’s restaurant, he told me that the Rassemblement was guilty of “a lack of realism”, and that its fears were misplaced because Kabila won’t be able to prolong his presidency any further.

“On 29 April 2018, the Congolese will go to the ballot box to vote for their next president,” he said. “There is no other alternative for democrats than to find a negotiated solution, and this accord has given us one.”

Diongo was scathing of the pact (he called it “a farce intended to deceive”) and he excommunicated its adherents from his faction. “They are Mr Kabila’s collaborators, who came to divide the opposition,” he told me. “What kind of oppositionist can give Mr Kabila the power to violate the constitution beyond 19 December?”

Diongo is convinced that the president has no intention of walking away from power in April 2018. “Kabila will never organise elections if he cannot change the constitution,” he warned.

Diongo’s anger peaked at the suggestion that it will be an uphill struggle to dislodge a head of state who has control of the security forces. “What you need to consider,” he said, “is that no army can defy a people determined to take control of their destiny . . . The Congolese people will have the last word!”

A recent poll suggested that the president would win less than 8 per cent of the vote if an election were held this year. One can only assume that Kabila is hoping that the population will have no say at all.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage