Women are forever subjected to the "tick tock" body clock media narrative. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.