I am a woman. I have breasts and all the inner plumbing required for a monthly cycle. But yet I find myself having my femininity and general womanliness questioned when showing ambivalence towards having children. It seems we can open newspapers and be greeted with naked lady-parts and stare almost directly into Miley Cyrus' bum without the raise of an eyebrow, but the idea of women happily choosing to live child-free remains the ultimate taboo.
It's something that's been on my mind recently after undergoing emergency surgery to remove a cyst and the ovary it had so mercilessly destroyed. As I recuperated in hospital, unable to walk or even move, friends and family darted around the awkward question of whether or not my one remaining ovary would be up to the job and give me the child I'm supposed to want. The utter relief etched across their faces upon finding out I wasn't a broken, useless woman was plain for all to see.
For the record, I'm not certain I don't want children, but I do know if I choose not to I'll be doomed to a life of confused faces and cat jokes. Remember when Bridget Jones' leering uncle told her that “career girls can't put it off forever” and should get “sprogged up” while they can? That's basically my life. At every birthday party, barbecue and social event it's inevitable that the subject of my unused womb will crop up. I used to think being in a relationship would stop people from probing me about my personal life, but nope – instead of asking why a nice girl like me can't find a man, people want to know why my partner and I aren't parents.
Frankly I think people who happily commit themselves to school runs, tantrums, financial strife and the overwhelming, all-encompassing responsibility that comes with raising and nurturing a human you hope and pray won't grow up to be a sociopath are insane. Brave and wonderful, but insane.
My hero when it comes to these matters is Helen Mirren, who has always openly and frankly discussed society's obsession with motherhood. In the ‘90s it was supposedly common knowledge that Ms Mirren didn't reproduce because she couldn't – when in fact, she's about as interested in being a mother as I am in visiting the moon. “I have no maternal instinct whatsoever,” she once said. “Motherhood holds no interest for me.” And what's wrong with that? I'll tell you what's wrong with it: nothing. But you wouldn't know that by the way women who swoon and coo about their kiddies are raised up and worshipped (e.g. Angelina Jolie) while those without who live perfectly happy lives are supposedly failures as women (e.g. Jennifer Aniston).
I don't see George Clooney getting harassed for not passing on his fabulous jaw to the next generation, so excuse me while I put my feminist hat on. This is sexist nonsense we shouldn't be dealing with in 2014. Not only are women who don't want children “weirdos”, they're also being blamed for the depleting numbers of young people in the world. Childlessness is rising and recent studies show that 25% of British women of childbearing age will not have children, along with one-in-five American women in their 40s who don't have a mini-me running around.
Ultimately, despite our progress and modern day “have it all” opportunities women are still supposed to fall into certain categories: virgin, whore, wife and mother – the latter of which being the most judged and misunderstood of the lot. Helen Mirren thinks women shouldn't have to justify not having children and deserve more support from a world that sells parenthood as a product we need whether we want it or not, and she's completely right. That life-altering choice is deeply personal and right whatever the outcome, so the next time you feel like saying “Oh, you'll change your mind!” to a friend who expresses little interest in joining the mummy brigade, please stop. Women are already made to feel bad about stretch marks, acne scars and cellulite so we don't need to feel bad about not having children either.