Just because we don’t have children doesn’t mean we don’t care

By Allix Denham 

In the summer of 2015, as Britain’s Labour party was electing its new leader, MP Helen Goodman wrote an article explaining why she was backing Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper for the job: ‘As a working mum, she understands the pressures on modern family life’, Goodman wrote. ‘We need a leader who knows what challenges ordinary people face day to day, and who is committed to helping them.’

It’s well known, of course, that women who don’t have children aren’t remotely interested in committing themselves to helping those who do. They see no need to worry about the sort of challenges Goodman went on to write about, such as education, family finances or issues surrounding childcare. Nor do they care one jot about online protection for children, or about children who are victims of crime.

Really, all a childfree female politician cares about are those designer suits and handbags, the price of a decent Chablis and pushing to get free spa treatments on the NHS. Jeez.

Why do women do this to other women? Why imply that unless you’ve given birth and raised children you couldn’t care less about the challenges facing mothers and families? You’d think that childless women sprang up from nowhere – that they never had parents, siblings or cousins, that they haven’t got nephews and nieces, and have never personally engaged in family life.

Does Helen Goodman make the same demands of men in positions of power? To follow her logic, shouldn’t Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Justice, have been a high court judge for many years and know the justice system inside out? Far from it, he was a journalist before entering politics.

Likewise, shouldn’t Michael Fallon, Secretary of State for Defence, have had a long and distinguished career in the military? Do his years as director of assorted fitness clubs and nursing homes strike Goodman as terribly relevant?

Yet nobody calls them out on this. People just expect politicians to get to grips with their roles and perform them to the best of their abilities. Why is it so hard to expect the same of women who aren’t mothers?

A week later a lengthy article, written by Helen Lewis, appeared in a current affairs weekly which questioned why so few politicians are mothers – citing the fact that a reported 45% of female MPs in Britain don’t have children, compared to 28% of men.

The article was thoughtful and well-balanced. The accompanying illustration – of four prominent politicians who aren’t mothers surrounding a ballot box in a cot – was not.

Roughly 20% of women aged 45 in Britain don’t have children, hardly an insignificant number. That doesn’t mean they lack empathy with those who do, however, as perhaps Helen Goodman should be reminded.

Allix Denham is a writer currently based in France. She and her partner have no children, but entertain the neighbour’s cat on a regular basis.

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