31 July, 2023

Just Us: Barbie, feminism, and Not Kidding

This is the last topic I ever thought I would write about. I had a Barbie when I was a girl - it must have been a birthday present, and it was very unlike other birthday presents I had received. I was a bit of a tomboy - I got a gun, holster, bolero, and Deputy Sheriff badge when I turned five, and was terribly jealous of the boy next door, who also had chaps! (As you can see, our one channel of TV in the late 60s early 70s was dominated by US Westerns. lol) Most of my dolls, teddies etc seemed to be hand-me-downs, so a brand new Barbie was exciting and terribly glamorous. Until, just a short time after my birthday, my mother gave me a haircut. So my little sister decided to give Barbie one too. Her long glamorous blonde hair was gone - she had a raggedy pixie cut for the rest of her life. I was not impressed. And my sister is tired of being reminded of it!

Barbie was always unrealistic - I didn't really know any/many blondes, her figure was ridiculous, and when I knew enough to understand, infuriating. And I'm pretty sure I had her before the unrelenting pink phase (I abhor unrelenting pink for girls - even though I quite like the colour), and before the cars, houses, and all the other Barbies appeared on sale. The commercialism, the sexism, the impossible physical expectations of Barbie turned me against her.

So when I heard there was a Barbie movie, I didn't think it would be for me. But a fellow No Kidding friend and I decided to go. We'd heard good things, and we knew we couldn't drag our significant others along to see it. We went this morning. It made this old feminist happy. There were so many brilliant throw-away lines. And I especially loved the comment "if my feet were this shape all the time, I'd never wear high heels again!" Hear, hear!

I'd heard about America Ferrera's monologue about the contradictory expectations of a modern woman. What I loved about it was the inclusion of those who were not mothers, as well as those who were mothers. I had been enjoying the feminism of the film up to then, and realised I had been unconsciously bracing myself against the onslaught of expectations for mothers, and to feel ignored. But we were not ignored, not forgotten. The message was acceptance - of who we are, regardless of whether we have children or not, regardless of whether we are high achievers or not. I loved that latter point too, because so many of us without children feel that we have to do find the "Next Big Thing" to make up for not being a mother. But we don't. We can, of course, and that is wonderful. But equally wonderful is finding happiness in our lives being ordinary. Surviving. Thriving. By just being us. Ken and Barbie both learned that lesson in the movie. We all need to be reminded of it. Brava, Barbie!

25 July, 2023

The grass is not always greener

Warning: This brings up disturbing issues

I’m listening to coverage of a trial of a woman who killed her three children in a city I know well. She and her family had immigrated to New Zealand only weeks beforehand. She had apparently suffered post-natal depression, and had gone through sixteen IVF procedures to have her daughter, and then four years later twin daughters. She was under severe stress, and apparently texted friends and family regularly about wanting to kill her kids. People dismissed it and thought she was joking. Because they knew she loved her children.

I feel for this woman. Sixteen IVF procedures, with only two successes, would have put enormous physical and emotional and financial stress on her and her husband. She would then have felt enormous pressure to feel grateful, and not complain. Sixteen IVFs! I can’t get over that number, that a clinic would allow her to go through sixteen IVF procedures. That she might not have been given support. Her life is now ruined. Her children are dead. Her husband is back in his homeland. I can only despair for her.

It shows me once again that none of us know what anyone else’s life is like. It may look like the perfect outcome to an infertility survivor – three beautiful daughters after years of infertility. But there is always so much going on. Just as someone going through infertility might look at my life, and decide I have nothing. When I have so much.

It also reconfirms for me that none of this is about worth, about deserving to have children or not. Becoming a mother is a joy to some, a nightmare to others. None of us know what life might have been like for us if we had had children, how we might have responded to stress, whether our children would have been easy or hard, whether we would have coped, or not. Likewise, not being able to be a parent is indeed a loss, but it can also open the world to other opportunities and joys.  The grass is not always greener on the other side. All any of us can do is focus on what we have, seek help when we need it, and give help to others. And above all, I think, we can try not to judge others, so they won’t judge us.


17 July, 2023

No Kidding nights in July

No, this is not going to be X-rated. No, it's nothing to do with hot nights, or cold nights in my case, in the middle of our winter. Instead, it has everything to do with time zones, sports, and freedom. 

I've spent over the last week watching Wimbledon games. Due to our time zone here on the edge of the Pacific, the main matches all start around midnight or 1 am. If there are two matches I want to watch, I have to try and choose, or risk an entire night without sleep. If there is a big final, like last night, there is only the one match. But one match can still mean almost an entire night without sleep. I grabbed an hour or so on the couch before the final began at 1 am my time. Five hours later, when it finished, I watched all the presentations and speeches. Then when I crawled into bed at 6.30 am, I felt wide awake. Fortunately, the Husband got up shortly after, I had the bed to myself, and he went off to play golf so I didn't have to feel bad about sleeping for a few more hours.

Now, I'm fully aware I am ageing out of the "I wouldn't be able to do that if I had kids" statement. My last pregnancy ended 20 years ago. But it is feasible I could have still had a teenager in the house. I would have had to be quiet at least, I might have felt I needed to get up this morning (Monday) to be with them, or they might have woken me up talking to my early bird husband or getting out of the house to go off to university or work. So it would have been more difficult to indulge my love of Grand Slam tennis matches, even now. And I certainly wouldn't have been able to do it over last ten or twenty years since I stopped working in an office. 

These days, that's all academic. I don't dwell on the what-might-have-beens. I want to focus on the good things. Watching Grand Slam matches is a treat I have allowed myself for years now. I love the excitement of watching something live, as it happens. Being able to do so is a gift. I'm not kidding. 




10 July, 2023

Is a No Kidding life a radical one?

The Gateway Women Fireside Chat that I mentioned last week discussed the idea that those of us who are ageing without children are "radical old women." Apart from the fact that I really don’t feel like an old woman and I’m not ready for that term (despite being older than some on the panel!), I agreed with a lot of the opinions given in the discussion. They reiterated the key points that almost all childless-not-by-choice and many childfree women talk about when we get together. It's always worth repeating! But I came away with two thoughts that weren’t really represented.

The first is that I object to being labelled (by society, by anyone) as radical just for living my life. Sure, I don’t have children, but that's only a small part of what makes me who I am. This idea makes me bristle. I object to the idea that just because we differ in only one way – the fact that we haven’t reproduced or parented – we must be seen as radical. I know many No Kidding women (and men) who are the very opposite of radical. They live normal lives – they go to work or school, love their friends and their (extended) families, strive to be better, look after their homes and neighbours, and care about the world. They want to be accepted and recognised and seen, and considered to be an important part of society and their communities. Surely there is nothing particularly radical about that?

Of course, it comes down to the definition, and there are many definitions of “radical,” as pointed out in the panel discussion. There is the “extremist” definition, the one that automatically comes to mind when I first hear the term “radical.” To be radical means “believing or expressing the belief that there should be great or extreme social or political change.” (Cambridge dictionary) A radical holds very different views, opposing the status quo (as opposed to just differing from it), and speaking out about it. By definition, a radical view is or can be seen to be threatening to the existing dominant societal structure. I find it terribly sad that simply wanting to be accepted for being who we are is seen as threatening by those living different lives. I’m not a conformist, and never have been. I’ve certainly never understood why living life differently should be in any way seen as particularly "radical." But I don’t feel like an extremist or particularly militant either. I’m just someone who puts an alternative viewpoint – a viewpoint many people have never considered – out there, and who wants society to see us and accept us. Is that radical? It doesn't feel like it.

The second issue was the question Jody posed, “what do we want to do with our ‘radical’?”

I thought of all of our blogs, the articles we have contributed to or commented on, the social media posts we make or comment on, the art some of us make, and all the other things that we do to put the point of view of people who are childless not by choice, or who are simply living No Kidding lives. We’re already doing a lot!

Then I thought of my neglected Instagram account (@nokiddinginnz), the book I’ve written but never published, all the time I don’t contribute to other online groups (like Gateway Women), and felt guilty. Am I not doing enough with my ‘radical’? I think it is terribly important that we speak up. I think it is terribly important that people remember there are women and men out there who wanted children, but who couldn’t have them for whatever reason. And I think it is terribly important that people are reminded that any of us who don’t have children are still equally important members of society, with valid opinions, lives, and contributions to society. So I am forever grateful for those who do so, who represent us in public. I play a small part, I’ve definitely gone beyond my comfort zone, whether here on my blog when I’ve very nervously pressed “Publish,” in private conversations when I’ve made myself vulnerable by tentatively countered someone’s mainstream opinion, or by very nervously commenting under my real name in articles in national media outlets. My part might not be as big as Jody’s or Pamela’s, but it is still important, as is that of all my readers and fellow bloggers. And I'm going to keep doing it, as long as I have an audience.

But speaking up is not obligatory. Just as we don't have to find our "Next Big Thing" when we don't have children, we don't have to become spokespeople for the childless not by choice. I know that speaking up isn’t for everyone. Some of us feel much more vulnerable about exposing our sadness or perceived failures to the world, and many of us fear judgement. Some of us are uncomfortable with speaking up – so many of us have been taught that it is rude to disagree, for example, when it is really courageous. I’m personally uncomfortable with confrontation, and don’t particularly enjoy arguments, although I know others who thrive on debate. (I do like being able to put my point of view, or make someone think, by a well-placed comment or question, but it can take a toll.) It made me think. Why should any of us feel compelled to do anything with our radical? It can be hard enough just living our radical lives day-to-day, navigating this pronatalist world as people without children, let alone dealing with all the other stresses of life.

Then I came full circle. Maybe that’s the whole point of being “Radical Old Women?” The second definition of radical is as fundamental, “relating to or characteristic of the basic or inherent constitution of a person or thing” (Collins Dictionary). It brings everything back to basics. And the basis of being a woman is, in fact, simply being, whether or not we have children. Ditto, the basis of being a man is simply being. The basis of being a human is simply being a human. And we all do that. We show there is value in our being just who we are. I guess that is radical in both meanings of the word. 

Just living our lives – with meaning and kindness and happiness and love – is enough of an example to others that society is varied, and that variation is valuable to us all. Life isn’t a one-size fits all proposition. How boring would societies and communities be if we were all the same? Embracing our existence, our No Kidding lives, is, after all, a radical act we didn’t think we were capable of at one stage in our lives. Wherever, and however, we live, we are here, and we are not going away. We are living, breathing, feeling role models. Maybe that’s radical enough for us all?




03 July, 2023

Monday Miscellany: No Kidding Style

I listened – rather belatedly – to the Gateway Women Fireside Chat today, and it sparked a number of thoughts around the description of us as “radical,” which I’m going need to work through before I blog about it. (Watch this space). Initially though, I was pleased to hear the repeated intention to make things easier for those coming after us, to get conversations going, and to represent ourselves. That’s certainly the main reasons I still blog every week, and I know it also motivates my readers who also still blog. I don’t know how many new readers I have here, but I do know that every so often, someone emails me and asks a question or lets me know that I still reach new people. If all I’ve learned can someday help someone get through this, and look to their future with optimism not fear, then it is worth it. Blogging weekly gets harder as the number of commenters get fewer, of course. But for now, I’m still going!

I’ve noticed in some things I’ve been reading lately the use of the word natalism rather than pronatalism, with essentially the same meaning. I haven’t done a detailed search on this, or thought about the reasons yet, but initially I felt both more comfortable with the simplicity and acceptance of natalism, meaning that having children is the norm, and also offended, as if it removed all bias, which was supported by the “pro” in pronatalism, and is very evident in our societies. Hmmmm.

One of the reasons I love the Thursday Murder Club books, I’ve just realised, is that there is a group of friends who share many commonalities, and none of them are their children. Even though their children are part of their lives, they can talk about other things, those who don’t have children are not ostracised or condescended to, and whilst the children are acknowledged, they really only play peripheral parts in the book. Such a refreshing take on being elderly!

Finally, I’ve just learned that an essay I submitted will be included in an “anthology of essays by New Zealand writers that will give voice to a common experience that still feels taboo: not being a mother. Or at least, not in the traditional sense.” It should be published in early 2024, and I’ll give more details then. I’m pleased our voices will be represented.