In a week in which certain professional trolls have declared war on the “babyccino-swilling hordes”, I’ve got something controversial to say:
I don’t mind sitting next to your baby on a plane.
Mothers, fathers, of the world: I see your struggle.
Being childfree by choice I don’t know, but I can empathise, with how difficult it must be trying to rock a baby to sleep in a giant tin can 30,000 feet above the surface of the earth.
I mean, I can’t sleep on planes anymore, so god knows how your baby manages it.
So, here is my pledge to you: sit next to me. In front of me. Behind me. And I will not tut, or sigh. I will not beg the stewardess to move me. I will not give you dirty looks. And I will certainly not demand to be bribed with little bags of sweets in exchange for acting like a god damn empathetic human being.
A few weeks ago, as we went to board the third of three planes to New Orleans, we saw a young couple trying to comfort a tiny baby in a polar bear suit who just wouldn’t stop crying. Of course, when we found our seats, the couple was in the row behind us. The poor little thing sobbed the entire two-hour flight from Miami and frankly, by that point in a very long day, I empathised.
We just got on with it. Sat watching something called American Ninja Warrior with the sound off. Sidebar: American Ninja Warrior is awesome, particularly when you’re entering your 25th hour awake.
Look, there was a time I went about with an attitude like Julie Bindel’s. I was … in my 20s, I think. Prime child-bearing age, some would say; and so I channelled the knowing looks into aggression.
I wasn’t just uninterested in children: I hated them.
As I grew older, I softened. Of course babies cry on planes, I thought; I’d cry if I found myself in such an alien environment. Why would their parents put them through such a thing?
Answer: because the world is getting smaller. Because there might be a grandparent in Australia who’s too sick to travel, but who’s desperate to spend some of that precious early time with the newest member of their family. Because parents need holidays too.
Because it’s none of my god damn business.
I guess we should start with a quick definition of childfree by choice, so here goes: I’m 34 years old and I do not want, and have never wanted children. It’s not because I’m immature, or selfish. I just … lack that biological imperative that some people have to reproduce, I guess.
As a feminist, I take exception to the kind of attacks on parents that I read in the Guardian over the weekend – because, let’s face it, these non-specific attacks often stick to women. Now, no intersectional feminist would ever make the mistake of looking to Julie Bindel as an example of how to Do Feminism in an inclusive way – but it bears repeating: basing your feminism on nothing but your own lived experience is the reason Theresa May can wear a This Is What A Feminist Looks Like t-shirt and put it into practice by, this week, applauding the banks for, you know, actually giving senior jobs to the wimminz; while in the next breath talking about forcing pregnant women to show their passports in hospitals and asking women to prove they have been raped if they plan to claim child benefit for a third child.
As of next April, large businesses will be required to report on their gender pay gaps. The idea, I guess, is that increasing transparency over pay packets will shame them into doing the right thing. There are lots of structural reasons for the gender pay gap, but the shitty one that’s always thrown out by business owners and MRAs is that women choose to go off and have babies and therefore lose valuable workplace experience, which has a direct impact on the wages they can go on to command. As if what we should be doing is growing our future caregivers and economic contributors in laboratories – rather than focusing our energies on breaking down the structural biases that encourage us to view mothers as primary caregivers, developing mentoring programmes and helping women to strengthen their negotiation skills.
I’d rather fight for shared parental leave than child-free carriages on trains. Somebody has to: I suspect those women concentrating on keeping their kids quiet for fear of pissing off a nearby Julie Bindel don’t have the time.