Do women really use university as an excuse to avoid starting a family?

Even if Kevin Rudd was making a joke when he said this to a group of 20-something women at a function recently (and he may well have been), it raises a few interesting points about what we value as a society when it comes to what women do. Or don’t do.

In a fiesty opinion piece published on The National Times website, Nina Funnell, a PHd student and researcher in the journalism and media faculty at the University of NSW rails against the baby guilt she feels is projected onto women with ’empty wombs’.

She writes…

…. I was at a function where Kevin Rudd was giving the keynote address. He talked about the ”crisis” of Australia’s ageing population and the various economic challenges we will face as a result.Arguments were made about superannuation and the strain on healthcare. But there was a deeper message: young people (women in particular) are failing in their civic duty to reproduce. Apparently, gen Y is to blame for the inverted population pyramid.

There were hundreds of people in the room but only a handful under 30. As one of the under 30-crowd, I shuffled nervously, hoping no one would recognise me – and my empty womb – as the deeply unpatriotic and traitorous felons that we are.

After Rudd came off stage, he spoke to me and the few other under-30s (we had congregated for strength in numbers)….one of my friends introduced me, dropping in that I am completing a PhD. At this, Rudd rolled his eyes and in a terse voice lacking any sense of irony remarked that is the “excuse” that “all” young women are using nowadays to avoid starting families. Since then I’ve come up with numerous one-line retorts, but in the moment I just froze in shock.

But there are some serious points that should be raised in response.

For starters, even if we ignore the fact few people go on to complete PhDs (and of those who do, the majority are men), Rudd’s argument that all too many women are using their further education or their careers as an ”excuse” to avoid having children is wildly problematic.

Why do we assume it is the obligation of all women to reproduce? And why do we label them as selfish when they don’t? We never label career-driven men as selfish.

Women should be seen as more than mere baby incubators who procreate for the benefit of the nation. Despite what some might think, women can contribute in a variety of ways which do not involve their uteruses. Just ask Julia Gillard.

While at this point I have no children, I believe that – given the right support – women can and do balance having children while pursuing their own education or careers. And if anything, this balance is to be encouraged. After all, studies show that children benefit from having one or more tertiary-educated parents and it is also beneficial for all parents to have an identity outside of being a caregiver.

That is not to say that stay-at-home mums or dads are doing anything wrong by their children. But parents – and mothers in particular – should not be repudiated for also desiring a life outside the family home.

Similarly women who do not wish to have children should also not be punished or labelled non-maternal. As a young woman I find it frustrating to see women like Gillard constantly attacked and ascribed derogatory labels like ”empty fruit bowl”, as though her worth is a sole function of her ability and inclination to reproduce.

Women should not be treated as baby factories. It’s high time politicians realised that young women’s uteruses are not public property and that the government has no right to make a claim to them.

[you can read Nina’s piece in full here] [image] this excerpt has been republished here with full permission. 

Memo to politicians: it’s never a good idea to sprout opinions about female body parts, particularly hymens and uteruses. Tony Abbott learnt that recently (more about him this week), it seems now it’s Kevin’s turn.

Does this argument resonate with you? If you don’t have kids (either by choice or circumstance) do you somehow feel judged? By whom?

Surely we’ve moved past the idea of judging a woman’s value by what she does with her womb?

Or HAVE we?

UPDATE: A spokesman for the Prime Minister contacted me this afternoon wishing to make the following statement:

The claims made about the Prime Minister’s views on these mattersyesterday are not accurate and do not reflect his long held views.

The Rudd Government is doing more than any other Australian Government to support women being able to make decisions that are right for them.

We are introducing an 18 week paid parental leave scheme and have increased the child care rebate to 50%.

We’ve also reduced the HECS contributions for new maths and science students and are paying 50 per cent of the HECS repayments for graduates in this field.

The Rudd Government will continue to look at ways to support women in making the choices that are right for them.