I left home and country at the then daring, unheard of age of 20 because I thought life would be better away from the restrictions of family control at home and nepotism in the professional sphere. They are two complex issues, of course, but let me summarise as best I can here: 1) a good daughter is a virgin, who never goes out and has no friends or opinions of her own , 2) if you want to be a journalist but have no familial, political or bedroom connections forget it, basically.
Two decades later I decided that I definitely would not have children after all, despite having found at the 11th hour that modern Holy Grail, the straight, single, solvent, committed guy who Would Make a Great Dad, because having fought so hard to live the life I wanted, I wanted the rest of that life to be about me and not spent at the service of a new generation of ungrateful little shits.
Both choices were dictated by the need (and god knows where that came from, we are not a family of iconoclasts us, I can tell you), to be free and to be allowed to be the best possible me in this one, short, haphazard shot at life I have been given.
How’s it working out for me? Pretty good, so far, since you’re asking.
No doubt there will be tears and loneliness and much soiling of oneself in a cabbage-smelling nursing home in years to come. Heaven knows there have been plenty of tears and loneliness and demonic boyfriends and flatmates in cabbage-smelling houseshares in the years so far. This was never the point. The point was not to be happy and safe and loved all the time (although I have been managing ok most of the time), the point was to be my own person, paying my own way and having a stake in the world and a voice in what happens to me.
It’s not that I set out to live my life following some sort of feminist agenda, but as a woman I gradually discovered that it was the only way for me to be allowed to live a full life. I would probably make a Great Dad myself, for instance. The trouble isn’t children, although god knows they get sticky and boring very quickly, the trouble is motherhood.
I am reflecting on all this because I keep reading and having conversations with friends and sister about the horrendous position Italian women are in as the crisis keeps on cutting – thrust out of the labour market as soon as children are in the picture, with fewer and fewer services to rely on, making them hostage to fortune across the board: hostage to the violence of husbands they can’t leave or to poverty if they do leave, domestic slaves in every case, earning very little if they are allowed to hang on to a job. Oh, and all the while they have to look sexy and feminine, of course, it’s the law, and it’s not very feminine to make a fuss and debate vociferously. It’s Afghanistan with air con, as I wrote recently – it is already here!
When you lose earning power you are fucked, it’s as simple as that people! You are not just vulnerable and at the mercy of others but also vilified and ridiculed – look at the British debate on single mothers, child benefits etc and this in a country where men do some housework and women hold on to full time jobs in much greater numbers and are allowed to keep their clothes on on TV.
The choice is never between happiness and unhappiness – that would be easy.
No, the choice (for those lucky enough to be presented with a choice, and I realise much of this is a middle class rant) is between agency and surrender. I chose agency, continue to choose agency and would still choose agency if I were 22 and pretty again and surrender came in the form of a fit, besotted Russian oligarch offering material comforts beyond my wildest dreams.
Sadly most of us give in for much less – the thrill of taking some mediocre man’s surname, carrying some mediocre man’s children, with the added bonus feature of cleaning after him and helping him find his car keys for the rest of their lives. Which then leaves them too exhausted to run for political office or whip up a storm in the blogosphere.
Yes it’s difficult. Lemon difficult. But we have to make the best of what we’ve got I suppose. Will you at least try to raise your sons not to be such selfish pigs and your daughters not to be simpering demi-vierges eager to learn to pole dance to capture and hold on to some moron who would Make a Great Dad some day? Just asking.