08 May, 2011

Marriage, expectation and Pippa Middleton's bum

Okay, so this blog post isn't actually about Pippa Middleton's bum but good cod, you'd think it was made of solid gold the way people have been harping on about it. Not bad for a 'passably attractive arts graduate' (thank you, Daily Mail, for that most backhanded of compliments)

No, this is about marriage. You see, the recent royal nuptials got me to thinking. No sooner had they tied the knot than tongues started wagging about when their first child would be born. Now, either there's some seriously dodgy sex education floating about, or there's a very real expectation that a young couple getting married must be planning kids, and sharpish.

I've experienced this. I married at 21 (yes, it's young, no, I don't regret it, and no, I don't have to justify my reasons - just take it from me, I'm a married feminist) and the number of people who admitted, on seeing how utterly un-pregnant I looked on my wedding day, that they thought it was a shotgun deal was kind of astonishing. We're in the 21st century, I thought, surely we're past all of that?

Except that we're not. And it's one of those things I wish I'd known before getting married, because I would love to have had the opportunity to state my case. I didn't want kids. The idea of being pregnant, giving birth, raising a child...it all makes my flesh crawl. That's not to detract from those women who do have kids, and who are very happy about it; in fact, I sometimes question how normal it is to have such a visceral reaction to such a natural thing.

It's been three years since I married and I still don't want kids, which is a source of bafflement from some quarters. It's almost as if the ring on my finger means 'baby factory: opening soon!'

And so I react to this Royal Baby sweepstake bobbins with a measure of anger, because surely it's nobody's business but Will and Kate's? I wonder what would happen if they decided not to have children? It's almost a non-option really. The vows are exchanged, the ring's on the finger, ready, set, reproduce!

I've been very secure in my decision to marry, and I have never felt that it conflicts overly with my feminist ideals; my wedding was very egalitarian. We wrote our own vows (and 'obey' was nowhere in sight) My mum, dad and stepdad walked me down the aisle; his mum and dad stood with him. I took his surname, but only because my 'maiden' name was bloody horrible. I felt like I'd done my best to remove it all from its patriarchal roots.

And yet, I worry now that there is that piece of antifeminist baggage I can't shed; the expectation that I must, at some point, want children. There are only so many times I can smile and say 'no, I don't want children', and only so many times I can politely ignore the shocked reaction that follows. Is marriage, no matter how hard we try to ascribe new meaning to it, inevitably the shackle that ties us to the Bad Old Days? Is it impossible to remove it from the institution that created it?

I feel sorry for Kate. Whether she wants children or not, she will have to have them. At least I can make that choice.