Girls are ready to have children at 14

So says Hilary Mantel.

The 57-year-old novelist said that society ran on a \”male timetable\” which dictated that women should have babies at an older age.

\”Having sex and having babies is what young women are about, and their instincts are suppressed in the interests of society\’s timetable,\” she said.

I can\’t say I\’m wholly convinced by her reasoning but the basic point seems sound. It is certainly possible to have children at 14 and in a physical sense that\’s pretty much it. Our own society hasn\’t, for a millenia or more, thought that quite so young was the right time. A year or two later perhaps for marriage (but then I seem to recall that English marriage ages have almost always been later than those of many other societies). There are plenty of others where physical ability to have children has been seen as the right time to have children.

\”But society isn\’t yet ordered with that kind of flexibility,\” she said in an interview in today\’s Stella magazine.

\”We were being educated well into our twenties, an age when part of us wanted to become mothers, probably little bits of all of us. Some were more driven than others.\”

That, however, does strike me as being true. I was talking to a friend who is a professor in the US and he was making the point that American academia seemed almost deliberate in the way that it made it difficult for women who wanted children to climb the greasy pole. High School, first degree: you\’re 22 when you finish. A PhD adds another 7 years (yes, really, 7 years over there now). 29….then there\’s a few years of post doc work, then another 4 or 5 before you find out whether you\’ve been granted tenure as an associate (or is it assistant?) professor. So you only find out whether you\’ve got a stable job (and pre-tenure jobs in American academia are very much not stable, it\’s up or out all the way) in your mid to late 30s. Just when fertility falls off a cliff.

This is an extreme case yes, but there\’s a point to it as well. No, I\’m not thinking that the solution is free full time child care for everyone either. Rather, that our near obsession with the formalities of qualifications needs to be changed. Instead of \”you must do x years here and y years there\” in order to be considered qualified for a job, how about \”take this test. Are you qualified\”?

That would go some way to reintroducing the flexibility that I think we rather need in the job market and society as a whole.

Put it another way around, on the male side, without bringing in the complicating factor of children. I wouldn\’t say that I was particularly qualified to teach economics at, say, A level standard. But I think I might make a decent fist of it all the same. Indeed, much as I hate those under about 25 I could imagine pottering off to do exactly that for a couple of years say. And if the thought of me teaching the little darlings is too much for you, consider that there are many others out there without formal qualifications who would be able to make a decent fist of teaching their own subjects of expertise.

Put that block in the way of having to have a teaching post graduate course under the belt though and I\’m most certainly not going to do it. As many others won\’t. As Shuggy has said (and he is a fully trained and qualified teacher) the only thing of value in that year was the 6 weeks or so classroom practice. The rest of it was drear and lightly warmed over bad sociology.

All a bit wandering this, sorry. But we do seem to have a near tyrany of qualifications rather than the more correct attempt to measure ability or capability. And I think we\’d be better off if we moved more to the latter than the former.

7 comments on “Girls are ready to have children at 14

  1. “Instead of “you must do x years here and y years there” in order to be considered qualified for a job, how about “take this test. Are you qualified”?”

    Harrier Harperson and her ilk would have us believe such a setup is soley to reinforce the male and rich hegmonies. Boys are said to do better at end of year tests so the emphasis shifted to loads of coursework – to ‘improve’ the education ‘standards’ of girls.

    And let’s not even dare mention the 11-plus. Oh no I just have!

    They’ve made the education environment purposefully long winded to make it ‘easier’ for wimmin without appreciating that once you get to the end of it, male or female, you’ve wasted lots of time *and* got a piece of paper worth less than it used to be.

  2. I despair at the modern obsession with bits of paper. I have all sorts of skills, years of experience of operating heavy construction machinery for example, but could never get an employed job using those skills because I do not have the required piece of paper. An 18 YO fresh out of college would have ‘better’ qualifications than me, with 20+ years of practical experience.

  3. That would certainly be lovely. It’s supremely irritating to me that my four years’ teaching experience counts for little in the education sector, whereas a 22-year-old with a bit of paper and six weeks’ supervised time in the classroom is considered better qualified than I am.

  4. What astounded me about what Mantel said was that this was a direct attack on feminism, yet she says it’s all the fault of men! When men ran society woman did have babies and families at a younger age. Then the feminists came along and said that this is all wrong, and that women should be having proper careers and then maybe, if they’re interested, having babies at an older age. And when women (and in particular the feminists) did get more power this is exactly what happened. Yet apparently men are to blame for this as well.

    (Not saying that the changes wrought by feminism are a bad thing, just that you can’t say that men are to blame for making women have babies at a young age, and then say men are to blame for women not having babies at a young age).

    So, yet another example of a novelist who might be able to write fiction, but who can’t think logically for toffee.

  5. I think there are two different problems being conflated here.
    Firstly the overimportance attached to formal qualifications has reached monumentally stupid proportions- and that is a problem entirely divorced from feminism.
    Secondly feminists have focused on getting for all women what they (the feminists) want for themselves. Women are told that they can have a career and have children- plain nonsense. You might as well say that all women can hold down two full time jobs. A few talented and energetic ones can, and some subset of those want to, but most either can’t do it or don’t want to. We all have to make choices.

  6. Then the feminists came along and said that this is all wrong, and that women should be having proper careers and then maybe, if they’re interested, having babies at an older age.

    Ironically, Margaret Sanger and the nascent Planned Parenthood wrote that no woman should have a child below the age of 23, because, apparently, they’d be crap Mothers.

  7. “Instead of “you must do x years here and y years there” in order to be considered qualified for a job, how about “take this test. Are you qualified”?”

    That’s how we used to do it here in the US. In the late 60s/early 70s, it became, in practical terms, illegal to do this anymore because white people scored disproportionately well on these tests compared to minorities. So now employers have nothing to go on but academic “accomplishment”.

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