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Posted by on Jun 25, 2014 in Life, Parenting | 18 comments

Kirstie Allsop and feminism – have we missed the point?

Kirstie Allsop and feminism – have we missed the point?


I must have missed the whole furor about Kirstie Allsop. A few weeks ago Bryony Gordon  interviewed her for The Telegraph about the death of her mother at the beginning of the year and during their conversation she said:

“At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.”

…and her world exploded in a torrent of abuse about her being the ‘world’s worst feminist’.

I must have had my head in the sand(pit) because I didn’t really notice all the commotion until I read about it in this fab piece by Alice at More than Toast today and a wave of emotion knocked me for six. I ran straight to the interview and read it word for word. And it struck me immediately that there is so much more to Kirstie’s point than the two lines above. They need to be put in the context of what she said before and after:

“Women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward.

“At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.”

“But I don’t say it from a position of smugness. I only whistled in there by a miracle when it came to children. This isn’t something I’ve just decided in an arbitrary way. [Fertility] is the one thing we can’t change. Some of the greatest pain that I have seen among friends is the struggle to have a child. It wasn’t all people who couldn’t start early enough because they hadn’t met the right person.”

For me the key word here is fertility (and I’ve added my own emphasis in the quote above). And Kirsty is absolutely right. Fertility IS the one thing we can’t change. Ok, we’re living longer but by waiting longer to have children we’ll be lucky to see our grandchildren married. If Curly Girl has a child when she is 36, as I did, I will be 72 when it is born and 90 (if I’m lucky) at his or her eighteenth birthday. In all likelihood I will not see my great grandchildren.  And my husband is eight years older than me.

You do the math.

Kirstie Allsopp


The point Kirstie was making, I think, is that as women we need to be better educated about the realities of our bodies. I wanted it all in my twenties and thirties. I went to university, got a good job as a PR and grabbed life with both hands. When OH and I met children were the last thing on our minds (I was adamant for a long time that I didn’t want any at all). We were terrified at the thought of getting pregnant and thanked our lucky stars whenever we had a ‘scare’ that I might be. We wanted to ride our motorbikes around Europe, go clubbing in Barcelona and sit under the stars in the Maldives, not change nappies and mash baby food. So that’s what we did.

But when our thoughts DID turn to children we got the shock of our lives. One of the ironies of fertility is that I spent so much time trying NOT to get pregnant when in reality there was probably less chance that I could with each year that passed. Those lucky enough to fall pregnant without trying probably wonder what all the fuss is about – I totally get that if you haven’t had to jab a needle into your own stomach once a day or into your bum at night then it might be hard to understand.

I’ve written before about our long and winding road to parenthood – it took us years of patience, fertility drugs and treatment in China to finally arrive at our destination – and if I could write a letter to my younger self I’d write in bright red block capitals across the middle of the page

don’t leave it too long!


At the risk of being lambasted myself I will not perpetuate the myth of modern womanhood that we can do it all, have it all before we’re 40 and have dinner on the table, two point four spotless children and perfect nail varnish too. When we sell ourselves this image of perfection we risk our sanity and that of everyone around us. One of the amazing things about the blogging community is that these myths are eroded. In reality we stumble through life doing the best we can whether we had our children at 20 or 40, married or single parenting, career girls or stay at home mums.

The point for me is that we need to know the facts to MAKE THE CHOICE. When Curly Girl is old enough to start planning her way in the world I will sit her down and tell her the real facts of fertility – that she might be one of the lucky ones who falls pregnant straight away – but she also might not.

That said, in my opinion, the unfortunate reality is that while I agree with Kirstie that it would be nice be able to have our babies when we’re young and then go off to University and learn and have a career later (skipping as we do so), in our society that isn’t the norm and if I turned up on the doorstep of most corporations at 45 with no work experience I think it’s likely they’d laugh at my face as they closed the door in it.

Was Kirstie being anti-feminist saying what she did? I don’t think so. For me feminism is about taking control of our lives, standing up for equality, embracing our womanhood and being able to make choices. Some choose to have children young and some later. More power to all of us.  But without more education about the real facts of fertility the next generation of 20 somethings won’t be able to make that choice an informed one.

  • Circusmum

    I always wanted to start a family young. I expected to have had all of my brood before I turned 30, the reality is I’ve had one. After the hardships of raising a mini me on very little income and trying to juggle kick starting a career and childcare/ actually being there for my baby, I was too scared to have more and exacerbate the already difficult situation.
    I wanted it all, to be a great mum, still go out with friends when they socialised and have a great career. Now I wish I’d just concentrated on having more kids when I could. I’m not sure if I would tell my daughter to have her kids before uni, but at the same time, who knows? Kirsty felt the wrath of the anti-woman press in action. ‘It’s a thing’, a real thing, if a man had said the same sentence, nobody would have sensationalised it and called out the anti-feminism police. But we will exploit women for media coverage. Whether it be their choice of dress, dress size, or what they say.
    Sigh. Sorry for the long comment. It’s like a mini blog post beneath your own! Fertility can be a bitch, something I’m feeling acutely now I’m older.

    • bod for tea

      Thanks for sharing this Tinuke – I agree that some people are considered fair game and the whole issue of fertility got lost in the anti-feminism debate!

  • Mama and More aka Zaz

    Michelle I abso-fkn-lutely agree with your every word here. I feel as though there is some kind of agenda where the media constantly tout and pressurise women and girls about having it all, being wonder women etc, without giving the truth of the matter. There is also the not insignificant matter of how it feels emotionally to have battled for a career for years and then battled through conception (or at the very least battled through those intense early stages of pregnancy and having a new baby) only to discover that the world is not interested in you if you want to combine motherhood and continue your career in a traditional sense. This is why blogging is so important. We need to tell our girls that you cannot have it all – there will be compromise and if they are incredibly lucky enough to have a great career and experience the joys of parenthood, something has to give and you have to do less of one than the other. Great post hon xxx

    • bod for tea

      Thank you Zaz, There was a lot of talk about honesty at brimumslive this weekend I that I feel that the whole issue of fertility really needs that particular light shone on it x

  • Corinne

    Absolutely brilliant post and eloquently written.

    • bod for tea

      Thank you so much x

  • Muddling Along

    Great post – we’ve had fertility issues too and I do wonder how different life would be if we had started our family earlier (as it was I really needed my career to get to a point where I had some autonomy over work before I could have babies to make it even vaguely possible to try and combine work and family)

    • bod for tea

      It’s interesting isn’t it – I wonder the same thing. Perhaps I’m more settled knowing that I travelled and had a career before the children but what price the toll on my body and health for all the fertility drugs?

  • bod for tea

    I think we’re doing a real disservice to our daughters if we don’t make the realities of fertility clear. If they decide to wait then that’s their choice, but at least it’s an informed choice x

  • Franglaise Mummy

    Absolutely fantastic post! For me feminism is having the choice – the choice to have a baby at 20, 30 or 40 but we should always be given all the information so we can make an informed decision. I don’t regret going to uni at all, but knowing what i know now I probably wouldn’t have waited the 3 years after getting married at 27 to start trying for a family. I will definitely tell my girls how it is and let them make their own decisions. Sharing this as it’s such an important message xx

    • bod for tea

      Thanks lovely. I certainly don’t regret uni either – although I think I would appreciate the experience a lot more now that I’m older and I’d probably attend a few more lectures! x

  • Helen Actually Mummy

    I said it at the time, and again on Saturday, Kirstie’s vision is idealistic. I really wish that women (and their partners) had the choice that she champions, but until we have a massive overhaul of our social and economic systems it just isn’t achievable. Employment law and custom won’t allow for either parent to pursue a career AND a quality family life. The changes that we need to our systems are just mammoth for this to be an option. That said, I stand by my statements that bloggers have a huge voice to add to the feminist (perhaps I should say parentist) cause, and I hope that posts like this one will start to make employers and politicians begin to take it all more seriously. Great read.

  • Firefly_Phil

    To consider your first point…
    There is no lie so pernicious as quoting HALF the truth!

    • Michelle at Bod for tea

      You’re so right!

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  • Older Mum

    Great post…. to be honest though it took until I reached my late thirties before I began toying with the idea of a baby. I certainly hadn’t wanted one before then, and I wasn’t in the right emotional place either. I think the right time to have a baby is when it 100% feels right, and can only be then, and of course there is the HUGE issue of fertility, but again it’s every woman’s choice when she decides to have a child. And I didn’t meet my husband until I was well into my thirties. I do agree with you though on educating our daughters on the finite nature of fertility BUT not to scare monger them either. I knew I had already taken a risk delaying pregnancy (I was also studying a diploma at the time) but I had also reconciled myself to if I do get pregnant, fine, and if I don’t that’s fine also, and I can still have a very fulfilling life childless. If anything, I think this is also something else we need to educate and counsel women about; that if you do decide to leave pregnancy late, to also look at how fulfilling life could be without children, certainly to lessen the blow if pregnancy fails. The have also been studies to show that many parents have ended up regretting having children as they rushed into it.

    • Michelle at Bod for tea

      You’re right – we weren’t ready until we were ready and who’s to say that I wouldn’t have regretted it if I’d felt pressured too soon, but if I’d known then what I know now, sympathetically as you very rightly point out, I like to think I’d have felt like I was making an informed choice. Great comment, thank you x

  • HonestMum

    I couldn’t see the reply button outside of the comments but I agree with the points above and Katie’s so thought I’d reply here-not all women get a choice in society and I wholeheartedly believe in academia and that power as you say Michelle, which enables women to have a career but of course fertility is an issue and it doesn’t wait for anyone.

    A lot of Kirsty’s comments are idealistic, women need to become educated and build their careers more likely than ever to reach success/ financial stability but having it all is an impossible feat-like Kate says, it’s about having enough of those things to be content and to realise that it’s about compromises and juggling. I want and need to work to feel happy and be a good mother and there mustn’t be guilt or shame about that.

    I actually had a baby early in comparison to my friends and colleagues, pregnant at 27, Oliver was born at 28 and I was a director in a male dominated industry-TV and film.

    A lot of colleagues didn’t understand my yearning to have kids at that age (not young really) but I was broody and that was that.

    I have PCOS so didn’t know how long it would take either. It actually only took a couple of months so I was lucky but having a condition which contributes to infertility meant I didn’t want to leave it too long.

    I remember thinking, if I were to reach the pinnacle of my career and be awarded a Bafta/Oscar let’s say (always dreaming big) but not have a child, would it be worth it. The answer was always no!

    Children have led me to a blogging career I love and adore too. Funny how life works out! Thanks for this brilliant post x

  • Michelle at Bod for tea

    Thanks Katie. It was a shock to us too. We just assumed it would be easy and I think a lot of couples do. Here’s to educating our daughters and letting them make the choices that are right for them x