I was reading some news stories the other day, and I noticed something strange happening with women in the news.
Whenever a story centred around a man, they were described by what they did for a living or where they were from. You know the kind of thing- Kevin, 43, from Derbyshire etc.
But the stories about women involved them being described by how many kids they have. Mum of 3, Susan, 43, etc…. If it’s paramount to our understanding of a story to know how many children the person has- why aren’t we told about how many the men have too? None of these stories were about the children, so why do they need to be mentioned?
At first this annoyed me on the principle of women being more than what they’ve produced. If the story is about something good this woman has done, why can’t she own it? Why can’t it just be about this woman who has done an incredible thing for charity, or whatever it is?
Then I started thinking, what would be said about a woman with no kids- Mum of none, Susan? Susan, who has no kids? Has chosen not to have children? Can’t have children? And that made me even more annoyed. Why are women in the news being summed up in this way?
Women in the news- character assessment
Then I realised that they’re doing this as a quick character assessment for the reader. The number of children someone has, followed by her age gives the reader sure ammunition to make a judgement about this person, before they even read the content of the story. They’re summing us up in numbers.
We’re building prejudices about women and the number of children they have without the writers saying a word. They’re just putting the facts out there, and letting the reader fill in the blanks themselves.
Think about it. A woman of 23 with 3 kids would be judged much differently to a woman of 43 with 3 kids. The former would be labelled a tramp and thought to have started as a teenage mother, probably from a poor background; whereas 43 is acceptable to society and therefore no judgement needed here. If however the 43 year old’s youngest was just a few months old, you can bet your bottom dollar that would be mentioned too. Then we can get our judgy pants on again and wonder to ourselves “why has she had another one in her 40s?”.
The details are helping them to build our societal norms. They include and redact information to keep prejudices alive.
If someone has a lot of children- anything over 4 say, they know the reader will instantly think “benefit scum”. This means they don’t have to write it and get complaints. And of course their golden nugget “single mother of…..” and the higher the number of children here the better for them.
They’re using our pre-conceived ideas about women and their life choices to fill in background details of the characters they paint in their newspaper soap operas, and quite frankly it’s not on. It’s another way of telling women that there are acceptable guidelines to having children- you should have them between 20 and 30, have no more than 2, and not do it on your own.
Give us the background or don’t bother
If they are going to insist on doing this, can we please have a bit more of the background info please? Can they do their research properly and give us all of the details? Can we be told mother of 3 Susan, 23, has 3 kids at this age as she has a gene which means she is more susceptible to ovarian cancer so has had her children early? Tell us that the woman who has 6 kids has them with no help from benefits. She is the owner of a huge clothing company which is one of the market leaders?
Or, here’s a novel idea- just don’t tell us how many kids they have at all- unless that’s actually what the story is about. At the end of the day a woman has the amount of children she wants to have, and it’s no one else’s goddamn business! We need to stop judging women by their reproductive levels- we’re allowed to be more than that these days. Women in the news should be there purely for the reason they’ve made the news.
Sometimes life isn’t a fairytale. Sometimes you end up in a situation that society doesn’t accept as “normal”. But you know what? As a woman, you pick yourself up by the balls and you fucking make it work. Because that’s what women do. We don’t always smash the plates, but you can be sure that we’ll pick up every piece. And if someone wants to have an opinion on you not being a Stepford Wife, I’d say they’re the one with the problem- not you. They’re always going to be chasing a “perfect” life, rather than living the one that makes them happy.
Next time you see this kind of thing in a news story, just stop and think for a minute. Don’t allow them to keep us holding ourselves back.