The media is inclined to represent women as saints or virgins, whores or mothers. However our Prime Minister does not belong to any of the above groupings. But fortunately for Julia Gillard she does belong to another group. Our first female PM belongs to the increasingly large cohort of women who have chosen to remain childless.
The media has wasted little time in pointing out that Gillard is childless by choice. National affairs editor, Tony Wright reported in The Age (18th July) that there was something strange about a ‘childless prime minister’ playing with babies during the current election campaign. But is this so strange? Politicians of all sorts kiss a bonny baby or two- and when it’s Abbott or Swan or any other male aspirant, the subject of parenthood doesn’t get a mention.
The media is intent on pointing out that our latest PM doesn’t tick the boxes as to how a woman is to conduct her life. Gillard lives with a partner, she has no children and worst of all she has no oranges and apples in her fruit bowl.
Julia Gillard is not alone in her decision to forgo parenthood. Australian women are increasingly not reproducing and rates childlessness are expected to reach 28% in the near future.
Women of Gillard’s generation and more recently, are living lives that feminist author Virginia Woolf wished for women in A Room of One’s Own: the need for women to have access to education, freedom from poverty and independence. Woolf would have been pleased that so many women today are educated, have good incomes and are free from the imperatives of marriage and caring for children. She would have celebrated the success of Julia Gillard who is the daughter of poor migrants and who benefitted from a free education and now has the highest job in the land-that of Prime Minister.
Woolf would have wanted more however. She would have asked the question of what do we do with this freedom, education and independence.
In Three Guineas, Woolf’s sequel to A Room of One’s Own, the author recommends that women use their income and independence to make sure that ‘the daughters of educated men’ don’t join the ‘male procession of institutions’ such as the ‘ boys’ networks’ and ‘war making’. This remains to be the next challenge for the childless and liberated women of today.