I’ve just read the interview with Lucy Worsley printed in this week’s Radio Times.  I should make it clear now that I haven’t, to the best of my knowledge, seen any of her television work.  I don’t watch much television, and even less history on television, as it tends to get on my nerves.  I once spent the length of an entire programme commenting on my own comments on Facebook, ranting about something on a historical theme that I did watch, pulling it to pieces as it unfolded in front of me.  And don’t even think about mentioning ‘Horrible Histories’…

Anyway, back to the point.  She comes across as a nice, bubbly sort of person with a good line in self-deprecating humour, which is something I always enjoy.   A quick look at her website confirms this.  It was the business about children in the interview that grabbed me though.  Or rather, her lack of them.  She’s a year or two older than me, and she has none and I have three.  My reaction was rather mixed.  For one thing, I couldn’t really understand why it was of interest to the interviewer.  I can’t ever remember reading an interview with a man that commented on his decision to have children, or not to have children.  Why is it considered important when a woman doesn’t want children?  The assumption is always that a woman must want a child.  It wasn’t me that wanted children; it was my husband.  In fact, for many years, I actively didn’t want them.  I was persuaded, and most of the time I am very, very glad.

But if I’m totally honest, especially after the few weeks I’ve had lately, reading the lines “I had other priorities with what I wanted to do with my time” and “I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy”  did make me slightly envious.   If I didn’t have children, I would have a lot more money and a lot more time.  I’d have a lot less ties and a lot less pressure.  I’d be able to go off to the other side or end of the country to do research whenever I needed to.  But I do have children, and as such I am tied to Manchester.

The most telling line in the entire piece, as far as I was concerned, was “I have been educated out of the natural reproductive function”.   One of the reasons I’m doing my PhD is to prove to myself that I am able. My mum always said that the drawback of educating women is that they then get stuck with the children.  I have the equivalent of two degrees and a teaching certificate.  I had earned my own money.  Then I had children and instead of having intelligent conversations with people with similar interests and intelligence, I was stuck at home talking to babies and toddlers and the four walls.  It can be mind-bendingly boring, even when you believe that you are the best person to bring up your children and you have no wish to send them to a nursery or childminder.  There is also the change in other people’s perception of you:  to most people, a stay at home mum must be incapable of framing an inteligent sentence.  I was lucky in having a few friends that were available during the day to talk to (over the internet, at any rate) who never stopped treating me as an intelligent human being.  And it’s partly because of them that I am now doing my PhD and thoroughly enjoying myself.

But there’s the real irony:  I suspect that the real reason I’m doing the PhD is precisely because I have children.  I needed to prove to myself that I could be as good as all those other doctors of philosophy.  And the motivation wouldn’t have been there without the children that make it so much more difficult!

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