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.