Wednesday 17 January 2018

Kirstie Allsopp had daft advice, but not all of it is tosh

The TV presenter had some interesting things to say, if only the perpetually offended would listen

REACTION: Kirstie Allsopp’s comments on a woman’s ‘fertility window’ led to the ‘Location, Location, Location’ star being described as a ‘gabbling hysteric’
REACTION: Kirstie Allsopp’s comments on a woman’s ‘fertility window’ led to the ‘Location, Location, Location’ star being described as a ‘gabbling hysteric’

'An exquisitely embroidered load of b******s." That was how Kirstie Allsopp's advice to young girls was bluntly described on BBC's Woman's Hour by Yvonne Roberts of the Guardian last week.

Others were less kind. "Allsopp sounds like a griefstricken gabbling hysteric," went one comment on a newspaper website. What's worse, it was the Daily Telegraph, a place where readers are normally a pushover for the daughters of viscounts such as Allsopp. Things have certainly changed. "What a load of poisonous drivel," added another. "You should be ashamed of yourself, you horrible envious old bint." Moving the dial online to Vanessa Feltz's morning show on Radio London, meanwhile, brought the cross voice of a caller named Ali, who compared Kirstie's attitude towards young girls to that of the Taliban.

All because the Location, Location, Location star said, in an interview to promote her new craft fair, that if she had a daughter she'd tell her: "Darling, do you know what? Don't go to university. Start work straight after school. Stay at home, save up your deposit ... then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you're 27."

Was this advice daft? It's daft to even ask. Of course it was. Only someone rich enough to throw property at their twentysomething children – the daughters of landed gentry, say, or Irish parents during the Celtic Tiger – would think that was a realistic option.

Young women and men alike need to go to university

in order to get the right qualifications to get the jobs in order to pay the mortgage in the first place, not to mention benefiting from the widened horizons that a university education accords those lucky enough to have one.

Why would you even want to deny your daughter that experience, especially when the only thing you have to offer in its place is domesticity and motherhood? If they want that, then great. But there's something creepy about the presumption that young women should want that kind of life so young, or that, even if they did want it, they'd welcome their parents' fingerprints all over whatever match they made. Who the hell "finds" nice boyfriends for their daughters anyway?

One can only hope that Kirstie Allsopp would feel differently about all this if she did have a daughter, rather than addressing a hypothetical one for the sake of argument. There's more to life than fertility windows – and whilst we're on the subject, what a charmless phrase that is. Anyone who thinks it's their business to tell others what to do with their "fertility windows" should swiftly be shown the "eff off door".

Nonetheless, there was something a bit intense, to put it mildly, about the reaction to what she said. "Envious old bint"? Suburbia's answer to the Taliban? Really?

As writer Bryony Gordon, also invited into the Woman's Hour studio to discuss the issue, said: "She was just expressing an opinion, and if we get to the stage where we cannot say things for fear of offending people then we're in a very sorry place indeed."

Just so. Except for that little "if". It's not a question of lamenting what would happen "if" we get to a stage where those who express a contrary opinion are shouted down. We're already there.

So much public discourse now seems to be characterised by irrational outbursts of politically correct indignation, where every offhand comment is treated as if it was a rigid manifesto for living and accordingly torn up. Allsopp was just talking. Out of the top of her hat, as it happened, but just chatting all the same. What she said wasn't particularly profound, but it didn't deserve so much opprobrium.

But again, that's how things go in the new social media world of instant reaction where only the extremes of opinion get heard and every thought becomes amplified and distorted in an echo chamber of outrage. In many ways, it's as if Twitter and Facebook have become the left's equivalent of redneck radio. Rather than right wing shock jocks ranting about communists and hippies and feminists trying to destroy family values, it's the place where the communists and hippies and feminists go to rant about traditional social values oppressing them. It's all heat and no light on either side, and what's actually said gets lost in the blaze.

Kirstie Allsopp had some interesting points to make, if the perpetually offended would stop hyperventilating

long enough to listen. What she said about young couples who save £30,000 for a deposit on a house, then blow £20,000 of it on a fancy wedding, for example.

"I've seen so many people spend an insane amount of money" this way, she declared incredulously. "It's not right the money they spend. People can't pay off their student debt, they can't buy homes." That hard-nosed practicality is a welcome counterblast to the romantic tosh about perfect fairytale weddings for which so many young women seem to fall.

Likewise, her insistence that men need to, well, man up and "be taught in school that there is a responsibility" and that "if you love someone" then you should "decide if you want to have a child with that person or not".

Whether schools are capable of teaching these life lessons is another matter, but ultimately the TV homemaking queen wasn't saying anything which hasn't been said by countless women before her, feminists and non-feminists alike, equally frustrated at their inability to "have it all" and by the misery that failing to have it all brings. Millions of women have been there, done that, and got the T shirt.

"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," as she put it.

"That is a hell of a lot to ask someone."

As a result, these women often reach their 40s and find that they're exhausted, washed out, disillusioned, depressed. If they leave having children until their late 30s, they're looking at taking on the challenges of parenthood just as their energy levels are dropping and their get up and go has got up and gone. Suddenly they're doing the school run every morning; spending weekends entertaining little Jack and Emily and friends; dealing with all the usual stresses and dramas that family life brings in its wake.

"If everyone started having children when they were 20, they'd be free as a bird by the time they were 45. But how many 45-year-olds do you know who are bogged down?" asked Allsopp. "At the moment, we are changing the natural order of things, with grandparents being much older and everyone squeezed in the middle. Don't think 'my youth should be longer' ... we live so much longer."

Again, it's doubtful she'll be telling her sons in a few years time to settle down with the first good bit of breeding stock that comes along, but she does still have a point. We're so stressed out by the first act of adulthood that we forget sometimes there's a second act which can, fingers crossed, be just as fulfilling.

Sunday Independent

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