First, let me confess my unpopular opinion. Sometimes I don't mind a bit of Kirstie Allsopp. Yes, she is privileged and she is the daughter of some nobleman or whatever and I am not entirely sure what qualifies her to offer property advice and we have very little in common politically and she is apparently the kind of person people like me are meant to want to line up against a wall and shoot, but sometimes she is dead right when she tells house-hunters not to be so damn picky. When you're house-hunting on a limited budget, there is always a gap between hopes and reality.
But Kirstie this week illustrated a massive gap between hopes and reality of a different kind. I find myself scratching my head and sighing in response to her comments about advising girls to skip university, buy property and find a "nice boyfriend" this week.
Above all, I am confused.
The mother of two sons said she'd tell her phantom daughter not to go to university. When it comes to female fertility, these are her words: "“Women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact that it falls off a cliff when you’re 35."
Honestly, there is so much noise out there about women's body clocks and how we must all breed before it's too late and, oh my God, you're over 30 and still no babies, you'd best hurry up, and if you don't have a partner, there are other ways to get pregnant but you'd better bloody have a baby or else you'll regret it for all time and you will feel you'll have missed out on an important part of womanhood and that would be the worst thing ever...
Trust me, Kirstie, we're aware of Mother Nature being a bitch when it comes to fertility. Talking about fertility "falling off a cliff" is a tad melodramatic but we know. My God, Kirstie, we know.
We also know that, thanks to advances in modern medicine, there has never been a better time in the developed world for women over 35 to have children. And we are painfully aware that not everyone who wants to have a baby will do so. We also know that adoption is not always as easy as it should be and that is something worth talking about instead of creating further fertility panic.
And then Kirstie took a radical departure from the real world and from the advances that have been made to help women out of subservience and poverty. Education is the best tool we have to fight poverty, especially among women. This has worked well in the developed world and in developing countries, there are direct links between girls being educated and economies improving.
So why has Kirstie come back to discouraging young women from going to university in favour of buying a flat and finding "a nice boyfriend"? Sure, some women get jobs straight out of school and go on to earn enough money for a deposit on a flat. Perhaps if Kirstie had said that there is an obsession with going to university at the expense of vocational training, there might not be so much ire. After all, university is not for everyone and there are plenty of vocational courses that lead to rewarding careers.
By the time I left school, the old cadet system of training journalists had gone the way of the woolly mammoth. If I could have left school at 16 and worked my way up from being a copy kid to a journalist and beyond, I would have done so. But by 1994, it was all about getting a degree to be a journo. I agree that getting a degree has become fetishised but not going to university does not have to be the same as being untrained and uneducated. Perhaps a little more nuance from Kirstie here might have kept a few wolves at bay.
Instead, Kirstie plonks her ficitional daughter in a parallel universe where young people get amazing jobs after leaving school and it's all hunky dory. And to be fair, it probably would be hunky-dory for Kirstie's daughter as she goes on to say: "Start work straight after school, stay at home, save up your deposit."
Yes, because that is always an option for every young person...
And then there's the clincher when Kirstie tells this privileged imaginary daughter: “I’ll help you, let’s get you into a flat. And then we can find you a nice boyfriend and you can have a baby by the time you’re 27.”
Yes, because every parent not only wants their kids living at home long after they're no longer kids, but they have the means to help out with a deposit. In the meantime, let's all raise daughters with no experience of living independently before moving into a flat bought with the help of Mum. These "nice boyfriends" who are keen to breed with a woman with no life skills before the age of 30 are simply everywhere!
Sure, some men do become parents at an early age and they do a damn fine job. Some women find partners at an early age, have babies, and it works out perfectly well and that is also wonderful. But we have moved into an era where more women are delaying childbearing until they are financially secure and plenty are doing it without a partner. And lesbians can do it too in this era where sex with an actual man is not required to achieve pregnancy. And none of this amounts to the collapse of civilisation. For what it's worth, I actually don't believe Kirstie Allsopp is some raging homophobe but the whole "nice boyfriend" thing was cringeworthy.
Kirstie says she was lucky to find a partner who was amenable to starting a family right away. Good for her! Just as she was lucky enough to find love, she is also able to help any offspring buy property and, it appears, she has matchmaking skills for her phantom daughter that would put Cilla Black to shame.
And then there was Kirstie's notion of urging kids to breed first and then simply have a career later. Just like that! Again, it has been done, it is not outside the realms of possibility but, seriously, good luck to any woman who spent her 20s having babies and not getting any work experience or training if she somehow magically wants to start her career in her 30s. Human biology may not be fair but neither is the job market. I am curious to know what sort of jobs this woman might apply for. How much money can she expect to earn? Will she be able to afford childcare? Hell, will she able to afford to buy property if she doesn't have a Bank of Mum and Dad to rely on?
But, please, let's return to the real world.
Plenty of women would like to be so fortunate in love but, for so many reasons, life just doesn't always work out that way. And for others, a "nice boyfriend" just isn't a priority. Or having kids. Sometimes we just need to let young people get on with their lives even if it's not a parental-approved path they take. Sometimes buying property isn't someone's ultimate goal. But if someone wants to buy a place, the fact remains that educated women tend to do better financially and Kirstie, as a "passionate feminist" as well as a purveyor of property porn should encourage that.
And if there are young men out there who aren't interested in educated women, frankly, that is their problem.