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Monday, November 29, 2021

Like Emmanuel Macron, I know what it’s like to be judged for not having children

What would you say makes a great political leader? Unwavering compassion and morality? Searing intelligence? Unparalleled, inspiring vision? Or the gift of impregnating someone? 

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, father of four, appears to believe it’s the latter. 

In a new book, Honey, I Shrunk the Right, by political journalists Nathalie Schuck and Olivier Beaumont, the ex-Prez claims Emmanuel Macron has issues imposing his authority because “he has no children”. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t sarkazm. It certainly isn’t irony – does Sarkozy realise his command may be slightly diminished by his double conviction for corruption? And it certainly isn’t a lone opinion, either. 

Across politics, across society, pronatalism – worshipping at the altar of parenthood – rears its smug-ugly head. It provides, yes, fertile ground for really rather cruel bigotry. 

Remember MP Andrea Leadsom suggesting that she’d make a better Tory leader than Theresa May because, unlike May, she has a “tangible stake” in this country’s future? “I have children”, she stressed — so forcefully it was as if she were giving birth to them all over again. 

Or Thomasina Miers, deciding Theresa May dropped Government plans to fight kids’ obesity because she, May, didn’t have children? (For the record, May has spoken about her sadness at not having babies.)

The distasteful – and relentless – tendency to use someone’s childlessness against them isn’t singular to Britain. In Australia, former PM Julia Gillard was described as “deliberately barren” by a senator from a rival party. While in France, Macron has felt these thoughtless barbs before: far-Right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen once said his centrist rival “speaks of the future but has no children”. Macron, who is said to be very close to his wife Brigitte’s children and grandchildren, beautifully responded: “I have children and grandchildren of the heart”. Quite the statesman-like reply, I’d say. 

The list goes on. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel had to stomach an opponent’s wife, Doris Schröder-Köpf, saying the stateswoman known as Mutti (‘mother’) did “not embody with her biography the experiences of most women”. Closer to home, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apparently got so fed up of the “why didn’t she breed?” talk that she put out a tweet: “It might challenge some of the assumptions and judgements that are still made about women – especially in politics – who don’t have children. By allowing my own experience [of a miscarriage] to be reported, I hope, perhaps ironically, that I might contribute in a small way to a future climate in which these matters are respected as entirely personal…”

Why are politicians forced to deal with this? Why do we judge them not on whether they are good people, strong people, ethical people, selfless people or worthy people — but on whether or not they have their own little people?

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