By now, you may have already heard about the disparaging comment that one of the candidates to be Britain’s prime minister, Andrea Leadsom, made about the other candidate, Theresa May, who would go on to secure that position. Leadsom proclaimed that she was better suited to be prime minister because she has kids and May does not, and “being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country. A tangible stake.”
She also said: “I don’t know Theresa really well, but I’m sure she will be really sad that she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea’s got children, Theresa hasn’t’ – do you know what I mean? Because I think that would be really horrible.” But then she did exactly that. (You can read that entire section of the interview here.)
There is research on this topic, which I have written about previously. It shows that women who are not mothers care just as much about the next generation as mothers do. In previous writing, I’ve also raised the question of whether parents care specifically about their own children whereas adults who are not parents may be more broadly focused on children – and the future – more generally. I’ve also discussed the psychologically intriguing phenomenon of people getting angry at women who do not have children.
I won’t belabor any of those points here. Instead, I want to marvel at something new and promising – the response to Leadsom’s smug condescension. It was swift, wide-ranging, and brutal. There have probably been critical stories and essays about this in just about every major publication in Britain and the U.S., and probably far beyond as well. In the UK, political leaders said they thought Leadsom’s comments were “vile,” “insulting,” and indicative of a “gulf in class” between the two women.
The pressure on Leadsom was, by her own account, “enormous.” She described the firestorm of criticism as “shattering.” In short order, she issued a public apology to May.
I’m not saying it is a good thing for someone to be publicly shamed. That can be horrible in all sorts of ways. But to me, it was not a foregone conclusion that such a demeaning attitude toward women who are not parents would set off a wave of condemnation. I have been reading the reactions and I was pleasantly surprised to find that just about every point I wanted to make – other than bringing some data to bear on the issue – had already been made by someone else.
So now I’m wondering: Will the same intolerance for bigotry surface when the candidate for a major leadership role is a single person rather than a married person who is not a parent? I wish we had more single candidates, and not just as test cases to satisfy my curiosity about singlism.