Today is the big day! Happy Fertility Day one and all!
These posters are genuinely part of a new (and disastrously launched) campaign by the Italian Ministry of Health to promote Fertility Day on the 22nd September to encourage Italians to procreate, and also to improve their reproductive health and seek access to help and treatment if they need it. Whilst the latter points are something that people could support, the antiquated and ill-judged tone of the poster campaign has left many incredulous. Some have even complained that the posters display fascist overtones of encouraging breeding for the patria.
And of course the focus is on women. The poster above is perhaps the worst example and all types of wrong – it’s the sanctimonious, smug face; the discreet touching of the stomach; the menacing, over-sized, fast approaching hourglass. It translates as ‘Beauty knows no age, but fertility does’. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock BOOM! Is there any childless woman in her 30s who doesn’t know that her much discussed biological clock is ticking? Women get a bit pissed off with statements of the bleedin obvious. I don’t think there are many women who are blindly skipping though their 30s in some Sex in the City singleton fantasy thinking that time does not apply to them. And if they try there is always some bastard to remind them.
There are many reasons why some women haven’t had children in their 30s or 40s (haven’t met the right man, man doesn’t want children, man wants children with someone else, man thinks every 30 something woman he meets immediately wants to have his baby and gets scared off, you’re in a lesbian relationship, lack of money, lack of home, illness, infertility, not wanting to have a baby just for the sake of it or with the person who you’re currently having a bit of a thing with). Any or all of the above could be the reason that I don’t have children. Who knows. And of course some people just don’t want children and have consciously chosen not to have children. I have never understood the argument that people who don’t want kids are selfish – why on earth would you want to force people who don’t want children to have them? In our increasingly overpopulated world maybe a bit of restraint is what is needed.
However, the campaign has been launched in response to Italy’s extremely low birth rate and concerns that it is not high enough to sustain an ageing population. In Italy it is unusual to meet a pregnant woman under 25 years old. In a very non-scientific comparison for example, my friends in Italy have children who are around 5 years old and even younger; my friends in England have children with an average age of 11, the oldest being almost 17. I had always thought that Italians seemed far more relaxed about their biological clocks. It was quite refreshing not to be the only 30 something I knew without children.
In the UK, with our high rates of teenage pregnancy, it feels as if you’re damned if you do and if you don’t. Don’t have children too young (bad/reckless) don’t have them too old (bad/dangerous), don’t have too many (bad/excessive), especially if you can’t afford them (bad/immoral) don’t have just one (bad/cruel) don’t stay at home to look after them (bad/it’s not real work), don’t leave them at a nursery for long periods (bad/not good for child development). Bad bad bad women. Pop out two kids (one girl one boy) in your late 20s when happily married after a brief stint of a not too demanding job which won’t interfere with school pick up times and you’ve struck motherhood gold and you might just be safe from criticism.
In a still primarily Catholic country, however, with birth control still frowned upon by the Church, how is it that Italians with their famous love of children need to be so persuaded to start a family? The majority of Italian women/couples that I know remained childless until their mid 30s. People tend not to finish a degree here until their late 20s, proper work contracts with maternity benefits are difficult to obtain before your early 30s if not later, work can be insecure, rents and house prices in Rome are extremely high in comparison to average wages, people often live with parents well into their 30s and if you do live independently it can be in a small one-bedroomed apartment. Not exactly ideal conditions for child rearing.
In Italy, there are some fundamental reasons why people might delay having a child when their own prospects are so uncertain. One of the posters refers to procreation as a common good, but if this is true then surely looking after children should also be in the common interest? And it is these issues that should be considered (lack of secure work, lack of childcare, lack of affordable housing) rather than spending money on a ill-thought-out and unnecessary campaign. Until these underlying issues even begin to be addressed, it is unlikely that any ad campaign will produce the required rise.