The Nolan show breaking news: Northern Ireland rocked by childless woman horror!

Which of these news stories is not a news story?

1. Woman wants to have baby 2. Woman gets married 3. Woman has job 4. Woman does not get married 5. Woman does not want to have baby 6. Woman does not have job 7. All of the above

You might be thinking, as I do, that ‘7’ is the correct answer. If we were talking about men we’d be correct, none of the stories above would be newsworthy, but we’re not talking about men. Why aren’t we talking about men? Well I don’t know the answer to that. We’d have to ask Stephen Nolan maybe. Perhaps if you’re a man you might want to ask for parity of news coverage for such an important and vital issue as whether you feel like having kids or not. But let’s get to the point…

Yesterday I was driving home from the school run and I caught the opening of the self-proclaimed ‘biggest show in the country’: The Stephen Nolan Show on Radio Ulster:

‘Today we hear from a woman who does not have kids and doesn’t want to have kids! I’d be interested to hear your views on THAT story!’

Nolan doesn’t often surprise me. Often on his show and on other shows on Radio Ulster the only mention of women is as part of a jokey item about who the worst drivers are or how much women like to talk etc. You know, fun stuff that no one minds (I hope you’re feeling the sarcasm). But every so often we are presented with something a little more insidious, such as an item which encourages people to phone in and discuss a perfect stranger’s desire to live a child-free life live on air. And it does surprise me. And it should surprise everyone. Why? Because this is not a newsworthy story and by making it one The Stephen Nolan Show are intimating that a woman’s right to decide to remain childless is somehow a moral issue for society at large to discuss and decide upon. Otherwise why cover it? It’s hardly unusual. Woman have been not-having kids for a long time now. I expect that the show would defend itself by saying that the issue that is up for discussion is controversial because the woman has been sterilised, a decision that is irreversible. But having a child is also irreversible so the ‘controversy’ cannot come from this aspect. And let’s go back to ‘What about men?’ When was the last time you heard a NEWS story about a man who didn’t want to have children? In fact, when the last time you heard a man who felt un-paternal even being discussed amongst friends as an anomaly? But women? Well everyone gets to tell a woman when she’s being unnatural.

As soon as I got married people started to tell me that I would be having children soon. Then it because a question: WHEN would I be having children? All the time assuming that I wanted to, that my husband wanted to and that it was possible for us to make that choice. Then I had a child, and guess what? People weren’t happy with that either. I have been told twice to my face that I am ‘selfish’ for only having one child. Both times by close friends. Both times by people who have no idea why I made the choices I have made, or if I even have any choice about the issue at all. I have been told that when I have another baby my family will then be ‘complete’. I have been told by other friends that my child will be lonely or selfish (just like me, eh?) or unable to socialise because she is an ‘only’ child. Apart from the fact that all this is wildly hurtful (and mostly a load of bollocks) there is something else…. Guess how many times my husband has been pressed or pressured or just downright insulted over the issue of how many children we have? That’s right, zero.

The BBC website says that The Nolan Show is ‘An unmissable mixture of news, phone ins and entertainment’. This story is not news. It is only entertainment isasmuch as some people find it fun to bully people or gossip about them. If that is the justification then I would ask the BBC to reconsider this type of ‘entertainment’ in favour of the respectful distance people deserve when they are making huge decisions about their lives. But beyond all of this is a fact: men want and do not want children too, and if you are making an issue of a female person who does not want children then YOU are making it an issue of inequality. Not me.

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11 Responses to “The Nolan show breaking news: Northern Ireland rocked by childless woman horror!”


  1. 1 Siún April 20, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Great stuff! I find it peculiar the number of young, childless women I hear explaining their current non-pregnant state (as if it needed explaining) with the words ‘I’m too selfish, I like my freedom too much’ and a little giggle, in case anyone thinks they’re taking their own freedom too seriously. Imagine a world where male reproductive decision-making was a matter for public debate and a target for social policy! A girl can dream…

  2. 2 Diana April 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Hello
    I was the woman on the Stephen Nolan show. I understand that it should not be a newsworthy item but how the world should be is not how the world is. I have had both hostility “your cold” “your unnatural” and disbelief “you’ll change your mind” I have had people trying to push their offspring on me as well as listening to tales of tedious toddlers.
    As perfect strangers have felt the right to discuss my uterus for the last 25 years then as the owner of the uterus I am entitled to a voice.
    According to the NSPCC every week at least 1 child gets killed at the hand of a parent.
    How does this reconcile with being told “everyone should have children”?
    Child free is like being gay 30 years ago. Now it would not be a newsworthy item.
    No one should be pressured into having children they can’t cope with or want.
    I am looking forward to the time when remaining childfreebychoice is not of any interest to anyone.

  3. 3 shirley April 20, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Hi Diana,

    Thanks for joining us! I agree, you are completely entitled to a voice. My objection was only to the Nolan Show and their mode of presentation which often errs on the sexist side when dealing with issues to do with women. I completely agree, I also look forward to the day when this is not an issue.

    Shirley

  4. 4 Ron April 20, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    To be honest Shirley, I thought you were joking when you tweeted this yesterday morning.

    It’s probably worth pointing out that the Nolan Show does NOT fall under the remit of News in BBC NI – I’m pretty sure it’s under ‘General Entertainment’. Not that that will stop Nolan insisting to anyone who’ll listen that his show is the number one place to get the lowdown on any number of news-related issues.

    As a bloke, I can state that I DO get plenty of inquiries as to when I’m having kids. Not nearly as many as the wife, I imagine, but it’s still a constant background noise at family gatherings.

    I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I love kids, something that many men seem to think a weird admission. However, it’s seen as an ever stranger proclamation when a woman says she has no interest in bearing children. I’ve never understood why this is, although I suspect it’s your common-or-garden misogyny masquerading as cheerful social conformity.

    If a woman doesn’t want to have a kid, I can completely understand why. They’re noisy, demanding little creatures. I’m looking forward to it personally, but then I’ve the patience of a saint.

    Nice post.

  5. 5 Cat April 20, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Diana,

    I do not understand why, if you have been fed up with people making a big deal out of your desire not to have children, you have chosen to go to the national press to broadcast this? Does this not draw more attention to it? And although you may say it draws more attention to the issue, would the Nolan show and Mirror really qualify as the best vehicles to broadcast your dissatisfaction?

    With all due respect, I know plenty of women, and haven’t a clue about their desire or lack therein of to have children or not. Perhaps you have had a particularly difficult time with your social circle, but I know a good few married, single, whatever, women who do not want children for one reason or another, and it hasn’t caused them any particular burden.

    Is it not possible that people who refused to sterilise you at 27 were only doing so considering that 27 is still a relatively young age in the grand scheme of things?

    I respect people’s right to choice, but I must confess your actions baffle me.

    I agree with the nature of the original post that the reception of the article as “shocking! a woman doesn’t want children!” is frankly ridiculous. That said, I don’t turn to Nolan for breaking news.

  6. 6 Kellie April 20, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    The whole “it’s selfish” thing has always baffled me. Selfish in what way?!? And now there are folks saying that from an environmental angle, it’s selfish to HAVE kids. You just can’t win!

    I also think that people need to learn some bloody manners when enquiring about or passing comment on other’s childbearing. It’s not that easy for everyone to get or to stay pregnant. So when people ask, it’s easier to blithely say “oh I’m not too bothered” rather than get into one’s medical history.

    I really could not care less if someone doesn’t want kids, why anyone else feels the need to spout an opinion on it, or thinks it’s newsworthy, I don’t know. People obviously don’t have enough to worry about.

  7. 7 Claire April 20, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Good blog Shirley.:)

    Let me start by saying that if anyone called you “selfish” for not wanting more than one child then they are not good friends. Good friends do not judge and are supportive. Life is about lifting people up, not tearing them down and judging them. Perhaps they were projecting their own insecurites onto you…that is what most criticism is…(according to psychologists). It’s like the old saying “We see ourselves in each other”.

    I am 35 years old, childless/childfree and never want children. I too, have been given the looks of pity, the condesending patronising tone of “you havent met the right one yet” or “you’ll change your mind”.
    Those comments were made to me when I was 21. Now I am 35 and still haven’t changed my mind.
    Is it selfish to remain childfree becasue of the overcrowding on this dying planet? Is it selfish to remain childfree because of the amount of unwanted children in the world? (example: Romania: contraception is banned there…a ridiculous and utterly reprehemsible concept…but I digress).
    No. It is not selfish to remain childfree. It is more selfish to conform to others expectations and bring a life into the world then resent it and neglect it for the rest of yours.

    I have met your daughter and she is a well adjusted happy child with two loving supportive parents. Being an only child does not mean she will be socially incapabale of mingling with others.There are plenty of people who have siblings that I have met who are incredibly maladjusted in adulthood!

    My father is always hinting now that he wants to be a grandfather. He always hints he wants me to get married and settle down. I may never do this. Or, I may decide one day to get married.(if I can find a man who doesn’t cheat) ;0 That is my choice. But, it is unfair of him to pressurise me into anything. It is not his body. It is not his life.

    To me, the ‘Nolan Show’ is an overly opinionated badly written show masquerading as intellectual debate. I find Stephen Nolan himself pompous, and out of touch. Even when he was on tv, people just got angry and threw opinions across left right and centre, never really focusing on the real issues at hand. I remember he did one on water charges and there was nearly all out war :))(Guess that is the angry Celtic nature)…I would rather watch the ‘Jeremy Kyle show and that is not a compliment…!

    I liked the viewpoint that you came from…men are hardly ever ridiculed or patronised or asked if there is something wrong with them or if they are gay just because they are not married or have children.
    I wish we could just let people be comfortable with their own choices…live their own lives without making judgements or assumptions.

    Claire.

  8. 8 Mike April 20, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    OK, seriously, calm yourself. Nobody really cares what Nolan says. He’s a good broadcaster an entertaining enough sort of chap but by in large he’s outspoken background noise. Maybe it was a slow news day and there was a toss up as to whether to run that story or one about dog who can whistle ‘The Sash’. Who knows?

    I think the real issue here is the fuss that has been made since then. As a believer in equal rights I try to understand the issues facing women today and as a man I will never fully be able to. I get that this is a feminist matter but it strikes me that moaning about it accomplishes nothing other than to perpetuate some of the very stereotypes you are moaning about (i.e. that women do nothing other than talk, have babies and talk about having babies).

    Surely the best examples of strong, successful women in today’s society are those who pay no attention to outdated public opinions about how they should or should not lead their lives. Have kids; don’t have kids; who cares? Just don’t moan at them!

  9. 9 Harriet April 20, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    I hate the Nolan show – I never listen to it unless I am forced to while taking a taxi – to me it is synonymous with the mindset of the folks in a certain country town who only stock trashy newspapers in their petrol station – no wonder people only operate and think about issues at a certain level – if this is how life and issues are pitched – so I don’t think the Nolan show has much that is intelligent to contribute but unfortunately thousands of people listen to it, and allow themselves to be shaped by it- Daily Mail readers are the same I guess… (tongue in cheek grin) Of course its sexist, of course it aims to get people riled up and of course it wants to blame women for all the ills of society – he’s Nolan – he’s outrageous – it’s disappointing that entertainment providers and media moguls will capitalise on sexism, racism, homophobia, sexual explicity, debt, disaster to create viewing figures – but I am not suprised – what to do what to do – if we phone in, email, text or blog I guess we are buying into it all. My recommendation is: turn the radio off – let’s start a campaign called turn Nolan off – turn Jeremy Kyle off for that matter – and Eastenders – and Big Brother – don’t rent the Twillight movies – it’s impossible…….

    That was the Nolan issue – on childbearing – I am so relieved it is a choice for so many now – God bless our sisters who have died in childbirth, as a result of abortion, miscarriage and other related maternal deaths – God bless our sisters who have lived with pregnancy after pregnancy, suckling babe after suckling babe, damaged bodies, no money, no work, no friendships, no education, bullying male doctors, (and midwives for that matter) and absent fathers, unhelpful fathers. God bless our sisters who embrace our bodies, our abilities and our gift to bring life and all that women pour into the humanity of our babies and our children. Let’s not forget in our irate rebuttal of people opionating about our choice, that many still do not have a choice.

    And as for that choice, not having children is a perfectly respectable, understandable decision that should be celebrated and applauded just as much as any choice made to have children.

  10. 10 soisaystoher April 21, 2010 at 1:49 pm

    I’m really enjoying the activity on this post. It’s been great to have other women give voice to their own experiences of this kind of sexism, to hear from some who feel Diana may not have furthered the cause for reproductive choice by offering up her story to be picked over by unscrupulous journos, the woman herself has defended her right to speak up and we’ve had a fair amount of dissatisfaction with the Nolan show. That and a bloke who clearly missed the point entirely. (Yes Mike, I do mean you.)

    I guess all we need now is for the big man himself to stop by and tell us all what to think.

    The only thing I’d like to add is that I disagree somewhat with the sentiment that we should just ignore Nolan if we don’t like him and let him get on with entertaining the masses. When you make a comparison between The Nolan Show and the Daily Mail or the Sun it is in fact a pretty inaccurate comparison, the reason being that these newspapers are private media products, controlled by the agenda of whichever corporation is profiting from them and funded by the folks who choose to hand over their hard earned cash for a copy. We are forgetting that Nolan spouts his venom every day on the BBC, a publicly funded body and as such should be accountable to higher standards of social responsibility. When there seems to be a tendency towards editorial decisions and a presentation style that provokes sexism then I think we have the right (a responsibility even) to speak out. As Mike mentioned (no hard feelings mate), for some women empowerment is about getting on with your life and making your own decisions regardless of the misguided opinions of others. Feminism however is about always challenging sexism so that ALL women can have greater freedom to get on with their lives and not just those who happen to have the resources, support networks and resilience to do so.

  11. 11 cary April 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    nicely done, Shirley – very clearly articulated post. i’m
    not a Nolan listener and this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest – this is the kind of stuff that makes me want to avoid the show at all costs. personally speaking i’m not sure if it’s a space worth contesting since the show is not designed for meaningful discourse on any subject.

    but, that said, nor does it surprise me that amongst the worthwhile, constructive and deserved positive feedback you have received, one of the responses here blames women for furthering stereotypes by speaking up against sexism. apparently it’s alright for Nolan to talk in the name of being a good broadcaster and an entertaining sort of chap but god forbid women should raise issues of concern or indeed even talk to one another. furthermore, that women ‘making a fuss’ is the ‘real issue’ at hand, not sexism itself. it seems equal rights does not extend to having freedom to express opinion without being denigrated for it. once again women are openly pressured to be ‘successful’ as long as they stay silent by having their ‘nothing other than’ talk reduced to ‘fuss’ and ‘moaning’. if it’s sexist, which those ‘stop moaning’ comments are, then they cannot also be pro-feminist or in true support of equality.

    personally, rather than contesting Nolan, i choose to turn off and seek out spaces where there is constructive, meaningful discourse. but in your choosing to speak up and challenge this kind of sexism, i think you did a great job. and for that you have my wholehearted support.


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