Monday, 29 April 2019

A letter to Josie Cox

I read a Guardian article written by Josie Cox last Sunday. The piece focused on why 'commitment-phobic millennials' are choosing to have dogs instead of having babies.

It made me cry, it made me really angry, and it really really hurt. I won't be the only person it had that effect on, and I need to write about why it was so upsetting.

That journalist will probably never read this, but I hope it'll make me feel better if I get it written down and out of my head.



Dear Josie,

I want you to know how damaging your recent article was. I'm yet to figure out if you published it purely to generate clicks or if you genuinely believe what you wrote, but either way it was hugely distressing.

I felt a range of strong emotions when I read your article, but I've decided to focus on five of the most upsetting and frustrating elements for the purposes of this letter.



1. It's not always a choice  

You state that 'whether or not to reproduce is probably the most personal decision you will ever make.' Unfortunately, not everyone will have the privilege to make that decision of their own accord. When you're growing up, you never think that choice will be taken away from you. You assume you'll get to a certain age and decide whether you want children or not, then you'll take the necessary actions or precautions depending on the decision you make.

However, this isn't the case for everyone. I can personally tell you that it feels like a sledgehammer when you realise you no longer have control over that 'personal decision'.

You insensitively published this article just before National Infertility Awareness Week. My own circumstances are quite rare, but 1 in 8 couples are faced with infertility. That's a lot of people who have no choice in the matter. Some people, like me, have definite reasons for their infertility which they have to come to terms with. Other people will never know why it didn't happen for them and will have to keep wondering for the rest of their lives, and others desperately wanted children but never ended up in the right circumstances.

Not everyone has the choice.



2. What gives you the right to act as if you're better than everyone else because you chose to have a baby?

This article is dripping with condescension and self righteousness, and the tone was just as upsetting as the words themselves. Choosing not to have children, losing a child, or not being able to have them in the first place doesn't make someone a bad person. Plenty of people will decide they don't want children for hundreds of different reasons, and that's absolutely fine. So what if people are 'travel-obsessed' or 'career-prioritising'? You don't have the right to criticise other people's priorities. Believe it or not, women (and humans in general) don't exist purely to reproduce.

You talk about 'the lady I'd identified as childless' as if she's mind-numbingly stupid. You describe her as 'doe-eyed' and scoff that she can't possibly take part in your conversations about looking after your newborns because she's only got a 'fur baby'. It probably took that woman a lot of courage to turn up to your gathering because of this very attitude. Why shouldn't she talk about her new puppy? Just because she hasn't got 'the burden of raising a tiny human', that doesn't make her a bad person and it doesn't invalidate her experience.

You describe people who haven't got children as 'commitment-phobic' and 'scared of lifelong responsibility'. You've already stated that it's a personal decision, so what gives you the right to be so condescending? You made your choice, so please let other people make theirs.



3. A pet IS a massive responsibility and an integral part of the family

You imply that it's laughable when people compare having a dog to having a baby. I know people who have both, and they're very ready to admit that some elements of having a dog are comparable to having a child.

My dog relies on me for food, water, exercise, toilet breaks, entertainment and clean bedding, and always will for her whole life. You state that having a child means 'bearing full, unconditional responsibility for a person's basic survival', but that's also exactly what it means to have a dog (or any pet). The sense of responsibility doesn't diminish just because my dog isn't human.

You say that 'canines don't exterminate your social life in the same way as mewling tykes tend to do'. Actually, it could be argued that dogs affect your social life even more and for a much longer period of time. It's more than acceptable to take your baby to most places, but dogs aren't so welcome. When we want to go anywhere with our dog, we have to make sure there are dog-friendly walks, pubs and restaurants nearby. I'm yet to see a sign anywhere that says 'babies and toddlers not welcome'.

I've had my dog since she was 14 weeks old, and we've shaped many elements of her little personality. I'm fully responsible for her 'physical and emotional wellbeing', just as you are for your child's.

You flippantly say 'fine, call it part of the family.' My dog is 100% a part of our family and has been since the moment we brought her home. I sign her name on all the cards I send out, we celebrate her birthday every year, she has Christmas presents like everyone else in the family, and she's a massive part of our lives. So don't tell me that having a dog bears absolutely no comparison to having a child.



4. You've never even had a dog, so how can you possibly comment?

You state in your article that you've 'never had a dog'. So what qualifies you to talk about this subject? How would you know about the guilt I feel when I go out and leave my dog on her own, or the terror I feel when another dog growls at her, or the sheer joy I feel when she bounds towards me with her tail wagging, if you've never experienced any of it?

You clearly have no idea how much comfort a dog can bring, or of the enormity of even owning one in the first place. You say that 'parenthood is all-consuming', but how do you know that having a dog isn't all-consuming if you've never had one?

I'm not pretending to know what it's like to have a child, because I haven't got one. But I do know what it's like to have a dog, and you're way off the mark. You can patronisingly extend your 'bless you, fur mama' comment to me if you like, but how can you possibly comment so strongly on something you know nothing about?



5. I'm well aware that a dog isn't a substitute for a child, but I love my dog with all my heart. Who are you to ridicule that?

Throughout your article, you emphasise that having a dog is nothing like having a baby and that 'nothing can substitute for that'. You ram it home that having a dog can never be a substitute for having a child. Don't you think I know that my dog can never be a complete substitute? I'm well aware that I'll never know what it's like to carry a child and give birth to that child, and that knowledge still hurts every day.

My dog means the world to me and she came into my life during my darkest days. I call her my baby and I treat her like a princess. You ridicule people who buy 'only the finest for the little darlings', but I'm always going to buy the best things possible for my dog to make sure she's healthy and happy, just like you undoubtedly do for your child.

However, I love my dog in her own right and not because I see her as a substitute for what might have been. Although I believe there are similarities between the two and I love my dog like a child, I don't 'pretend that a canine companion is the same thing'. Having a dog will never fully heal that ache in my heart, and articles like this rip open that wound and leave it fully exposed.



I hope this letter has gone some way towards explaining to you why your article was so hurtful. You might have 'had a chuckle about it' when you flippantly said your piece, but I can assure you that it had the opposite effect on me.

2 comments:

  1. 100% behind this Beth. Her attitude is not okay, it's full of judgement and privilege

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's hard to read that article as anything other than deliberately hurtful clickbait, but if her little anecdote is true then what a horrible and condescending way for her to treat someone.

    Ultimately if someone has a dog rather than a baby it's either because that's their choice (in which case it should be respected) or because they had no choice in the matter (in which case people should think twice before making hurtful comments).

    Also it sounds like she wants some kind of medal for having a child!

    Hope you're ok xxx

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for your comment! :)