Can you remember what life was like at 14? You might have been a bit emo, or hormonal, or worried about what high school might bring. And according to novelist Hilary Mantel, you were also ready to be a mother.
Mantel, who wrote the Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall has found herself in the midst of a controversy after giving an interview to Stella magazine where she discussed the societal structure surrounding women and her personal objections to it: ''I was perfectly capable of setting up and running a home when I was 14, and if, say, it had been ordered differently, I might have thought, 'Now is the time to have a couple of children and when I am 30 I will go back and I'll get my PhD."
According to Mantel, women neglect natural urges to have children in their teenage years and twenties due to a "male timetable" in society that forces women to wait until men are ready to have children before they begin reproducing. It's a bizarre argument, in that Mantel seems to think that all women are just dying to have kids in their teens and twenties, and that the patriarchy is forcing them to do horrible things like, you know, perhaps concentrate on finishing high school without worrying about how to take care of their children. "Having sex and having babies is what young women are about, and their instincts are suppressed in the interests of society's timetable," she says.
Mantel's argument seems to sidestep all developmental and financial logic and paint the idea of having babies at 14 as a type of sensible decision that will pay off, Lorelai Gilmore-style, once the mother hits 30 or so and decides to jump-start her own career after raising her child. It's not that teen mothers, or young mothers in general, can't accomplish great things in their careers, but a 14-year-old is in a very different developmental place than a 30-year-old, and Mantel's declaration that she could run a household, no problem, as an 8th grader rings a bit false to anyone who has ever sat through 10 minutes of Teen Mom. It's easy for Mantel, in retrospect, to view her 14-year-old self as capable of doing such things, but I gather that if she actually spent any time with teenage girls, she might remember that that period of life is hard enough as it is without the added responsibilities of raising a child and living independently.
Mantel's argument also doesn't make a ton of sense, in that she blames the "male timetable" but seemingly wants women to go back to the 1800s and start having babies as soon as they hit puberty. The main function of women, as far as Mantel's argument goes, seems to be reproduction: education and careers have to wait, as babies come first. She's also never apparently met any woman who has successfully raised her kids while going to school and holding down a job. Of course, some of Mantel's extreme thinking and somewhat rosy view of motherhood at 14 may come from the fact that, according to The Telegraph, she "was left unable to have children after suffering from a debilitating and painful illness during her twenties." Her own struggles may certainly play a part in her notion that women should attempt motherhood sooner than later.
Mantel's struggles aside, however, it seems incredibly irresponsible and a bit unfair to promote motherhood at such a young age. Is it possible for 14-year-olds to successfully navigate motherhood? Sure. But it's certainly not the ideal. There's a time for the motherhood vs. career debate, and there's a time for the Team Edward/Team Jacob debate. Both of them are intense, but one of these things is more suited to 14-year-olds than the other.