In the wake of the “Brexit” vote and David Cameron’s resignation, Great Britain will have a new Prime Minister this week. Her name is Theresa May, and she will be the Britain’s second woman P.M. The “Iron Lady,” Margaret Thatcher, served in the position from 1979 to 1990.
Margaret Thatcher had an impressive slate of qualifications and accomplishments. She was a chemist before becoming an attorney, became a member of Parliament in 1959, was leader of Britain’s Conservative Party for 15 years, and her time as Prime Minister spanned an entire decade (the 1980s), a feat not seen in Britain since the 18th century.
Of all the things said about Thatcher, I have no recollection that the fact that she was a mother was considered a qualification for office. Yet this is precisely what Theresa May’s challenger, Andrea Leadsom, implied in an interview with the Times of London. Leadsom said being a mother “means you have a very real stake in the future of our country.”
“I don’t really know Theresa very well. But I am sure she will be really, really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t,’ because I think that would be really horrible, but genuinely I feel that being a mom means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake. You know, she possibly has nieces, nephews, you know, lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.”
May, who is 59, has recently spoken about not being able to have children.
My first thought regarding this kerfuffle is that no one would suggest that a man would be less qualified for office on account of his being childless. But then I recalled President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of David Souter to the Supreme Court in 1990. My own worldview had shifted dramatically over the previous five years, with the birth of our two sons, who brought with them everything from sleepless nights to child care issues. I couldn’t imagine how a never-married, childless man could understand the issues with which parents struggle every day. How could he adequately serve the interests of the majority of Americans when he could not relate to the issues they face?
Of course, the job of a prime minister and the job of a Supreme Court justice are very different. Justice Souter’s job was to interpret the law. Prime Minister May’s job will be to guide Britain through what will arguably be one of the most tumultuous periods in my lifetime. But does the fact of her being childless really mean she is less invested in the future of the country she will be leading?
I had my first child when I was 25. Over the next several years, certainly by the time President Bush nominated Justice Souter, I had evolved from being a staunch Republican to questioning whether the GOP was really concerned about me and my family. By 1992, I had become convinced that, indeed, they were not. I have no doubt that my journey from a single woman to a woman married with children contributed greatly to my slide to the left.
But one thing that did not change was my concern for the future of my country. In my early 20s, we were still in the throes of the Cold War and nukes were a big issue. The early ’80s saw the rise of AIDS, high unemployment and inflation, and soaring gas prices. National defense, economic and health issues have always been important to me, whether in my single days or now that it’s back to pretty much my husband and me.
My point is, children or no children, I love my country, as I presume both Ms. May and Ms. Leadsom do, and that love for country and concern for its future is not tied directly to the individuals that I love and care for. There are a great many things in this country that concern me but do not directly affect me — racial injustice, hunger, lack of opportunity, to name a few. To me, the most disingenuous element in Ms. Leadsom’s comment — “I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next” — is the suggestion that one’s concern for the future of her country extends only as far as how it will directly affect her children.
Indeed, a statement such as the one Ms. Leadsom made seems far more disqualifying than the fact of not being a mother.