Love it, loathe it, or simply love to loathe it, Love Island is back. A summer full of ‘grafting’, zealous exclamations when the infamous texts and all the eggs in all the baskets. Weeks of love and drama in sunny Majorca after a very difficult sixteen months is the light relief we’ve all been craving.
However, when contestants Sharon Gaffka and Aaron Francis got chatting over a romantic brunch in Season 7 Episode 7, Sharon made a statement that is typically deemed controversial in our patriarchal society – that having children just simply isn’t top of her priority list. Viewers were quick to flood Twitter with their reaction, voraciously asserting that Sharon, who works as a civil servant in the transport sector, has the right to focus on her career above fulfilling the entrenched societal expectation of women to settle down, become a mother, and in some cases, take a step back from their career to take care of the home. When 24-year-old luxury events host Aaron probed Sharon further on her reasons for pushing ‘have kids’ down her ‘to do’ list, she told him how she didn’t want to be left to do all the ‘house labour’.
For many women, becoming a mother is the most important and rewarding role in their life. But becoming a mother does often mean taking maternity leave in the short term and for some, making long-term adjustments to their working life. This may include going part time, or leaving work for a certain period. It is really important to make the distinction here that, whilst being a woman who prioritises her career is encouraged by feminists who wish to see women break through the professional glass ceiling and challenge men to powerful positions, becoming a mother isn’t undoing this work. The crux of this issue is choice. Women have a right to feel empowered to choose, without judgement or belittlement, to succeed as mothers or in the boardroom, or both!
This notion of choice is exactly what potentially makes Aaron and Sharon’s conversation a contentious one for feminists. When explaining to a visibly surprised Aaron that she didn’t want to rush in to starting a family, Sharon said “I don’t want to have kids with someone where I feel I have to do everything [around the house]”. Sharon’s career-driven mindset became a topic of conversation later when she went on a date with 26-year-old senior financial consultant, Teddy Soares. A career-minded individual himself, Teddy was quick to let Sharon know that he found her ambitious nature attractive, pleasing Sharon who explained that she had been unlucky in love in the past, as she has found that “a strong career-driven woman sometimes emasculates guys”.
In the wider social context, these seemingly trivial conversations in the Love Island villa take on a whole new meaning when looking at the bigger picture – a society where women are sexualised on one hand, but on the other, deemed unattractive for resisting the social urges to settle down. Of course, two people realising they have different priorities making them incompatible is a reality of life. Aaron shouldn’t be discouraged from wanting children in the same way Sharon shouldn’t be condemned for not wanting them. Sometimes priorities don’t line up. The key difference is the issue should remain focused on wanting/not wanting children and whether people’s life choices line up– not about how women are viewed subsequently for not wanting children. Women should be able to openly tell someone they are dating that they wish to focus on their career, without being denounced as ruthless, cold and uncaring. Society should accept that a woman who doesn’t want children doesn’t automatically translate into someone who is heartless.
Career-driven men are seen as hard-working, ambitious, tenacious…the list could go on. We need to work as a society to ensure that these traits are attributed to women with the same goals in life. Let’s celebrate women who are confident in their life choices, and empower them to assert their right to follow their own path, whether this be towards the nursery or the office.