Following the news that one in 11 kids’ toys purchased in the UK last year was bought by and for an adult’s use, and that most of those adults were men, we could make plenty of jokes about pale blokes in black hoodies clogging the aisles in Forbidden Planet. But we’ve not got time. Because when it comes to grown-up people living in a permanent kidulthood, it's only the women that miss out.
Tides of feminism have helped women in the west to successfully stretch open the definitions of man-shaped careers and lifestyles. We’re doctors, CEOs, politicians, prime ministers, lawyers, and so much more: financially independent, capable of realising our professional dreams. But for all our abilities, there is still one thing we cannot stretch, and that is time. Should we wish, our bodies are capable of conceiving and giving birth, but only for so long.
I’m 30 next year and, though I’ve never sketched out children in my life’s blueprint, I must understand that what is currently my mind and body’s choice – not to have kids – will, within the next decade or so, be up to my body alone. I hope my mind and body can always agree, but I also hope for trains to run on time and for general world peace.
Permanent kidulthood is great: staying in all day watching Netflix, ducking out of political debates in the pub, eating spaghetti hoops for dinner, leaving dirty washing on the floor and going out for one and coming home at 5am. It’s the joy of an evening LOL-ing at memes on Instagram, dyeing your hair, piercing your face, learning to skateboard in the park, wearing '90s throwback logos, owning a comedy-large Jeremy Scott x Moschino phone case and having fleeting relationships with unsuitable idiots because, well, why not? Being childish doesn’t necessarily harm anyone, does it?
But the cultural phenomenon of babyish millennials indulging their nostalgia is simply a symptom of the problem, the problem being that permanent kidulthood is often not a choice but imposed. And it’s squatting on too many women’s futures.
Women make up 51% of the UK’s population, yet 84% of government cuts fall on us. Mothers, especially young and single ones, are acutely affected, but other women aren’t safe: there's the rise in student fees; obliterated grants; the care crisis affecting those 72% of carers who are women; the beginning of education cuts in a country where 74% of teachers are women; and policing and mental health cuts, which mean that increased awareness and reports of, for instance, sexual assault or anxiety are not met with an increase in services. On top of this, the milestone of home-ownership has been plucked from many people’s paths, replaced with the uncertain pastures of a snap general election and Brexit – for which young people did not vote. David Cameron’s scrapping of the Equality Impact Assessments means there’s no obligation for the government to scrutinise any of its plans for potential gender bias. But men’s relative biological freedom means that, by the time they do feel sufficiently financially and emotionally stable to start a family, even if they’re 65, they can. This is a luxury that women, who also risk succumbing to the gender pay gap the moment they become mothers, do not have.
Egg-freezing schemes, once the preserve of Silicon Valley tech companies like Apple and Google, are now being extolled by the likes of Gemma Collins, the 36-year-old The Only Way Is Essex star. This is no longer a lofty aspiration but just another aspect of ordinary women's lives – a new milestone in itself.
In Dawn O’Porter’s Sunday Times bestseller The Cows, Stella does serious damage to her career, relationships and hair (I won’t spoil any further) in order to conceive. Though it’s fiction, under pressurised circumstances, it’s not unfeasible. And while it flipped our expectations of the once-refreshing Girls to see Hannah Horvath keeping her baby, the truly radical moment was witnessing an out-there female professor employ Hannah, in spite of her impending motherhood.
Moral conservatism has long insisted that all women are potential baby vessels and should act accordingly. While that’s obviously backward, sexist and unworkable, how have we ended up with a Conservative government that does so much to stymie women’s choice to have a choice about one day having kids? “Family values” are used to win votes, but where are the tools to help young women carve a future with a child in it?
The same recent ONS statistics that show many women are waiting longer to have kids credit careerism with helping teen pregnancy rates drop to their lowest on record; young women see their worth outside of reproduction. But how is it that men can languish in permanent infancy, while girls begin a sincere approach to adulthood in their teens?
Maybe toys help certain guys feel better about the kidulthood they, too, are forced into. But what’s the consolation prize for young women destined to find themselves ready for kids only when it’s too late?