As Samantha Jones, Sex and the City’s resident try-sexual (as in “I’ll try anything”), once said: “I will not be judged by you or society.”
But Kim Cattrall, the British-Canadian actress who played Samantha in the legendary US TV series (which ran from 1998 to 2004 – grief, can it be so long ago?), knows that society can, will and does judge her and all women, especially those who don’t conform to the norm.
On Monday, she guest-edited Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, steering the programme according to the questions uppermost in her mind now she is 59, choosing to explore the topics of ageing, being single in later life, and the experience of being an older woman without children. She was candid, funny, accessible, interesting and thought-provoking. What impressed me most was her refusal to be defined, certainly not by those roles and routes that she has not taken. “I am not a biological parent, but I am a parent,” she said, explaining that, although she hadn’t changed nappies, she had helped her niece through medical school, talked through careers with her nephew, mentored young actors and provided scholarships at her old high school. “There is a way to become a mother in this day and age which doesn’t include your name on the child’s birth certificate,” she said, questioning whether or not anyone is really child-less or child-free and adding: “I am not completely child-free because I care about the next generation.”
Surely she’s right? There are many ways to parent, if you want to, and ideally this feeling of responsibility and care should extend from all adults to all children and young people, regardless of biology.
But as special and important as being a mother is, it is only one part of life. Some of my female friends have had children and some haven’t. Some have been married and some haven’t. Some are single, some are (still) in relationships, but what continues to surprise me most across the years is how little they have changed since we were at school, university or in our first jobs. They are still as funny, clever, hard-working, day-dreaming and as annoying as they ever were. Nothing has changed that, not marriage, children, no children, divorce, relocation, wrinkles, sags or bags. So why do we insist on defining women by our marital or parental status, our looks, our age – in short, by terms that are in so many ways irrelevant to who we really are?
Life can never be complete, with every box ticked, nor should it be. Life happens, sometimes we make choices, sometimes we have no choice. But we should never feel defined or be judged by paths we didn’t take and the roles we didn’t play.
* Twitter: @yorkshirefashQ