Don’t Have Kids If You Don’t Have Time—Vivienne Westwood

After Abramović and Emin, the dame of punk has her say on motherhood.

Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at the Bursary or Bust March and Rally on June 4, 2016. Photo Garry Knight via Flickr.

Opening with an impassioned speech about globalization, climate change, and her take on current world leaders, Dame Vivienne Westwood spoke frankly about the pressures faced by professional women at a talk last Sunday at the Cheltenham Literary Festival.

“If you don’t want children and you don’t want to spent time with them,” she said, “try not to have them.”

Westwood was in conversation with television journalist Kirsty Wark about her upcoming publication Get a Life, the result of Westwood’s last six years of blogging and activism on climate change. As the conversation continued, it segued into a brief discussion of Westwood’s upbringing.

Citing her mother—a weaver and mother-of-two—as an example of someone who “made herself ill… worrying that she wasn’t looking after her children properly,” Westwood said that women should not feel the pressure to have children and start families if this is something that they do not wish to do, saying, “I think these things happen by public pressure.” Westwood herself brought up two sons, while building her fashion empire as well as briefly teaching full-time in a primary school.

Westwood is not the first artistic figure to make a bold statement about motherhood, of course. In July, Marina Abramović told Tagesspiegel: “I had three abortions because I was certain that it would be a disaster for my work.”

Marina Abramovic, still from130919 • A Portrait Of Marina Abramovic (2013). Courtesy Matthew Placek.

Marina Abramovic, still from 130919 • A Portrait Of Marina Abramovic (2013). Courtesy Matthew Placek.

While at first proclaiming agency over her own body, important at a time when women are still fighting for the right to choose, Abramović continued: “In my opinion that’s the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. It’s simple. Love, family, children—a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that.”

Abramović’s statement insinuates a problematic comparison between men and women in the workplace, but most of all suggests that both being a mother and having a career cannot exist simultaneously.

In a similar vein, in 2014 artist Tracey Emin infamously declared that having children would have “compromised” her work. “I would have been either 100 percent mother or 100 percent artist. I’m flaky and I don’t compromise,” she said.

Amidst this, Westwood, a mother herself, seems to hold a more nuanced position: that the pressure on women to have families is high, but that they shouldn’t feel obliged to concede.

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