We’ve all done it. That quick scroll through Instagram and a stumble across a post that stokes envy. But during the COVID-19 crisis, where we’re confined to our homes and using technology as our window into the world, this digital comparison is likely to happen more frequently.

Even though our current reality is unprecedented and all bets should be off, we still feel like we’re not doing lockdown right – or that someone else is having a better/more fun/easier time. We feel like we’re failing if we’re not cultivating the perfect sourdough starter, taking long walks in beautiful sunny fields or shaping children to be the next Einstein. And while we know that these images are part of a carefully curated highlight reel, we still buy into the façade.

Recently, I stumbled across an Instagram post published by a small business that I’ve followed for a few months. It was joking that for those who don’t have children, lockdown is a “holiday”. I’m all for a laugh (and maybe I’m just quarantine cranky) but all I could think was “please, not this shit again” because, despite protestations that it was “just a bit of humour” during a trying time, somewhere, lurking beneath the comedy, is a deep-seated judgement that causes friction between women.

I know that, in the grand scheme of what’s going on in the world right now, this isn’t a big deal. But hear me out. I’ve chosen not to have biological children so this is my personal Groundhog Day, and I’ve often had to listen to similar sentiments.  

Additionally, brands aimed at women thrive – and actively market themselves – on the idea of supporting all women. But alienating those who are without offspring isn’t my idea of inclusivity or female empowerment. With that in mind, I replied to the post (with my own dose of humour) and noted my disappointment (I kept typing and deleting responses for fear of how I would be perceived). I noticed a few women disagreeing with the statement so I liked those to show that I agreed. Usually I’d roll my eyes and unfollow but, like a digital-age Alice, I went down the rabbit hole.

“Is it just me?” I asked my housemate after showing her the post and the subsequent comments. “Am I being too sensitive? Should I have not typed a response?”

“Not at all,” replied Housemate, also child-free by choice. “It’s rude and I’d expect much more from that brand, even if it was meant as a joke.”

So here’s the thing. Not everyone who identifies as a woman is child-free by choice with many not being able to conceive through illness or circumstance. It’s a nuanced topic and one that always seems to be just bubbling below the surface, whether we choose to acknowledge it or let it simmer in the subtext of social media posts.

I’m not writing this piece to be provocative or to shame parents (some of my favourite human beings on this planet are the owners of beautiful small human beings whom I love dearly), or to suggest that they aren’t encountering problems during lockdown. I can only imagine that home-schooling while trying to maintain a career and your sanity feels like you’ve been banished to the seventh circle of hell. And I’m not attempting to shame the brand. I don’t believe the post was made out of spite but that something more insidious was at work which, unfortunately, we all play a part in cultivating.  

We are all bearing the burden of COVID-19 and it’s impossible to know what other people are having to deal with. It is not, for one single human being on this planet, a carefree jolly. It’s emotionally taxing, scary, lonely and deeply concerning for all involved. We should be pulled together by shared experience, not using it in a way, thoughtlessly or otherwise, to engineer division.

It’s time to put this toxic narrative to bed because, quite frankly, it is tired. In a world where women are urged to lift one another up (and like to share Instagram posts about “fixing each other’s crowns”) it’s our responsibility to support each other in our choices, endeavours and obstacles.

Lockdown life is a bit shit for all of us. That’s the reality.

By Emma Yates-Badley