Thoughts and ideas to inspire, uplift and affirm the childless and childfree, by circumstance and by choice
Whenever a major newspaper or magazine publishes a story (such as this one) about a woman who has chosen to be childfree, in among the standard responses of ‘what a dreadful person’ and ‘good for her’, another kind of commenter often appears, accusing her of making a big deal about a fairly unremarkable decision. If she’s so happy with her childfree status, why is she even discussing it? Is her tone a bit defensive? Doth she protest too much?
It’s a very easy criticism to make and I think it betrays a lack of insight into the lived experience of going against the grain in any significant way.
No matter how secure we are in ourselves, our identities and our decisions, we look to the world around us to help us form our identities. That’s how identity works. It is through a kind of dialogue with the society we live in that we form our gender, our sexuality, our ethnicity, our socio-economic status and every other facet of our sense of self. And it happens that most of us live in social worlds that give us lots of information about how to form ourselves as mothers and very, very little information about how to form ourselves in any other way.
Personally, I think there are important benefits to this situation for childless and childfree women. Unlike mothers, we are not bombarded with highly stereotypical, stylised, idealised media images of how we should look and feel. Social expectations have not provided us with clearly defined roles we must fulfill, or else rebel against. On the contrary, we are in a kind of limbo. This means that we have the chance to imagine and create an identity for ourselves from the ground up and be active participants in how it is defined. It is an exciting thing to be involved in, I think.
But part of being an active participant in this process of definition is thinking, discussing, reading and writing. There is no other way. Childless and childfree women will need time and space to imagine and create working identities for themselves.
So if you’re involved yourself, keep going! And if you become discouraged when someone accuses you of making a big deal about something unremarkable, remember the words of Gloria Steinem (who is one of the many extraordinary women represented here).
“The first resistance to social change is to say it is not necessary.”
If you’re interested in other problematic assumptions about childless and childfree living you may also enjoy reading about bias in the ways childless women’s life stories are told or about rage in online childfree communities.