Thoughts and ideas to inspire, uplift and affirm the childless and childfree, by circumstance and by choice
When I read accounts of women’s choices to be childfree, I notice that many are keen to distance themselves from feminism.
“I’m not a feminist and I know that being childfree doesn’t necessarily mean being a feminist.” – Britgirl
“The softly spoken Ms Riley is outspoken on the rights of women to choose their own life paths, but she is not a feminist.” Re Theresa Riley, author of Being Childfree in New Zealand: How couples who choose to not have children are perceived, Waikato Times ***
And then there is the almost infamous Times article by playwright, Zoe Lewis, entitled ‘Madonna syndrome: I should have ditched feminism for love, children and baking’, in which she blames feminism, very directly, for the fact that she did not prioritise the creation of a family with children.
“I want love and children but they are nowhere to be seen. I feel like a UN inspector sent in to Iraq only to find that there never were any weapons of mass destruction. I was led to believe that women could “have it all” and, more to the point, that we wanted it all. To that end I have spent 20 years ruthlessly pursuing my dreams – to be a successful playwright. I have sacrificed all my womanly duties and laid it all at the altar of a career. And was it worth it? The answer has to be a resounding no.”
I’m interested in possible intersections between feminism and non-motherhood because, in contrast with the views above, I am a feminist of the ‘loud and proud’ variety.
I think it’s probably best to define my terms carefully here. By feminism I mean:
– an understanding that gender is a significant basis of inequality between human beings
– a strong interest in addressing that inequality
– an ongoing, evolving engagement with feminist thought and its various critics
By feminism I do not mean:
– an understanding that gender is the only significant basis of inequality
– a lack of interest in other bases and forms of inequality
– an affinity with every idea ever promoted in the name of feminism
So, all that said, I think there are a few important intersections between my feminist politics and my own experience of non-motherhood:
1. Without a good deal of work done by feminists before me, I don’t fancy my chances of ever having had the opportunities that appeal to me so much more than motherhood – my independence, my education, my career, a relationship my partner and I have created on our own terms etc. I’m similarly grateful for the role feminists played in making contraception available to me.
2. Although I don’t recall childfreedom ever being discussed during my studies, I think my education (which included a good deal of feminist theory) gave me some tools that have been invaluable in thinking through and articulating my position as a non-mother.
3. A focus on the politics of motherhood in much feminist theory has made it impossible for me to think in terms of prejudice against the childfree versus an easy ride for mothers. I’m interested in thinking far more generally about laws, politics, traditions, technologies, representations, economies and attitudes that limit women’s reproductive choices, whatever those choices may be.
4. I think the way forward for feminism is for women to talk to each other about their ideas, their needs and their experiences, and this is the attitude I take to non-motherhood too. I have no interest in persuading anyone to live as I do, only to add the weight of my own experience to the validation of the idea than non-motherhood can be a beautiful and fulfilling way for a woman to live.
If you would like to read some other posts that have touched on feminist themes, you might enjoy this critique of a book which I felt was hugely problematic from a feminist viewpoint, or this discussion of the lack of a unified view among non-mothers.
But in the meantime, how about you? Do you identify as a feminist? And do you see any relationship between feminism and non-motherhood?
***Please see the comments section where Theresa Riley explains that she was badly misquoted in the Waikato Times and is in fact very happy to be identified as a feminist!!