“You just haven’t met the right man yet.”
“Your clock will start ticking one of these days!”
“I know it seems like you don’t want kids now, but just give it time.”
“You’re too pretty/smart/nice NOT to have kids.”
“Trust me, you’ll want kids one day.”
“You’re going to be such a great mom!”
“Women who don’t give birth have higher rates of ovarian and breast cancer, so you should probably use those organs before it’s too late. You don’t want to get cancer, do you?”
Kind and well-intentioned statements, all, (well, okay, maybe not the last one – and I’m not making that one up, either) that nevertheless have been met with something less than gratitude on my part. I have never dealt especially well with people telling me what I should do and how I will feel, and I am even less happy about the continual insistence that I have virtually no free will on a matter of such import as whether or not to have a child.
When I was 19 and just beginning to discover my identity as a ‘woman’ rather than as a ‘girl’, a man told me that “A woman’s Everest to climb is having children.” A few beats before that, he’d said, “Men choose their own destinies.” Those around the table nodded their heads in agreement, while I sat seething, gnashing my teeth in anger. The implication was clear. Men decide who they are; women get to be moms. My reaction to the sum total of these statements was pretty simple: Fuck. That.
How dare you rob me of the ability to choose my identity? I wanted to ask.
My own personal reasons for not really wanting to have kids are pretty simple, but they’re also personal. What’s astonishing to me is how very few people seem to respect these reasons. How many times have I explained that aside from the fact that I am, plain and simple, terrified of pregnancy, there’s also the added weight of bringing a child into a world that really doesn’t need any more homo sapiens sapiens? How many times have I explained that being a mother was something I never aspired to, a goal in life I never needed, a role I don’t necessarily want to play? How many times have I repeated that while I love kids, I just don’t really see the need to make my own? And how many times have these legitimate justifications been met with the statements I quoted above, dismissing my rationale and acting as though it’s not my choice to make?
It is, I’ll grant, entirely possible that I’ll be a good mom (SHOULD I CHOOSE TO ACCEPT THAT POSITION IN LIFE). It is entirely possible that once I do have kids (SHOULD I CHOOSE TO DO SO) I will be a wonderful, caring mother. It is entirely possible that when I turn thirty my body will magically decide that I must have a baby right then, and that I will decide (EMPHASIS ON MY DECISION) to get pregnant and have a child. Or several. But that is my choice to make. And I don’t need the whole of society telling me that some preordained biological destiny will one day change the entire course of my life.
I mean, hell, wasn’t that the point of most of civilization: to set ourselves above the whimsy of our biology and obtain greater control over ourselves as thinking beings?
It is high time that we acknowledged that it’s no one’s decision but my own. That biology has no say in whether or not I’ll be a better parent than the father of my children. That we acknowledged that society has no say in whether or not I decide to adopt, or make my own babies, or foster children, or decide that the challenges and tribulations of parenting simply aren’t for me.
Until the day I make that decision, my body is my own. Don’t tell me what to do with it, don’t lay claim to my identity, and don’t judge me for the choice I make.
It’s not your decision.
I loved this! Having grown up in the Deep South, I was more or less groomed to run a household. (To be fair, my mother taught both of my brothers how to do many of the same things, and they’re among a minority of Southern men who wouldn’t die of starvation surrounded by their own filth if their wives–both highly powered and successful individuals–had to leave for a week.). But it was always sort of assumed that I would have babies.
I think, to a large extent, I have been spared the diatribes you describe because, quite unintentionally, I blow the lid off of gender cues. People can’t tell what I am, or they make assumptions. Which leaves me free to be a surprise weapon of feminism in group conversations such as you described.
That sort of outdated misogyny makes my blood boil. And men who make such assertions in my presence often look to me for commiseration–as if I’m a member of their club, because I don’t look the way women should, in their estimation.
I have many friends who are married or single, who have decided to bear children. I’m always overjoyed for them, and share in their delight. But I also feel that each of us, as you said, must be in the driver’s seat for that decision. To think otherwise is to accept the limitations imposed upon us by a sexist and myopic cultural model.
I would add that this goes deeply beyond personal interaction. This mindset, you may agree, is largely responsible for the disgusting legislation surrounding our individual sexual agency. It renders us protected property of a paternalistic state machine, and also reduces us to vessels that have fewer rights than any prospective child we might bear.
Enough of my blathering. This was a fantastic piece that I enjoyed reading immensely. Thank you for sharing.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I’m thrilled to hear that you’ve been quietly – or not so quietly – protesting the same stereotypes that I have. We need more women like you in the world! Together we’ll stand up against these tired ideas and create our own, in a world where anyone is free to be who they want and free from outside pressure to conform. Cheers, and thanks again!
From the other side of the gender-stereotype divide I have personally heard, “No matter how many great things a man (you) does in his life, being a good father is also necessary for his (your) life to be considered successful.” I’ve found it hard to shake this concept/belief from my mind because it was spoken by somebody who means a lot to me and is reinforced by cultural norms. So thanks for your article I found it very helpful.
I have definitely heard of men receiving this kind of pressure as well, though for women it’s rather singular, because we bear the cost of childbirth and rearing through our bodies. But the pressure from outsiders to make choices that should be wholly our own is universal – and we ought to fight against societal expectations like that on all sides of the gender spectrum.
Only by rising above society’s cacophony can you hear well enough to think for yourself.
I try, my dear father, but the discord is loud and ominous. Now, where’s my mountaintop?
Wait…if I extrapolate, this would also suggest that elderly men with pot bellies and sparse hair shouldn’t be the final decision makers regarding women’s bodies. Do you realize the implications of what you’re saying? You sound like a dangerous woman, what with this whole notion of thinking you should be in charge of your own body and all.
THANK YOU!!!!! I’m in the same boat – actually, I think it’s gotten a lot worse since getting married a few years ago. Everyone assumed that once we were married, we’d start having kids – otherwise, what was the point of getting married (apparently)? Neither of us actually want kids at this stage (I never have, and don’t think I ever will), and I’m pretty damn happy with my decision, and am thoroughly LOVING the life I live right now. I, like you, cannot understand why everyone else feels it appropriate to mock, laugh at, show surprise and horror and that decision, like choosing not to have children makes you some awful, selfish, shallow individual, and less of a person. Absolutely infuriating! You make your choices, and let me make mine – I don’t judge you for having a family, so keep your damn mouth shut about my decision not to!
So proud of you for putting this out there; it seems to be such a taboo subject for women to discuss, which is ridiculous. As you said, your body is your own, as are your decisions. It’s so great to see another strong woman owning that and living her OWN life! Go you!! xoxo
Cheers, Jess! I’m not in the least bit surprised that you’re experiencing that kind of pressure more after getting married. It’s like people constantly expect that once one shoe falls, the other will follow in quick succession. Why is it not more simply about being happy with your husband and yourself? Why does it always have to be a progression from point A to point B? I also have been shocked by how many people will judge and condemn a woman’s desire not to be a mother. The accusations of selfishness and shallowness are both ever-present in the conversation, and you’re right, it is infuriating. I’m glad you enjoyed this post – thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, and I hope I’ve broken down at least a piece of the taboo, and we can all start to have more honest conversations about women’s choices in motherhood and parenting!
So true! Thank you for tackling this subject!
Well said Z-Axis, I have children and I would not recommend it. It really doesn’t matter how nice, smart or good looking you are it is just a terrible idea. I can see the League of Morons growing each day with or without the help of intelligent people and we can’t afford for those types to keep influencing perfectly decent people to make the same mistakes they did. I love and care for my kids but thats normal even the animals have some of those characteristics. In our brave, new world it is wise to avoid procreation as we all are systematically being dumbed down by numerous forms of media and propaganda. Good Luck I hope you stick to your guns, per se.
All I have to say for the moment, (I’ll be back) is A-fucking-men to that!
True that. It is really such a personal choice.
Hi! Said I’d be back! 🙂
I completely hear you on this. It is all I had throughout my twenties and my thirties. Even now, taking on guardianship of my nephew I still have people say: “Won’t you have children of your own? Oh you’ll change your mind.” Er…I’m nearly 39 years old. I really don’t think I will. It’s never been part of my life plan. Not that I had one of those, but you know what I mean. Others think I’ve taken on the little one because I had some sort of child shaped hole in my life and fail to realise I did it because it needed to be done and was right for him; not me. If this is all that defines women, then no wonder we are still subjugated. Also there are too many homo sapiens on this planet as you say. My mum told me I was selfish to now want children. In my opinion it is more selfish to bring children into the world just so you will fit in with societies “norms.”
And yes, women who don’t see having children as the be all and end all are often portrayed in a very bad light and it makes my blood boil. Okay; all well and good if you want them,but I never did. Don’t get me wrong, I would never go back and not have my nephew, but being his “mother” does not define who I am. Not by a long chalk. And when he’s an adult and I barely hear from him/see him (because children fly nests) I won’t be sitting there wondering what to do with myself.
“I mean, hell, wasn’t that the point of most of civilization: to set ourselves above the whimsy of our biology and obtain greater control over ourselves as thinking beings?” Yes, it was. It is that thought which will put us on an equal footing with men. We are not here simply to procreate and ensure the survival of the species any more. We don’t need to. There are enough of those who want to, and good luck to them. For the rest of us; leave us alone to make a decision when and if we want to. And stop timing us!
Great post 🙂
Thanks, Joanne! I absolutely loathe the “You’ll change your mind” line. It’s like, great, maybe I will and maybe I won’t, but don’t act like you know my life story and can predict where I’ll be in five or ten years. That line always gets my blood boiling! And you make a great point about the “selfish” argument, which is another one that really spikes my testosterone – it’s every bit as selfish to want to create a bunch of mini-me’s just to conform with societal expectations as it is to do the opposite. Remind me, again, why NOT having children is ‘selfish’??
Thanks for commenting, Joanne. “Stop timing us” – for the love of God, let’s hope someone listens to that.