Sometimes there isn’t anything to add, extract or analyze, and bite-sized blog post isn’t enough to satisfy. Sometimes the writing is so compelling the only thing to do is present the entire story. So here are some full meals to chew on (again if you’ve seen them already) repeatedly. The comments are also must reads.
Embroidered across the front of a delicate white toddler’s dress in scarlet letters, this searing slander offers a 21st century modern twist on the proverbial “scarlet letter”. Miriam Schaer a multimedia artist and teacher (Columbia College, Chicago), directs her creative wizardry on childfree women in her online installation for the International Museum of Women‘s MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe.
New York artist, Miriam Schaer, has created a series of almost disturbing pieces about the perceived value of a woman who chooses not to reproduce… I think you’ll find Schaer’s toddler dresses embroidered with expressions of both confusion and disdain, hurled at women who choose not to have children, both unsettling and thought-provoking. (Strollerderby)
Almost disturbing? I’d suggest that these images are disturbing.
But they also are provocative in their simplicity and their “scarlet letter” resonance. No audio guide is needed to engage the viewer or to invite reflection. These quotations are familiar to the childfree, and they drip with prejudice and downright hostility. But rather than hurt or defensiveness, they trigger a more profound (and more important) question: Why? Why are childfree women threatening? Why do childfree women lack humanity? Why do childfree women meet with intolerance?
Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, addresses the question of why the existence of women who choose maternal independence over child-rearing angers or offends so many people and institutions. The work presented here is part of a continuing exploration of our culture’s pejorative views about women without kids. For Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, I hand-embroidered representative negative comments on baby dresses using red thread to create scarlet letters. Gathered from interviews with childless women, online research, and personal experience, the statements taunt and accuse, and are typical of an endless flow of critical statements that seem to be growing bolder even as non-traditional families are gaining greater acceptance. (Miriam Schaer)
Each image vibrates with smug intolerance, but collectively the images tell a different if somewhat elusive story.
I detect a theme of fragility, of an almost desperate attempt to denigrate and disempower women who have not chosen to be mothers. I detect fear, fragility, urgency, desperation and intolerance. I detect an unquestioning, un-curious, bullying theme. And why? I suspect it is because childfree women are actually gaining respect and acceptance.
Prejudice increases in proportion to the perceived threat, and the perception that more women are choosing not to have children threatens the beliefs and biases of many. In short, the prejudice is a barometer of the increasingly mainstream conversation about a woman’s reproductive freedom. Childfree women are increasingly visible, respected and vocal, so it is inevitable that their detractors will grow louder, angrier. But underlying these images of intolerance is a message of hope, a message of tolerance and perhaps even growing acceptance.
Do you share my optimism? What is your reaction to Miriam Schaer’s images?
- Unintentional Insults on the Childless & Childfree (lauracarroll.com)
- Myth: Childless Versus Childfree (babyoffboard.com)
- What the Childfree and Single-Child Parents Share (blogher.com)
- Seven Reasons Choosing to be Childfree is on the Rise (psychologytoday.com)
- Why Are We Still Judging Women Without Children? (childfreenews.blogspot.com)
In reflecting on the movie Leila, it is easy to see the conundrum couples face in traditional cultures when they can’t have or don’t want children. Many cultures just don’t accept childless unions. How many people do we know, however, who really might be having children largely for their parents, or for the tradition of having children to carry on their family gene pool, so ingrained in every society, even the most modern of ones? It’s not uncommon.
I have to admit, the continuity of family heritage, and pleasing one’s parents or in-laws with the gift of grandchildren are compelling reasons to procreate. My own parents and in-laws have been exceptionally supportive of my decision not to have children, but if I told all of them tomorrow that I had changed my mind, or that I was pregnant, would they be over-the-moon elated? You bet. Multiple year-long celebrations would be initiated. Who doesn’t like to make people you love that happy (especially because of all they did for you)? Who doesn’t like the idea of having your parents and in-laws helping to shape your child if you know they would be great at it? That part of parenting would be ideal – the part where the baby’s grandparents are cooing over the child, playing on the floor, cleaning up the mess, while you’re reading a book or having cocktails with friends. But, then the grandparents leave, and you’re stuck with all the responsibility.
Perhaps if we lived with our siblings and parents as adults, like in some traditional societies, raising a child wouldn’t be that daunting, what with all those extra hands to help out. Frankly, multiple wives made it much easier too (but don’t get too excited about that idea until you see the film Leila).
Leila grippingly explores the consequences of ignoring one’s own needs and instincts, and one’s own biological destiny to please another entity, or a culture at large. It serves as an important reminder to know ourselves and our partners and to ensure that when our partner tells us that he or she does not want a child, to believe it and to discuss that choice with frankness and honesty.
Moreover, people choosing not to have children or questioning whether it is the right choice also need to have those same frank conversations with their parents. Hopefully, if they love you enough, and if they are not as imperious and opportunistic as Reza’s mother, they will happily accept the grand dog or cat and more quality time together (because you’re not saddled with the time demands of parenting) that you offer them instead.
I recently watched Leila, a mesmerizing Iranian film that debuted by Persian film director Dariush Mehrjui. It chronicles the story of a young married couple (Leila and Reza) living in modern Teheran who can’t conceive a child. More exactly, the couple learns that she, the wife cannot have a child. Trouble ensues.
In one of the earliest scenes the viewer meets the young man’s mother, who, while celebrating her daughter-in-law’s birthday announces that she can’t wait to meet the couple’s son (only they don’t have one). This woman, so insistent that her only son have a child to carry on the family’s lineage (never mind her handful of daughters who might procreate) soon learns, that her wish won’t be possible. The couple jumps through some fertility hoops to no avail, and the Reza consoles his wife by insisting to her that he really has had no interest in having children all along. Leila seems to believe him, and they resolve to enjoy each others’ company without the distraction of children.
Then Reza’s mother intercedes.
Leila and Reza’s love is palpable. Their connection and mutual admiration seem strong. But their love and ties are harrowingly tested in a tug-of-war between their modern marriage and Islamic tradition, between their dreams and Reza’s mother’s dreams. The film offers a glimpse into the complexities of living in contemporary Iran and the complexities of giving back to one’s parents.
Leila’s mother-in-law persistently, deceptively convinces her that Reza is desperate to have a child. She harasses Leila incessantly until Leila agrees to permit her husband to marry a second wife who can give him a child. Though adamantly opposed to the idea, Reza eventually yields to his mother’s desire and to the traditional Islamic expectations of him.
We watch the heart-wrenching process of selecting a new bride through Leila’s eyes. We witness and understand her anguish. Ironically, it is Reza’s sisters and father who try to convince Leila to refuse the second marriage. (Ostensibly polygamy is legal in Iran provided previous wives agree.) Leila’s family is horrified when they discover Reza’s plan to remarry.
Leila’s doubt that Reza would be happy without a child and her decision to encourage a second marriage inevitably proves devastating to her union with Reza. She signs her fate away to external factors and concludes: “God has not given me a child. He has given me the gift of eternal patience and endurance.” Her choices test the limits of that endurance (and the viewer’s).
I won’t spoil the plot, because the film is worth watching. We never really know why Leila consents to her insipid mother-in-law’s wishes. Does she hope this will make her a better Muslim and wife? Does she simply wish to please her new family? Does she too desperately desire a child even if impossible through her own DNA? Or does her self sacrificing decision reveal unconditional love for her husband? Perhaps all of these factors are in play, but the film is so compelling precisely because we never learn the answer.
something. But who cares? Let’s focus on the real newsy part of this news story:
George also revealed he has no plans to dye his greying hair and is embracing it instead.
How’s that for shattering taboos and expressing one’s (actorly) individuality? We get it George. You’re intelligent and independent and won’t sell photos of your beautiful offspring because you don’t give a shit about what Hollywood or the Celebrity ‘zines think; but grey hair…? Seriously? What’s next, no more teeth whitening?
Okay. Clooney is a good talker and is committed to being childfree and child-proofing his house in Italy would destroy its architectural integrity and… grey hair. The man seems to know what he wants.
“I’ve always known fatherhood wasn’t for me. Raising kids is a huge commitment and has to be your top priority. For me, that priority is my work. That’s why I’ll never get married again.”
- George Clooney – career before kids (heatworld.com)
- “Gallery: Ten Celebrities Give Their Reasons For Being Childless By Choice”
- No Kids for Kim Kardashian? (WhyNoKIds.com)
- Celebrities, WiNKs, Taboos and The Childfree Apology (WhyNoKIds.com)
- Not a Loser, Baby (WhyNoKIds.com)
- Even Movie Stars are Challenged by Parenting and Non-Parenting Roles (WhyNoKIds.com)
The number of PANKs (Professional Aunties No Kids) and PUNKs (Professional Uncles No kids) is growing and their influence on children is in the news. The founder of the auntie movement is Melanie Notkin at www.savvyauntie.com. She has an active blog and book that guides child-free aunties on all things kiddie. Notkin is the creator of the term PANK and she also owns the trademark.
From her website:
A few years ago, DINKs was the new segment marketers had their eye on – Dual Income No Kids. PANKs, while focusing specifically on women (married, partnered or single) who have no kids, is a pretty large market in the US. In fact, the 2010 US Census Report: Fertility of American Women states that 47.1 percent of women through age 44 do not have kids (check “All Races” report). And that number has been steadily growing over the last couple of decades. In 1976, only 35 percent were childless.
Notkin gives statistics on the spending potential of the emerging PANK market:
- According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 50 percent of single women own their own homes. They’re also the fastest-growing segment of new home buyers, second home buyers, car purchasers, new investors, and travelers. (Who hasn’t dreamed of taking the nieces and nephews on their first trip to Disney World?)
- Twenty-seven percent of American households are headed by women, a fourfold increase since 1950.
- Of American women who draw annual incomes of $100,000 or more, nearly half don’t have children. In fact, the more a woman earns, the less likely she is to have kids.
That means that these PANKs and PUNKs have money to spend on their nieces and nephews since they don’t have kids of their own.
A November Forbes article Raising Children: The Role of Aunts and Uncles says that many adults in childrens’ lives today are not relatives but close friends that are considered stand in aunts, uncles and godparents.
Notkin says, “The more aunts and uncles the child has, the more influences a child has,” says Notkin. “If the uncle is a fantastic artist, the child may be inspired by that talent.”
For kids the diversity of influences could be beneficial. Parents who share their kids with aunties and uncles might benefit too. And it fits with the notion that “it takes a village” to raise a child.
I’m not really an aunt, but I’m a godmother three times over and consider most of my friends’ kids my nieces and nephews, so that makes me a PANK. I just finished shopping, wrapping and mailing all their Christmas gifts. I take my role of Auntie Amy very seriously at Christmas time, and put A LOT of thought into finding the exact right gift for each child. (One gift was noisy and I’m sorry for that.) And I hope, hope, hope the kids love them! I find that books are the best gifts and still remember all the books my PANKs and PUNKs and real aunts and uncles gave to me as a child. Hope you will share your favorites.
Hey WNKers (and PANKs and PUNKs) what is your favorite book to give to kids?
From the Ms. Magazine blog Twitter feed:
“Half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended–how would making birth control less available solve this problem?”
There are some interesting points to this discussion and WNK would love to hear from our readers. Why should we pay for contraception for those who can’t afford it? Why should contraception be available and inexpensive? Would you rather pay for children that people can’t afford? Do you think people should be more responsible in making family planning choices?
“Contraception obviously is a deeply held value by American women. But the fact that in the United States a startling half of all pregnancies are unintended makes clear that birth control is used only sporadically by some. There are a number of reasons why this is so, but a chief one is that so many women cannot afford contraception, especially the most expensive—and most effective–methods, such as birth control pills, and long lasting reversible contraception, for example, the newer (and far safer) models of IUDs (intrauterine devices). In short, the same economic disparities that pervade every other area of American life manifest here as well: poor women depend on publicly-funded programs for their contraceptive services, but, according to the Guttmacher Institute, only a little more than half of the 17 million women who need these services currently receive them.”
Check out the rest of the article here.
- Restrictions on birth control hurt everyone (thehill.com)
- Editorial: Battling Over Birth Control (nytimes.com)
- Viagra 1 Birth Control 0 (whynokids.com)
- Many Women Use The Pill For So Much More Than Pregnancy Prevention (blisstree.com)
Conservative groups including religious colleges and hospitals continue to pressure the Obama White House to give them exemptions from providing hormonal contraceptives to their employees and students. But the interesting fact is:
“The Guttmacher Institute analyzed US Government data and found that 14% of adult women and one-third of teenagers who use oral contraception are on it for non-birth control reasons. Some use it to manage menstrual symptoms like cramps and heavy periods, others use it to help clear up their skin. About half of the teens who use the pill for non-contraceptive reasons have never even had sex— but all of them are sinners who are going straight to hell!” (Jezebel)
And insurance companies continue to pay for Viagra for medical reasons but not birth control. Where is the fairness in that? Bill O’Reilly famously said that birth control is not a medical condition. He’s kind of right, but that’s like saying Viagra is not a medical condition. It’s not. The very real medical conditions that birth control prevent include: acne, ovarian cysts, irregular menstruation, PMS, etc. I promised I wouldn’t get political on this blog but this is about fairness and if I have to keep watching stupid erectile dysfunction commercials on television I going to scream about inequality and sexism in 2011. Maybe if I had more affordable birth control I wouldn’t be so PMSy.
- Many Women Use The Pill For So Much More Than Pregnancy Prevention (blisstree.com)
- Many Teens Rely on the Pill for Non-Sexual Reasons (scientificamerican.com)
- 1 in 3 teens go on Pill for non-contraceptive reasons (vitals.msnbc.msn.com)
My very first teacher was so pretty. She had long brown hair and blue eyes and sounded just like a Disney princess. Ms. N. never raised her voice and she made funny faces when she read stories. She tucked her straight hair behind her ears and after school I tried to perfect her look in my mom’s vanity mirror, but I could never get it just right. I was obsessed with being the teacher’s pet and eventually I think I was. Ms. N. cast me as the sun in the school play because she loved my smile. I wanted to be just like her when I grew up.
Ms. N. even had a wedding, right at school! All the girls and boys in the tiny Catholic preschool were paired up and asked to be flower girls and attendants. I wore a cream dress and gloves to look just like the bride. It was the best day of my four-year old life, but I knew what was going to happen next. Miss N was going to replace us with a baby of her very own!
But it didn’t happen. Ms. N. never had kids and she was the best teacher ever. She recently retired after forty years of teaching. Is it possible that her role as teacher was enough to fill her life with joy? Or was she sick of dealing with kids at the end of the day? For some reason I don’t think she ever tired of being around her students and is still involved in their lives today. I always wondered if she chose not to have kids or if she was unable to have them. Ms. N. and I are still friends and maybe someday she will tell me, but I will never ask.
It is because of Ms. N. and other teachers that I decided to teach little ones. I never thought that not having kids of my own mattered, but I think it made me a better teacher. Ms. N. influenced me in so many ways, but I can’t honestly say if I am copying more than Ms. N.’s hair style by not having kids.
- Mommy Tips for Being an Effective teacher (kidsandmoms1.wordpress.com)
“You can’t just ban people because they are annoying.”
Check out the video and tell us what you think?