July 22, 2014

Childless Woman Taboo

When a woman reaches a certain age, she is expected to start thinking about having children. If she doesn’t, society demands an answer. (Telegraph)

Childless Woman Taboo

Childless Woman Taboo

Sarah Rainey recently took up the much discussed and debated February Vogue article in which Dame Helen Mirren “confronts the final female taboo“: childlessness. Like many commentators, Rainey finds Mirren’s candor refreshing in a media maelstrom prone to condemning childless celebrities (or at least badgering them to explain and justify why they are childless.) Regarding her own experience, Mirren explains that women never judged or harassed her. Men did.

[It] was only boring old men. And whenever they went ‘What? No children? Well, you’d better get on with it, old girl,’ I’d say ‘No! F— off!’ ~ Dame Helen Mirren (Telegraph)

Female childless celebrities like Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston and Kylie Minogue are relentlessly interrogated. Pregnant? Baby bump? Just pudgy? Why no baby bump? When will you become mother? Why aren’t you a mother?

“The expectation is that they [women] will marry and have children,” explains Sue Fagalde Lick, author of Childless by Marriage. “If they don’t, everyone wants to know what’s wrong with them.” (Telegraph)

What’s Right with Them

Sure, once upon a time, looong ago childbearing was an almost essential and unquestioned connubial responsibility. Make babies to chop firewood, grow crops, protect us from marauders, care for us when we are old. I get. We get it.

But one of the really groovy perks of living in the first world in the dawn of the 21st century is that we’re no longer locked into this breed-or-bust marital model. Here’s a telling statistical arc.

An ONS study in 2010 found that just one in nine women born in 1938 remained childless, rising to one in five women born in 1965. It is projected that a quarter of 45-year-olds will be childless by 2018. (Telegraph)

Who are these disreputable, irresponsible scallywags? It’s time to expose them, to reveal them for who and what they are!

“You will find them among the higher educated, the ambitious and the high-flyers,” explains [author Fay] Weldon. “They, like Mirren, have a different but equal service to make to the community. They should be praised, not condemned.” (Telegraph)

Oh.

Right. Different but equal. Ambitious, highly educated high-flyers.

Childless Women: From Taboo to Equality

A Strong Woman

A strong woman stands up for herself.
A stronger woman stands up
for everyone else. (Credit: Quoteswave)

Yet, as Mirren articulates, women are frequently derided when childless. And while she lays the bugaboo at the insensitive feet of men, it seems that she may be oversimplifying the equation.

‘s post “Childfree: All Women are Created Equal” sees women as the primary culprits, perpetuating the medieval childless taboo upon their female contemporaries.

It was mostly women who were negative about my decision… I saw that it’s often women who don’t support other women’s life choices; it’s often women’s stereotypes of what we should be and do that get in our way. (Flurt!)

We’ll let Dame Mirren and Ms. Anderson debate whether men or women are more to blame for reinforcing long stale judgments and condescension toward childless women. What is evident is that the taboo endures despite statistical shift and more widespread recognition that motherhood should be a decision, not destiny.

Men, women, society. Something is stuck. Or clinging. Either way, it is high time we move forward. There’s a bright future ahead. It is a Technicolor tomorrow where equality reigns and we encourage and celebrate diversity of all flavors. Moms respect dads. Dads respect moms. Let’s start with that! And parents respect childless couples. And childless individuals. And childless by choice respect parents. And all of us embrace and support those who wanted to be parents but couldn’t. We might even discover that it is pretty fascinating to hear each other’s stories about why we are the way we are, to listen without judging or sneering or condescending or belittling. Sounds great, right?

To all women with children who unfairly judge those of us who have decided not to follow in your motherhood footsteps, I say, “accept every woman for who she is. Respect the decisions she has made for herself. Just because her choices are not the same as yours is no reason to criticize or belittle. She is not any less a woman than you are because she chose not to have children. Women need to support one another and to encourage one another to be who and what we each want to be.” (Flurt!)

Transform Childless Taboo into Folklore

In truth, it is “boring old men” and myopic mothers who perpetuate the breed-or-bust stereotype for women. But it’s also true that many of us in the childless by choice camp perpetuate “breeder” stereotypes that offend parents. Sometimes it is unintentional. Sometimes not. Often we are just as guilty of judging and sneering and condescending and belittling. Perhaps it’s a defensive mechanism or a way to vent after absorbing yet another breeder bingo. But it is not helpful. And it too reinforces the divide between parents and childless couples.

Let’s stop. We can. I challenge us to transform childless women taboos into folklore. Trite, amusing folklore. Yes, we can.

Can’t we?

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About virtualDavis

G.G. Davis, Jr. (aka virtualDavis) is a writer, storyteller, unabashed flâneur and eager-beaver uncle. Despite two whiz-bang nieces, two superstar nephews, and rewarding teaching/coaching stints at the American School of Paris and Santa Fe Preparatory School, he remains willingly, enthusiastically and happily childfree. His WNK posts are part of an ongoing attempt to understand why. Rosslyn Redux, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks, offers a more ironic twist on his childfree adventure. He also blogs at virtualDavis.com and EssexonLakeChamplain.com. Connect with G.G. Davis, Jr. via Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

  • http://twitter.com/GloriaBow Gloria Bowman

    Excellent post! Let the taboo transformation begin. But I’m not sure about calling for choice vs. destiny. For me, belng childfree was totally destiny, something that just “was,” a part of my nature. I don’t think I ever made a let’s-sit-down-and-make-a-pro-and-con list and decide if I want to procreate or not. That would seem to lead to confusion and angst and hand wringing, and life decisions should be more fun!

    • http://virtualdavis.com virtualDavis

      Time for transformation. We can do it! Interesting thoughts on choice vs. destiny. Sounds like you could contribute a great guest post! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/GloriaBow Gloria Bowman

    And thanks too for including my article “On Being Childless, Childfree” in the related article section. You’re the best!

  • http://www.facebook.com/michelle.maskaly Michelle Maskaly

    Nice post, George!

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  • Zid

    Ha, ha!! As a woman who is childless by choice, whenever a person (male OR female) challenged or questioned my decision, they were subjected to a barrage of information about the rising levels of air, water and land pollution, overfishing of the oceans, ever-decreasing amounts of available water (especially in the American west), decaying ozone layers due to human overpopulation, rising ocean levels, the effects of ever-increasing human populations on the issue (question??) of global warming, the effects of overpopulation forcing people to encroach into increasingly dangerous areas (volcanic hot zones, earthquake zones), the effects of human overpopulation causing one of the biggest extinction events since the end of the Cretaceous, an ever-increasing level of human population forcing the development of a limited and genetically-engineered agricultural system, increasing levels of human population enabling corrupt and exploitative employers to have a burgeoning pool of employees from which to pick and choose…
    Without exception, they NEVER said a THING to me, again… [eeee-vil smile!!]