American culture… assumes that all women want to become mothers. And the best kind of woman — the best kind of mother — is portrayed as one who puts her maternal role above everything else. (The Washington Post)
Did you get that, childfree women? You’re dropping the ball. Tarnishing the ideal. Betraying your gender.
Jessica Valenti‘s (@JessicaValenti) hard-hitting but sage op-ed, “Are all women born to be mothers?“, takes a deserved swipe at the regressive (and increasingly deafening) womanhood-equals-motherhood rhetoric attempting to drown out a century’s progress in gender equality.
“Republicans’ efforts to woo women [which] have become fever-pitch pandering as the party tries to undo damage from comments such as Rep. Todd Akin’s remark that a ‘legitimate’ rape victim can’t get pregnant and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s advice to women who object to invasive ultrasounds before an abortion: ‘You just have to close your eyes.'” (The Washington Post)
The founder of Feministing.com, Valenti’s article was adapted from her new book, Why Have Kids?, which delves into the relationship between motherhood and happiness and is described as “a book for parents who can handle the truth.” If this op-ed is any indication, Valenti doesn’t shy from the gritty and grimy. I’m adding it to my WNK reading list. Expect a review sooner (if it’s great) or later (if it’s not so great!) In the meantime, here’s a glimpse at what she explores in the book.
Valenti drops up a couple of disturbing retro-feminist motherhood bombs before offering a glimmer of hope:
In 2006, the term “pre-pregnant” was coined in a Washington Post story about a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending that all women of childbearing age care for their pre-conception health… The CDC was asking women to behave as if they were already pregnant, even if they had no intention of conceiving in the near — or distant — future. For the ﬁrst time, a U.S. government institution was explicitly saying what social norms had always hinted at: All women, regardless of whether they have or want children, are moms-in-waiting. (The Washington Post)
Rebecca Kukla, a professor of internal medicine and philosophy at Georgetown University and the author of Mass Hysteria: Medicine, Culture, and Mothers’ Bodies said at a recent seminar, “Do lesbians, women who are carefully contracepting and not interested in having children, 13-year-olds, women done having kids, really want their bodies seen as prenatal, understood solely in terms of reproductive function?” (The Washington Post)
And now for the glimmer of hope. Valenti cites a 2010 study from the Pew Research Center which found that the rate of childfree women in the United States had almost doubled during the previous three decades which amounts to approximately 20% of the female population. This is interesting and surprising, especially given how little media attention has been brought to bear on the growing rate of women opting not to reproduce.
Laura Scott, the author of Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice, says the No. 1 reason women give for not wanting children is that they don’t want their lives to change… The other reasons they gave: loving the relationship they were in “as it is,” valuing their “freedom and independence,” not wanting to take on “the responsibility of raising a child,” a desire to focus “on my own interests, needs or goals,” and wanting to accomplish “things in life that would be difficult to do if I was a parent.” (The Washington Post)
As we brace for a national election cycle increasingly drawn to divisive wedge issues we can expect to witness more placating and more pandering, but I hope that we won’t get sucked into a time machine where women are represented primarily as walking, talking reproductive organs. I hope that 20% of the US female population who’ve opted to remain childfree will feel proud and confident as they re-frame “family values” in a less Neanderthal context. And I hope that childfree men will stand up and own our half of the childfree movement. This is not about feminism, gents; it’s about humanism. Time to stand by your woman!
[Hat tip to The Washington Post for providing the source images for the much distorted and contorted collage at the beginning of this post.]