September 2, 2017

Childfree Women Lack Humanity

Childless women lack an essential humanity. (Miriam Schaer)“Childless women lack an essential humanity.”

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?