This post was prompted by two of the inspirational women I’ve interviewed Caroline Criado-Perez and Joan Smith. Both were talking recently (separately) about the discrimination/disapprobation meted out to women who choose not to have children.
It’s something I’ve heard many times from women who either choose not to have children or cannot have children. They face many intrusive questions as to why they don’t, or when they plan to have children. I’ve been on interview panels where, although not asked outright, it’s definitely been part of the selection process. It’s rarely a question directed at men. I am pretty certain I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past, too. It was assumed that all women would want children and if they didn’t have them, it was probably because something was ‘wrong’. In my childbearing years it was a brave woman who just simply said ‘I don’t want them.’
Here is what Joan so eloquently said in her piece:
Not having children isn’t an illness in the usual sense, and it certainly isn’t a life-threatening condition, but fertility experts send women a hugely reactionary message. They encourage them to think they’re failures if they don’t have babies, implicitly dismissing any individual or couple who chooses to remain childless.
There’s a very basic mistake here. For centuries, the fact that most women who had sex got pregnant perpetuated the myth of a universal maternal instinct. I don’t have it and I know plenty of other women who don’t. Quite a few men, I suspect, would be happy not to have children, but couples come under huge pressure from family and friends to start procreating. What few people – especially fertility doctors, most of whom are male and have massive egos – seem to realise is that there’s no evidence for the assumption that having children makes people happy.
I have huge respect for women who resist the pressure to confirm, in any way. Let’s all check our unconscious bias and stop judging other women for their choices. Even the very word suggests a loss ‘childless women’. Maybe we need a new word to reflect 21st century attitudes. Any suggestions? Let me know via Twitter. @JaneCWoods
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Posted on June 15th, 2016 by Jane