Despite the common misconception that seems to plague society, people’s every decision and experience is not somehow a matter of public interest that requires opinion.
Case and point – women that, for whatever reasons, do not have children.
People (read: men) conclude that childlessness is a political decision, or a social aberration, or a biological failing, or an act of isolating oneself from the world.
A childless woman is at once labeled barren, alone, or a spinster.
While at the same time having people suggest that she isn’t settled with a family, mature, or even valid being alone. This experience is true of all individuals who identify as women that for reasons which are none of our concern, have no children.
And yet, this simple absence of a child is taken to be something symbolic.
Deviant, unexpected or comment-worthy that means it is amplified into a matter of public interest. It shouldn’t be. Childbearing is a deeply personal and hugely emotionally, economically intense endeavour and should not be taken lightly. As such, it is none of our business. Period.
What the media struggles with is the issue of how to categorise such women.
Because they cannot fit the archetype of traditional homemaker, not that there’s anything wrong with finding satisfaction or comfort in occupying that position. But it does represent a divergence from that ideal. Where, it makes clear that anything other than a symmetrical heterosexual family with children is labeled as ‘alternative’ at best, or ‘wrong’ at worst.
Just for example, the committed, married, community-conscious lesbian couple that are unable to conceive or adopt aren’t seen to be making an effort to be ‘normal’ by raising a family. And therefore it further alienates them from the social ‘default’ which has been established. That’s unacceptable, but a reflection on how children have almost become a form of social currency in the world.
Indeed, many heterosexual couples elect either not to formally marry or raise children.
Either for fears of the economic burden, a lack of interest in children, or even an appreciation for the issues of overpopulation which cause a strain on natural resources. These are valid, conscientious reasons. However the issue still persists that we feel the need to frame or contextualise childlessness in some way. Either as a tragedy or a moment of political empowerment or environmental consciousness. Sometimes, people just don’t like children and recognise that they may lack a parental instinct. That’s utterly valid.
The long and short of this piece is essentially that women have been so tightly bound up with the idea of reproduction and creating the next generation that the lack of subscription to this childbearing ideal incurs other peoples’ outrage. As if a woman is public property, to which we may all offer our opinions or labels.
Shall we briefly try to stop viewing women as either commodities or animal stock for breeding?
Indeed, the very phraseology suggests that having children is the default, and thus, to not have a child is to be ‘without’ or to ‘lack’ something on an inherent level. That’s super toxic. A woman is no less of a person for having or not having a child – they’re mutually exclusive.
In summation, I will apply the great quote from Man of Steel where Clark Kent’s adoptive mother gives him this great piece of advice: ‘You don’t owe this world a thing, you never did’.
Women: you owe the world neither a child, nor an explanation.