Gender Focus welcomes guest contributor Ashli Scale. Ashli is a Bachelor of Social Work student in Ottawa, Ontario. Her professional focus is violence against women, women’s reproductive rights and youth homelessness. In her free time she works towards building awareness of the stigma and resistance childfree women experience.
Feminist discourse on reproductive rights focuses on women’s right to choose, whether that choice be parenting, adoption or abortion. But, what about women who choose NOT to have children?
( public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)
I am one of those women and wow, people can be frosty about my decision. Deciding to be childfree is not the same as being infertile because it’s a conscious choice not to procreate (Maher & Saugeres, 2007). Personally, I deliberated for several years before making this decision.
And I’m not the only one. Studies on childfree couples show that this decision is made after a lengthy, serious decision-making process (Kelly, 2009). Yet the responses I most commonly get are “Are you sure?” and “You’ll change your mind”. I am met with disbelief, criticism and perceived regret. You may not realize it, but responding in such a way is not “harmless” – it is patronizing and infantilizing (Kelly, 2009).
Stigma and stereotypes about childfree couples are surprisingly common. I have been called selfish, callous and cold for my choice (because of course, no one has ever known a selfish, callous or cold mother, right Freud?). People often ask “Why do you hate children?” and look at me like I’m the witch straight out of Hansel & Gretel. The truth is, I love children – other people’s children!
Another common assumption I hear about childfree women is that they must have had a terrible childhood or poor relationships with their parents. I love my parents and spent my childhood baking cookies and making snow angels. There’s no link for me.
Sometimes parents feel as though I’m attacking their decision to have kids by choosing something different. When a parent is defensive or snippy with me, I just remind them that my decision to be childfree has nothing to do with their choice. If that’s the life you want, kudos. It’s not the life I want so I’m just asking for the same kudos back.
All I really want is my choice to be respected just as I respect others’ choices, whatever they may be. The bottom line is that if we can’t respect the choice to be childfree we are undermining a woman’s right to choose.
*Side note: Many childfree support groups and blogs have a problem with people choosing to be childfree and changing their minds. I don’t agree with this. If you want your choice to be respected then you must also respect an individual’s right to change their mind. Just saying.
Want to Learn More?
This blog has been around since 2008 and has excellent discussions about many topics surrounding the choice to be childfree. Topics include how childfree women are perceived in other countries, birth control access and current childfree trends.
Complete Without Kids is a blog written by Ellen L. Walker, Ph.D. Ellen touches on a variety of important topics such as myths about childfree women, childfree dating, family-focused holidays and childfree celebrities.
Kelly, Maura. (2009). Women’s Voluntary Childlessness: A Radical Rejection of Motherhood? Women’s Studies Quarterly, 37 (3 & 4), pg. 157-172.
Maher, Jane Maree & Saugeres, Lisa. (2007). To Be or Not To Be a Mother: Women Negotiating Cultural Representations of Mothering. Journal of Sociology, 43 (1), pg. 5-21.