The conception of woman as mother continues to endure, despite the advances gained for women by the feminist movement and the increasing diversity of options available to them. Ideals of American self-determinism, while alive and strong in the encouragement of a woman to do anything she chooses in life, hit a stone wall when motherhood is expected to be among the things she chooses. The forces of pronatalism in society, in medicine, in psychological theories about women, in our religions, in the media, in the rewards and incentives for childbearing and in the minutia of day-to-day interactions between people, continue to link woman’s identity to reproductive function and define motherhood as woman’s destiny and purpose for being, making invisible or marginalizing those who choose a different path. Despite the transformation of our culture over recent decades into one of frank openness where everything and anything is discussed with abandon, silence remains on the downside of being a mother, the losses incurred in the selection of that lifestyle and the viability and attractiveness of the alternative childfree lifestyle. Motherhood continues to be glorified as the sole path to ultimate fulfillment for women, despite the growing numbers of women leading happy and fulfilling lives free its constraints.

For many women, motherhood is an experience whose rewards and advantages are deemed to outweigh the costs and sacrifices involved in being a mother. Similarly, for a growing number of women, the childfree lifestyle is rewarding with its own set of advantages which are deemed to outweigh any costs incurred in selecting this lifestyle. As women continue to make advances and expand avenues of growth, opportunity and freedom, our ideas of womanhood must also expand beyond the current limiting gender constructions which bind women so tightly to reproduction. Only when motherhood becomes an option instead of a mandate, and when a woman’s choice to reproduce is made freely in an environment where alternative paths are equally encouraged and nurtured and where the costs and benefits of each lifestyle path are presented openly, will all women enjoy the full spectrum of womanhood - and more importantly, of personhood.


Othello Cat said...

I will be interested in the responses from the academics who assess your thesis. A good friend recently completed a thesis on a similar topic, exploring the discrimination faced by childree women. The angry red-pen comments were astounding! The markers did not assess the argument but seemed to wish to enagage in debate! They failed to even acknowledge the fiscal burdens exacted upon the childfree (especially in very-pronatalist Australia) but responded with the populist "bingoes" that one usually expects from the entitlement-junkies. Yanno the usual mantra that you see in mainstream discussion blogs; taxpayers of the future, children are our future...even straw-man stuff like "if everyone did not have children...". I expected better from so-called academics. The author noted wryly, "they have inadvertently proved the premise of my thesis; that parents are willing compliant in the discrimination against the childfree".

Othello Cat said...

After taking another read of your thesis I was rather taken by your reference to Virginia Hausegger's book. I was one the childfree women interviewed for that book, Wonder Woman: The Myth of Having it All . An excerpt of that interview later appeared in The Sunday Telegraph's "Sunday" magazine on May 15 2005. While Hausegger's book was largely about her own disappointment with not being able to conceive (and hence childless not childfree) the magazine article was about childfree woman under the headline "Childfree by Choice?" and I was quoted directly. Fortunately I (and other CF women) were not portrayed negatively in the article.

There is some overt discrimination against childfree women and men in Austalia and none more so in the deliberate pro-natalist fiscal policies.

In the lead-up to the May budget, a variety of pressure groups from the left and right are demanding that our government provide a tax-payer funded 14 weeks paid maternity leave to all working mothers. This is in addition to a plethora of benefits already given including a AUD$5000 non-means tested "baby bonus" along with tax cedrits and subsidsed childcare. It has been the oft-repeated refrain from those supporting paid parental/maternal leave that Australia and the US are the only OECD nations that do not support a scheme. Some go so far as to claim that this suggests that Australia “does not value parenting” http://www.news.com.au/business/story/0,27753,24412208-2,00.html

The squirming and inconvenient truth is, currently, Australia has the SECOND HIGHEST cash handouts (as a proportion of GDP) to people with children among OECD nations (after Luxembourg). http://www.oecd.org/document/4/0,3343,en_2649_34819_37836996_1_1_1_1,00.html

Indeed Australia is well on its way to bring the world's most generous nation for handouts for people with children . http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24444063-601,00.html

With an estimated 4 out of 10 families paying no net tax (as reported in The Australian on 20 September 2008)
http://blogs.theaustralian.news.com.au/meganomics/index.php/theaustralian/comments/tax_free_middle_class) we all know WHO will be made to pay for all this. The CF.

Anonymous said...

I see no downside whatsoever to being childfree. If you are on that path, you are already rejecting cattle-like acceptance of cultural "norms." When anyone criticizes you, that's all you need to know to realize they can't have any influence in your life. People who are unkind about your choices are above all else, UNKIND. You don't need them. And family is included.

Sharonkay said...

I really enjoyed reading these articles about pronatalism and childfreedom. I am a single 40 something woman with no kids. I never could understand the biological clock nonsense. I really never felt the strong urge to have a baby, ever. I don't hate kids, I am an aunt to 2 nephews and 2 nieces and I love them dearly. I just never wanted to be a parent. It seems to be a thankless and difficult job. I like having my quiet time at home, freedom, being able to pursue hobbies and travel. I like coming home to peace, cleanliness, and quiet everyday.I also like not having to spend money on school supplies, toys, diapers,daycare, etc. It's funny how American society expects everyone to follow one path in life and have a few common goals; get married, buy a house in the suburbs, drive an SUV, have 2.5 kids, etc. Many people who pursue this lifestyle are not really happy, but miserable and in a lot of debt. I used to work for a mail order pharmacy in Columbus,Ohio. I worked with a lot of pharmacists who made great money, were married (males and females) had the nice suburban home, SUV, kids, etc. I could tell that many of them were under a lot of stress and very unhappy in their personal lives. I actually had one male pharmacist tell me that I was lucky to be single and childless. He told me that if he were to do it again, he would have never married and had kids! I think that people should follow their own dreams in life and stop following the so-called American dream which is nothing but a fantasy.

Anonymous said...

I just read your thesis and I appreciate that people are doing work in this area, and, especially, that you rejected looking at why women choose not to have children (a question we are all quite tired of) but instead turned it around and questioned the dominant social construction. I don't know if you're trying to get this published, but I'd love to see this get more airing, and be seen by not only the choir, but a wider segment of the population.