Joy lies in the fight, in the attempt, in the suffering involved, not in the victory itself


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Childless Women - Lacking An Essential Humanity??

I found a link to this really interesting and thought-provoking exhibition on a blog I follow Edge of Everywhere. Moved by the negative reactions to her and other women’s decisions not to have children, Miriam Schaer embroidered real quotes onto white baby dresses with red thread, creating a shocking visual representation of the societal prejudice against childless women.

The artist writes:

“Selfish… Neurotic… Irresponsible… Immature… Unfeminine… Unfulfilling… Materialistic… Uptight… Deviant” — all words I have heard to characterize my decision to not have children, a decision transforming me into a target of one of society’s remaining and widely held prejudices.

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.

These pictures really touched me, as a woman who for most of her life has been uninterested in having children. I've most definitely had that decision questioned, sometimes almost vilified, even though I have the "excuse" of being physically unable to easily bear children and probably having to have had IVF or similar if I had been keen on having children. I just have so many reasons why kids can't and won't be a part of my life, not the least because of my mental illness. I have nieces and nephews I adore, but in general I find children uninteresting and irrelevant to me and my life. Why is this so horrifying to people?


XxClockworksxDollxX said...

I love this post. I don't feel the need to have children either, and I pretty much feel the same way you do. All my mates have kids now though, and my mum pressures me, everyone says that it's your job as a women to do so, and I disagree. At least I'm not having kids I can't support or that I'll mistreat right? I'm only 23 almost 24, and every single person I meet literally can't believe I don't have at least one. I just don't think I need them to be happy. Thanks for posting this :D

Anonymous said...

I can understand what you mean by saying people are horrified to find you are uninterested in children. Working at the preschool I see many grandparents and parents cooing and awing over their miracle and I just wonder if they understand this one child is but a tiny speck in existence.

It is totally fine to not want kids. In a way it is responsible. Like Patrick and I want kids but are waiting till we are financially capable. Great post!

My Black Fog said...

I have two daughters 16 & 20. Because of my mental illness I lost custody of them when they were 9 & 12. My ex didn't let me see them for 3 yrs. This absolutely broke my heart & my spirit & my reason for living. I have never really found the footing to my life again. If I could do it all over again, I think I would not have had my children. That way none of us would have had to go through what we did. My mental illness has cost me a lot in my life

Elizabeth A. said...

AMEN!! LOVE IT!! "You don't want kids?!?!?!?" No, I enjoy being self-indulgent and spending all my money on me, not college funds.

And you know what? When I'm in a a bar and my opinion comes up around men, more than a few have said kids aren't worth it. At least men will admit it.

Wandering Coyote said...

Look, if a woman doesn't want kids and has health issues that might affect her ability to be a good mother and/or knows she wouldn't be interested or good at parenting, why is that selfish & vilified? Selfish is the woman who knows all these things and does it anyway and then has fucked up kids!

Women who choose not to have children are being honest with themselves & society and that should be commended.

Borderline Lil said...

@ Clockwork Doll: You definitely don't need them to be happy! Don't you hate it when people say "You're young, you'll change your mind"?? When I was in my 20s that drove me NUTS.

@ Afton: Good for you and P waiting til you're in the right space to have kids. So many people seem to just have them without understanding the massive financial and emotional cost.

@My Black Fog: I'm so sorry for what you've been through, and I hope that you are able to get joy from being a mom even with your illness.

@ Elizabeth: SO TRUE, men seem more likely to be honest about being a parent and the hardships attached. Whereas a lot of women I know seem to blindly wish to encourage every other woman to follow their own path. I love what you have on your blog about being child-free.

@ WC: I couldn't agree more, that true selfishness is having kids without proper consideration and then screwing them up.

I'm happy that this post prompted comment, and that other women have connected with the sentiments expressed by the artist. Maybe child-free women will become less of a minority and less vilified one of these days!

XxClockworksxDollxX said...

Lol that does drive me nuts Lil. XD I just tell people I won't so shove off. ^^ I figure it's your choice, and it isn't up to anyone to nag you. If anything, it just makes me want to dig my heels in and not do it more. XD

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this! :) *hugs*

Lady_Amanda said...

Hi Lil,

Nice to have you back blogging. I can indefity with what you wrote. I do want to have children, but not right now. And I mean is thirty - one really too old not to have children already? It's like everyone I went to high school or college with has at least one kid by now! Why is our self worth defined by how many babies we can pop out? The biggest attack comes from my Mom. She says she can't see people she knew from when I was young because they are Grandmas! It's like why the heck do you have to be a Grandma to hang out with old friends? And my Mom largely blames it on my mental illness. And yes, because I mental illness, I will not have a birth child, but will adopt. But my Mom thinks the reason I am not married by now is because I am "cursed" with this awful illness! Anyway, thanks for sharing. I respect your decision that you know you don't want kids because there are a lot of people out there that you wonder, "Did they really want to have a kid?"

Hugs with blessings,

Jen Daisybee said...

Lil, I read this a few days back but didn't have a chance to comment then. I loved that you posted this. And I totally relate to your situation. I have never had a burning desire to have kids in muy life. I also could probably not physically give birth to a healthy baby. Therefore, there are no baby clothes in my future. That online exhibit was very profound. Ironically, while I was looking at the site, my boss came up behind me and said, "OHHHH you're looking at baby clothes!! They're so CUTE!!!!" which cracked me up, because she had no idea what was written on the dresses. I suspect she thinks I am pregnant or that I want to be, now. People always assume that all women want to be mothers and that if they don't there is something wrong with them. As a feminist, and just as a woman, I do find that offensive.

Just Be Real said...

Thinking about you Lil. Blessings.

Linda said...

Hi Lil,
"Baby not on Board"... what interesting art, but more so, how intriguing. I think maybe some people are prejudice against women who don't have children because through their children they have found a certain sort of meaning, and can't understand how this could not be true for everyone. Who knows! I believe it exists, and like most prejudices it exists because of difference. We are taught as little girls that we will grow up and have babies and sadly, this is the norm for women. Quite often the norm is not for everyone, and most often not for those who can think. People can be weird.
I think not having kids is a healthy choice showing you have given thought to what is right for you. At least you gave it thought! Unlike many women who have kids just cause they haven't thought about it because that is what they are "supposed" to do.

Ethereal Highway said...

I am a mother of four. I love my children. At the same time, I find absolutely nothing wrong with women who decide not to have children. You get to choose and it's nobody else's business that you do not have children. May I forward a theory? I think there is something hidden in the hateful communications of women who INSIST that other women have children. I think they doubt their OWN choice and their ability to live up to expectations. Or perhaps they have buried issues with their own mothers or doubt what their own worth would be if they did not have children. Perhaps they are projecting their own unaddressed crap onto others. Frankly, I worry about the children of women who do this.

Miriam Schaer said...

Just found this link to my work, Thank you so much for posting and all of your thoughtful comments. Miriam Schaer