Before I had children, like lots of people, I was busy contributing to society. I created a non-profit organization to foster and train ethical women leaders, produced top-rated talk radio programs, and wrote about politics and culture for newspapers, magazines, and the internet. I also spoke on radio and TV programs about these issues. At that time, I dated, but had no interest in having children or getting married ever. But when I was 32, I fell in love. I was so into this guy that I started to wonder what it would be like to create another human with him. The idea that you could make a baby with someone you love seemed crazy magical to me, so beautiful, like a miracle. I decided I wanted to have that experience. He felt the same way.
He wanted to get married, and I didn’t. For most of my life, I thought marriage was oppressive to women, taking his name, wearing virginal white, being given away by your father to another man etc. If you’re committed, you don’t need a piece of paper. But something happened to change my mind. I I live in San Francisco, and gay people were organizing and fighting hard for the right to get married. Witnessing people advocate for something I’d always taken for granted forced me to rethink the institution. I realized that since Biblical times (and even earlier) when women were property traded by men, marriage has been evolving and will continue to. Being a part of that movement felt inspiring, so we got married.
Over the next six years, we had two more kids, mostly because making babies and raising humans is as selfishly magical as I expected. It’s really fun creating little people and watching them grow. I love my children and my husband deeply, but in no way were the choices I made generous to society. I mean, you’re reproducing yourself. And after having kids, in some ways, I struggle to keep my world from getting smaller and myopic. I long for more time to write, create, and contribute to the world at the rate that I used to.
Women are the world’s biggest untapped resource. The status and education of women is directly linked to how many babies they have. The more children they have, the poorer women are. We all lose out. Deciding to have kids or not is a personal choice, but I have a lot of admiration for people who don’t. People like you, Pope Francis, who dedicate their lives to pursuing what they believe in to make the world a better place. Don’t you think women deserve to make that choice too?
Margot Magowan is a writer and commentator. Her articles on politics and culture have been in Salon, Glamour, the San Jose Mercury News, and numerous other newspapers and online sites. She has appeared on “Good Morning America,” CNN, Fox News, and other TV and radio programs. For many years, Margot worked as talk radio producer creating top-rated programs. In 1998, Margot co-founded the Woodhull Institute an organization that trains young women to be leaders and change agents. Margot’s short story “Light Me Up” is featured in the anthology Sugar In My Bowl (Ecco 2011) and she is currently writing a Middle Grade novel about the fairy world. Margot lives with her husband and their three daughters in San Francisco.
Here is the best thing I’ve read about it, from Twitter:
Do mags ever publish cautionary 1st-person tales about men whose lives are disasters because they refused to settle down?
That Tweet was written by Sarah Eckel. A visit to Eckel’s web site reveals that she is coming out with a book next year: There’s Nothing Wrong With You. Here’s part of the description of her book:
Are you a single person who would prefer not to be? Do you spend a lot of time wondering why? Do you worry that you’re too needy, or too independent? Too picky, or too undiscerning? Too close to your opposite-sex parent, or too distant?
Funny, isn’t it? No matter what you do or who you are, there is always a pathology to neatly explain the problem. Well, I have a radical suggestion: Maybe you’re perfectly fine exactly the way you are.
Apparently, she wrote a piece for the New York Times Modern Love that now I’m dying to read.
Visiting Eckel’s web site reminded me of a post I wrote about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book: Committed on her decision to be childfree. Gilbert’s book is about being with someone but much of her book (and I think the last one in some ways, too) is also about her decision to be child free.
Reel Girl is, in many ways, a blog about parenting, yet my post about Gilbert’s happy, fulfilled childfree life is one of my most popular, most shared posts ever. Why? It makes me think that celebrations of happy childfree women are rare, too few and far between. I wonder if you don’t have kids, if you’re supposed to be unhappy about it? Or something is wrong with you, is that it? And if you’re not with someone, are you supposed to be unhappy about that too? And what about if you’re a man?
Actress Zooey Deschanel, who– get this– actually called herself a feminist publicly– responded to a question about whether or not she would have kids:
That is so personal, and it’s my pet peeve when people press you on it. And it’s always women who get asked! Is anybody saying that to George Clooney?
What is so clear to me is that when women are not valued for being single or for being childfree, all women are not valued. If women’s worth is determined by their relationships, they have no worth at all. So, I guess that’s another reason why I wanted to defend Elizabeth Wurztel. Even though, in many ways, she perpetuates a stereotype of an unhappy single woman with that piece, in many ways she doesn’t.
Here’s a re-post of what I wrote about Elizabeth Gilbert:
Best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert says childless women are just fine
The husband, the kids, the picket fence, you know this scene. Women’s biological clocks are desperately ticking. We’re on a quest to secure a man so we can reproduce, because becoming mothers will make us truly happy and fulfilled.
While childless men manage to find a respectable place in society, often with a few publicly recognized achievements under their belts, admired, or even envied, as the self-sufficient bachelors they are; childless women remain suspect, if not total freaks. They’re often pitied; people wonder at what point in their lives they veered off onto their unnatural, unfeminine paths, becoming lonely “spinsters” or crazy cat ladies.
Best-selling, childless author of Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert introduces a radically different theory in her new book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage. She writes that childless women have historically served a crucial role in society, not yet publicly recognized. These women should not be scorned but celebrated for their contributions to bettering the human race.
“If you look across human populations of all varieties, in every culture and on every continent (even among the most enthusiastic breeders in history, like the nineteenth-century Irish, or the contemporary Amish), you will find that there is a constant 10 percent of women within any population who never have children at all. The percentage never gets any lower than that, in any population whatsoever. In fact, the percentage of women who never reproduce in most societies is usually much higher than 10 percent- and that’s not just today, in the developed Western world, where childless rates among women tend to hover around 50 percent.”
Gilbert speculates that female childlessness is an evolutionary adaption:
“Maybe it’s not only legitimate for certain women to never reproduce, it’s necessary. It’s as though, as as a species, we need an abundance of responsible, compassionate, childless women to support the wider community in various ways. Childbearing and child rearing consume so much energy that the women who do become mothers quickly become swallowed up by that daunting task- if not outright killed by it.”
Gilbert points out that childless women have always taken on the tasks of nurturing children who are not their biological responsibilty as no other group in history has ever done, in such vocations as running schools, hospitals, and becoming midwives.
That’s all fine and good, but won’t these childless women be desperately unhappy in their old age?
Gilbert says no. Recent studies of happiness levels in America’s nursing homes show the indicators of contentment in later life are poverty and health. “Save your money, floss your teeth…you’ll be a perfectly happy old bird someday.”
Gilbert concedes that without descendants, childless women are often forgotten more quickly, but that the role they played when alive was vital. Gilbert calls these vibrant women the “Auntie Brigade.” Here are some examples she lists of their influences:
Jane Austen was a childless aunt.
Raised by childless aunts:
the Bronte sisters
Edward Gibbon (famous historian raised by his Aunt Kitty)
John Lennon (Auntie Mimi– convinced him he would be an important artist)
F. Scott Fitzgerald (Aunt Annabel offered to pay for his college education)
Frank Lloyd Wright (first building commissioned by Aunts Jane and Nell who also ran a boarding school in Wisconsin)
Coco Chanel (Aunt Gabrielle taught her how to sew)
Virginia Woolf (muse was Aunt Coraline)
Marcel Proust (memory set off by Aunt Leonie’s madeleine)
Gilbert writes that when J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, was “asked what his creation looked like, replied his image, essence, and spirit of felicity can be found all over the world and hazily refelected ‘in the faces of many women who have no children.’ That is the Auntie brigade.”
I’ve always wondered why people get in such a tizzy about gay people, justifying their bigotry because: “It’s just not natural.” How do we know what’s natural? Is everyone supposed to pop out babies like the Duggar family and their 20 kids? Is that “natural”? And is every “natural” thing good anyway? Death is natural. Cancer can be natural.
Women without children are perfectly capable of being happy; what they’re often missing isn’t kids, but a society and a culture that values and respects them.
To all the moms out there, thank you for working hard to continue the human race. And to the “Auntie Brigade,” thank you for working hard to continue the human race.
Read my post on New York Magazine’s biased coverage of childless women here.