Childless and happy

The latest issue of New York Magazine has a seven page story on the longterm fallout from the Pill’s legalization in the 1960s and it’s subsequent infiltration into mainstream American sexual culture. The magazine’s cover photo pictures a woman sticking out her tongue, a white pill stuck to it, evoking similar imagery from the Sixties of young people eagerly ingesting tabs of acid. The message is, of course, that the Pill is just as insidious as all the other drugs that came out of the era; it’s ‘free love’ revolution no better than the concomitant drug craze that left my generation moaning about their parents’ addictions and irresponsibility, feeling as if were left to clean up after somebody else’s party.

The article makes the point again and again, that yes, contraception may have advanced female independence and sexual freedom, but it, too, has an irresponsible twin movement; it’s created a modern, multi-million dollar fertility industry fueled by women who delayed childbirth too long and now, in their thirties and forties, are miserable because they’ve failed to reproduce.

The article succeeds in perpetuating beloved myths about womanhood, all which spring from one essential notion: women desperately want to have children and women who don’t are unhappy.

Once you accept this basic tenet, a series of other beliefs follow as logically as a proof from highschool geometry. Women are naturally Madonna-like and possess the qualities we prize in good mothers; they’re dedicated, nurturing, and kind; their life’s mission is to find good fathers for their offspring; that’s why they seek out men who are powerful and rich and that’s why men are attracted to women who are young and fertile; and that’s why women aren’t motivated to be in positions of power and that’s basically why the world is the way that it is. Childless women are creepy, but they’re okay if they’re sad about their state.

The way the New York Magazine article falls all over itself to highlight female pain reminds me of how the media paternalistically  covers sexual assault survivors with gray dots so they don’t have to be ‘shamed’ again. Wouldn’t it be better if we had a society that actually recognized and valued those brave women for the heroes they are? Wouldn’t it be better if our culture actually valued childless women?

Bad things happen to women, but very often, they recover. Contrary to popular belief, they recover from assualt, from abortions, and from childlessness. They’d recover much faster and in far greater numbers if the world supported and valued them for their multiple roles and potentials instead of falling all over itself to celebrate motherhood as the primary female achievement. If for example, magazine covers didn’t show a woman crazily licking up a birth control pill like a tab of acid or feature multiple images of the latest starlets’ “baby bumps.”

There are also many women, perfectly happy, well-adjusted women, who don’t want kids. Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love is one of them. She writes about her blissful childlessness in her book, Committed. Gilbert, successful and talented, is widely criticized for her self-absorption.

But here’s a crazy idea: having kids is actually just about the most selfish act (read un-idealized-feminine) a human can engage in. Rapidly growing world population issues aside, we have children because we think it will make our own lives more fulfilling; we want to create another human being with someone we love; or we are seeking immortality by continuing our gene pools. That selfishness isn’t bad by the way. All ‘good’ deeds are self-centered. God was smart that way. We give money away because it feels good or work for causes or support political candidates because they further our personal beliefs. But as Erica Jong notes in her recent Wall Street Journal article, when women have kids, their worlds can become very small and limited, mothers turning away from the world’s unsolvable, overwhelming issues into the self absorption of their own families.

The species needs to reproduce, we all know that. Having kids can be incredibly fulfilling, and it’s great that so many of us do it. But the under-reported story is not only the well-adjusted, happy women who live fulling lives that don’t involve children at all, but a culture, still desperately lacking in celebrating women’s other creative acts.

5 thoughts on “Childless and happy

  1. Pingback: Best-selling Author, Elizabeth Gilbert, Says Childless Women are Just Fine |

  2. Pingback: Are childless women happy? « ReelGirl

  3. The post that I read is from Jennifer b. As a male, I do not nor have I ever understood the genetic predisposition to procreate that females seem to succumb to. I have always searched for a female partner who has the same desire to experience and share all that a couple can…save for that agonizing period of nine months that the female would endure while bringing a baby to term, birthing it, and the lifetime of sacrifice that follows.
    Divorce rate, economy, and a general attitude that most children are surprises anyway lead me to believe that somewhere there should be at least one realistic female who is interested in a life NOT devoted to children. There are incidentally, Other Peoples’ Kids. OPK that one can experience and maybe even enjoy without having to take them home.
    Most recently, I have seen children (all of them male children and having their own true birth father who is accessible) growing up lazy and needy, living in their parents’ (one or the other) homes forever, never venturing forth to build their own lives, never putting forth an ounce of effort, and their parents considering THAT as NORMAL. Or if not completely normal, then certainly NOT THE CHILD’S FAULT. I personally take notes from afar and within myself, I find that picture completely hideous. No true male role models and mothers who not only encourage laziness and disrespect, but also defend it. No thanks.
    I was a child once and now I choose to seek a love who wants to join hands with me and share our lifetimes together. I’ve been a father to a few children along the way. The experience was indeed enriching but certainly not anything like what I have witnessed lately. As an adult I have been responsible enough to remain childless by choice during my search for a female partner.
    I know that it is ONLY a female partner that I seek. I’m among a minority I know, but I dream of making an acquaintance with whom I can share my life and hers WITHOUT noisy, lazy, ungrateful, destructive children. The times, they have changed. But know that females are not incubators and their bodies should not be considered as such.
    So stop irresponsibly littering the countryside with children; children who might have the deck stacked against them from the start. Reconsider the bond between a man and a woman.
    That said, where exactly is the passion and romance?

    • A well considered response, this is how it should be a man and woman, Life together should be the two of you. You can both decide to have children or not but ultimately if you chose the partner whom you love regardless, then happiness is sure to prevail.

      The difficulty arises when circumstances beyond your control play a fateful hand.

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