Motherhood is not everything in life so why is it any of your business if I reproduce? This is a concern that seems to be a common topic attached to the patriarchal control over women’s bodies. It can be through the governments’ legal control over women’s reproductive healthcare, contraception, and abortion laws which can encourage motherhood as the ideal lifestyle to be had in our society today. This allows for these invisible pressures to be put on women to be mothers.
Believe it or not, according to the U.S. National Centre for Health Statistics of 1980, by 1976, three-quarters of all currently married childless women age 15-44 years of age were voluntarily childless (Shea, 1983). I mean, don’t get me wrong, for some people it is a very rewarding experience and they would not be able to imagine their life without reproducing. And there is nothing wrong with that! YOU DO YOU! But there are those people, especially woman, who voluntarily choose to not have children. Now if you’re thinking, how in the heck can someone not have children? What else do they do in their life then if not have kids and take care of someone? Well, let me enlighten that mind of yours with reasons why some women are voluntarily childless.
There aren’t necessarily static reasons as to why women are voluntarily childless, because everyone is different and in the context of choice feminism, every woman has the choice to decide whether or not she wants to reproduce. There are however, factors and influences that have been common in research and studies conducted about voluntarily childlessness. There are situations and circumstances that can prevent someone from reproducing that is out of their control. This is known as involuntary childlessness. It can be anything from infertility with either partner, lack of resources like money or medical care, mental health such as depression, lack of a (straight) partner, and social or legal barriers regarding adoption (Shaw, 2011).
There’s this negative social notion attached to the term of childlessness as being a loss because of the word ‘less’ in it. The alternative word to use is ‘childfree.' The meaning of this language adds to the thought process of the term itself. Why is it a loss if a woman doesn’t have a child? Why are women not seen as good enough in our society when they choose not to reproduce?
The first category that helps to answer this question is that of the social factors involved with influencing women’s decisions about being childfree. The idea of the nuclear family has instilled this concept in our society that you aren't anything important if you don't reproduce. At times, it has even been considered a deviant act in marriage if couples choose to not have children (Shaw, 2011).
There are economic factors such as education, career, and geography. How much responsibility do men have in this situation? What is known is that education and career is less important considerations for men than it is for most woman when contemplating childlessness (Warren, 2013). A common conclusion through much research about women’s voluntarily childlessness is that women who have higher level of education tend to be prone to being childfree (Shaw, 2011). Or if she does reproduce, then the less children she will have. In the developing world, many women chose between pursuing a career over motherhood and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that in this day and age. In regards to geography, it has been found that childlessness is more prevalent in urban areas rather than rural areas. For example, urban women had the highest level of childlessness (Jong, 1997).
The third category of influences on women’s decision to be childfree revolves around socio-political factors such as environmental issues and governance. Overpopulation is a large topic that comes up as many people believe it to be true and therefore choose not to have children (Shaw, 2011). Many believe reproducing will add to the pressing issues surrounding global warming, pollution, and the depletion of non-renewable resources. Not having a child can make less of an impact on the earth in an environmental aspect (Shaw, 2011). Another political issue that influences the decision making process for people is the way our society is governed by law. An example of this is the US Republican Right side who to this day instil ‘traditional family values’ and have taken action to restrict availability of abortion. STILL? Unfortunately. By doing this, it normalizes heterosexuality, monogamy, the nuclear family mentioned earlier, and therefore raising children (Shaw, 2011).
Moving along to one of my favourite influencing factors of the childfree woman would be the feminist issues! These can be anywhere from the notion of choice feminism and women’s ownership of that choice (Shaw, 2011) to contraception and independence. During the second wave of feminism, being childfree was a way to show that you were a feminist, however now in the third wave, that is not the case; childfree is not deemed more superior today in most cases (Warren, 2013). Since the introduction of contraception and the pill from the women’s rights movement, women were given the opportunity to avidly decide whether or not to become pregnant. This was the first time it was possible to mass produce a way to control fertility. As a result, giving women the choice of reproductive decisions, resulting in different life choices that they were unable to make before (Warren, 2013).
Other personal reasons that people choose to forgo children is the positive impacts it provides on their life. It’s more likely for childfree people to gain a higher education and to havehigher paying jobs (Shaw, 2011). Couples can have dual incomes resulting in more money to spend on vacations and pets and can have a higher chance of marital happiness (Shaw, 2011). The quality of life for childfree women tend to be greater in that they eat healthier without children and have time to exercise.
Having children has been thought to be the only and essential way of making a valid contribution to the world. Kind of ridiculous to think that eh? There are so many other things to contribute to society, especially in 2018! There are many common threads covered throughout the social, economic, socio-political, environmental, feminist, and personal influences that provide a solid foundation for the decision making process of women in regards to motherhood. Specifically, that motherhood and womanhood were at one point the same thing… is a social and political discrimination. So is not having a child a rebellious act based on gender norms created in the past but unfortunately still relevant today? OR is being childfree the new normal because of all of these influences? Let me know what you think!
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