4482Re: Why VHEMT? Why Not Having Kids Is Admirable, Not Selfish
- Aug 18 10:27 AMThis is an excellent article.
Thanks for posting it.
From: Augie <augie1015@...>
Sent: Sunday, August 18, 2013 10:09 AM
Subject: Why VHEMT? Why Not Having Kids Is Admirable, Not Selfish
Why Not Having Kids Is Admirable, Not Selfish
By Jill Filipovic 
August 16, 2013
To the child-free women out there: thank you.
Contrary to popular media narratives and the critiques of those concerned about the continued supremacy of the white race, women who don't have children  are not selfish, emotionally stunted or inadequately grown-up. In fact, they're the opposite: they're women with the self-knowledge and maturity to buck enormous social pressure and choose a life that's right for them.
The increased visibility and acceptance of women who choose not to have children is just one part of a social evolution away from the limited "traditional family" model, and into a world where human beings with a diversity of needs can create family arrangements that work for them. That's not just good for the child-free; it's great for feminism  – and even better for society and families.
Bring up the possibility of educated white women choosing not to have children  and you'll be met with intense hostility. The desire to forgo childrearing is a "banal fantasy "; having kids is the only way for adults to avoid "destructive self-absorption". The photo of the child-free couple on the cover of Time Magazine this month showcases "lazy yuppies " whose "matching swimsuits reek of self-satisfied, in-your-face Dinks [double income no kids]." The cover model's smile "is supposed to communicate her disdain for her uterus and her utter satisfaction with her size-4, cellulite-free, vacation-filled life".
As for the actual words of child-free women, "the reasons couples give for avoiding parenthood are deeply, deeply lame"; remaining child-free by choice "is most definitely selfish", not to mention "anti-religion, anti-family, [and] counter-cultural". Few people make a child-free lifestyle sound more appealing than people (presumably parents) who are bitter and resentful at all the alleged freewheeling, responsibility-free fun that child-free people are having.
Of course, that same level of vitriol isn't leveled at single women who decide to remain child-free, or poor women, or women of color. Thosewomen aren't selfish; they're rational, even commendable. Single women who have kids, and women who are poor or of color see their choice to have children criticized as irresponsible or indulgent.
Yet, a married white woman saying "no thanks" to mommy-hood? She's a selfish narcissist, putting her life of fancy vacations and spotless white carpets ahead of her social and biological duty to reproduce.
Most girls grow up in a culture of assumed motherhood. I was raised in a liberal, tolerant household, but into early adulthood, I never questionedwhether I was going to have kids – it was always how many and when. That wasn't borne out of a deep, inherent desire for children. It was simply how I understood the definition of "family": of course, you have kids, just as you move out of your parents' house, and you get married, and you die. That's the natural course of life.
If you don't have kids, you're a lonely spinster, wiling away your days knitting booties for your many cats.
To see some nebulous, grainy, other potential for which there are few mainstream models and say, "I want that," takes courage and imagination. That vision is behind many of the struggles for social justice in America: a vision of a gender -egalitarian world that has never before existed; a vision of living as one's true self, including one's true gender, when you were labeled something else at birth; a vision of equal rights and opportunities regardless of skin color; a vision of public and private spaces accessible to those whose bodies are deemed outside the norm.
That isn't to equate child-free people with freedom fighters, feminists and other activists, or to say that the discrimination child-free women face is anything on the scale of systematic racism, homophobia, sexism or other bigotries. It is to say that creating new norms and models is powerful, and stepping outside the status quo often brave.
Substantial numbers of people choosing not to have children also makes clear that having children should actually be a choice for everyone. Encouraging women and men to really assess their own lives, circumstances, values and desires, and evaluate whether a child is an addition they want, not only helps individuals to make more informed and affirming decisions, but sheds light on the many factors that make reproduction so fraught.
Hopefully, it offers insight into how to make childbearing truly a choice for everyone. Recognizing that having children is staggeringly expensive doesn't mean that individuals shouldn't have kids unless they're financially well-off. It means that we need better social and political mechanisms to ensure that families at every income level can raise children who are healthy and who have access to good food, a decent education and the prospect of social and economic mobility.
Recognizing that having children is more often than not detrimental to a woman's career and professional aspirations doesn't mean that women who want to succeed shouldn't have kids. It means that we need a variety of both policies and cultural changes to end discrimination against mothers, equitably share child-rearing tasks between partners, and make sure that the value of an employee isn't measured by hours spent at the office, but by productivity and effectiveness.
And parenthood is difficult in very particular ways. It should only be entered into entirely voluntarily. There is no "voluntary" in a culture where parenthood is a required part of adulthood.
Parenthood is, at its best, also really fun (or so my parents tell me). Many parents choose to have kids not because having kids is a socially-required slog, but because the process of raising a tiny human into an adult sounds challenging, exciting and transformational. For lots of other folks, though, the very real challenges and difficulties of child-rearing outweigh the benefits.
And that's a legitimate position that should not just be accepted, but fundamentally understood without issue, since it's true in many other areas of life. I get a lot of pleasure and excitement out of trying new and weird foods; some people get pleasure and excitement out of skydiving; some get pleasure and excitement out of long periods of reclusive meditation. And others only want to eat things that are familiar, or not risk their life jumping out of a plane, or feel anxious when alone. Newsflash: people are different and need different things. For some folks, childrearing is a wonderful challenge; for others it sounds awful. For still others, parenthood is entered into involuntarily or even angrily; too often, children suffer the consequences.
Romanticizing parenthood as beautiful and life-affirming obscures the reality that for many kids, a "parent" is someone who physically hurts them, belittles them, damages them or makes them feel small and worthless. Compulsory parenthood doesn't just limit those of us who are agnostic about having kids or don't want them at all; it breeds resentment and anger toward children, who are ultimately innocent in their parents' decision to bring them into the world. And it assumes that because parenthood is both paramount and natural, parents should have enormous levels of control over their kids, too often at the expense of those kids' personal safety and individual rights.
Extremes like child abuse aside, the normalization of a child-free lifestyle would simply give us a wider variety of acceptable lifestyles to choose from. There is, of course, always peril in choice, as there is some psychological ease in just going with the assumed flow of things and accepting one's circumstances as inevitable. Choice means knowing there are doors left unopened and paths not taken; choice always offers the potential for regret, or at least wondering what might have been. But working through that, and owning the choices we make, are how we get to happiness, instead of simple satisfaction or complacency.
We all have one life on this planet. Seeking happiness selfishly, at the expense of others, isn't laudable. But seeking happiness and pleasure for oneself by making choices that serve one's needs and values, which don't harm other people? A society in which members collectively decide that their own needs are important, and that creating social structures to support a diversity of needs is a path to prosperity?
A society that prioritizes pleasure and self-worth sounds a whole lot better than one that valorizes denial, unnecessary sacrifice and general resignation at the way things are (at least for women).
The "selfish" narrative about child-free people also sheds light on many of our cultural dysfunctions. There's little angst over the many men who choose not to have children, and little social condemnation. Consider simply the difference in meaning of "bachelor" versus "spinster". Women who don't have children are particularly offensive because part of our cultural understanding of the ideal female hinges on being nurturing, emotional and care-giving. To reject childbearing pushes back on the basic assumption that women have an obligation always to make their lives about someone else.
There are 7 billion people on the planet. It seems unlikely that all of them would be inherently and necessarily more fulfilled, more mature and better-off if they all made the exact same choice – whether that's to run a business or start an organic garden or practice yoga or do any other particular thing. So, why do we assume that having kids is the universal choice of the unselfish and the personally transformed?
Normalization of being child-free is a gain for all of us, whether we choose to have children or not. It reminds us that kids are people, who deserve to be raised and nurtured by adults who proactively want to have them. And it reminds us that women are people, too – that we exist once on this planet, and we have one life in which to seek happiness and pleasure and goodness. Making choices that center on our own needs and desires isn't selfish. It's radical. It's transformational.
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Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/gender/why-not-having-kids-admirable-not-selfish
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