There are few things in life I’m completely sure of, but for as long as I can remember, I have known that I possess no desire to ever marry or have children. For a long time, admitting this in public was akin to taking off your clothes in a crowded building: People would gawk, act far more shocked than seemed necessary, then do everything in their power to convince me otherwise. Oh, they’d say with such aching concern in their voices, but you’ll change your mind soon. You just need to find the right person and then the door will open in your mind. But what if you do change your mind and it’s too late? Won’t you regret not having kids earlier? Why would you want to reject such institutions? Is this a feminist thing?
As I got older, entering the definitive period of adulthood, interrogations over my future plans became a near daily occurrence, particularly after I graduated university. People would ask about my job prospects, whether or not I wanted a mortgage, that kind of thing, and inevitably the topic would return to marriage and kids. As friends started to pair off, have beautiful weddings and adorable babies, some people accepted my decisions, but others took it upon themselves to decipher the puzzle in my mind that had left them baffled. Eventually, they’d give up, but always with the refrain that I would most certainly change my mind one day.
I’m now 27 and I still don’t want to get married or have children. My parents are fine with that, as are most of my family and friends. Yet casual acquaintances and total strangers cannot get over this. They try to convince me that I’d be a wonderful mother, or make discomfiting comments about my “child bearing hips”. Some even get hostile, badgering me on the apparent selfishness of not wanting to populate the planet with miniature versions of myself. One person even told me I would never truly understand what it meant to be a woman if I didn’t become a wife and mother. I immediately checked the time to see if it was 1955.
There is something about an independent woman that terrifies our society. Any demonstration of unruliness or dismissal of the narrow bondage of patriarchy still leads to a hundred think-pieces and countless morning chat show panels debating the pros and cons of a personal decision. Throw into the mix a rejection of what our culture to this day deems the primary role of women, and all hell breaks loose. To many, marriage and parenthood are seen as a moral obligation.
A recent study published in Sex Roles revealed the moral outrage that a significant percentage of participants felt at the prospect of a hypothetical couple choosing to not have children. Not only that, but they perceived voluntarily childfree subjects, both male and female, to be “significantly less psychologically fulfilled than targets with two children.” While the equal levels of scorn inflicted upon men as well as women surprised me, nothing else about the study did. I’ve experienced too much of that hostility in real life to be shocked by the abstract of scientific analysis.
My theory is that whenever I tell people about my lack of desire to be a wife or mother, too many people hear my words and think they’re a personal attack. This strange woman doesn’t want the thing that I want so she must be lashing out at me for it. Despite the evidence to the contrary, the childfree single woman is frequently perceived as elitist or scornful. Historically, they’re even seen as inherently wrong: Sad spinsters, strange witch-like spectres, the bastardization of the feminine. Some people seem far too invested in my life, even if they’ve only known me for a handful of minutes. If I ever were to change my mind - not unfeasible but highly unlikely - then what do these people gain from that? Is a fleeting moment of smug satisfaction so valuable to them?
Of course, women are damned either way: Choose single life and be smeared as somehow tainted or unloveable; enjoy life as a straight woman and risk slut-shaming or societal stigma; live outside of the heteronormative gaze and be subjected to all kinds of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and associated marginalization. That doesn’t even cover the smothering reality many women face in regard to reproductive rights and autonomy over their own bodies. Don’t use contraception because that makes you a whore; don’t get an abortion because that makes you a murdering whore; don’t keep the kids and use government assistance because that makes you an irresponsible whore. Even for those who choose marriage and children, their options and the expectations are smothering.
Power to everyone for making the choices with their lives they want to, regardless of societal pressure or moral expectations. It could take decades, even centuries, to combat the bias against childfree individuals, but it’s a stereotype worth challenging. And to all of you who still think that one day I may change my mind…