Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.
As a non-native English speaker, I usually find myself surprised at how easy words can be created in the English language. One of those words that has recently called my attention is “childless”. I have seen it all over the web in good and bad contexts and it is always surrounded by a morphological debate: Why child-less? It implies a fault, a void that may no exist for the people who are said to be childless or, on the contrary, a avoid that it’s too painful to talk about. Also, last week about Helen Mirren’s interview for Vogue quoted everywhere- another outspoken lady, could it have to do with our name? ;) – where she talks about her being asked the very same question about not having had children her whole career.
As a young woman, I have issues with the word and the whole discourse surrounding it. I have been dating Mr.B&R for a long time now and my extended and lovely family know him and so do my acquaintances. So, whenever they find me playing with one of my amazing nephews or nieces – or let’s be sincere, merely out of the blue – the inevitable question comes. And it does not come in a polite way, as in “What do you think of having children?” but something more in the lines of “you are getting older, when are you having children?”. I am known for being an outspoken person and you can imagine how disappointed, angry and defensive I get when asked, if I tell you my mom usually grabs my arm to try to soothe me. It works, sometimes, and I try to excuse myself for not being old enough, for not having a house or a job yet and the like, because really, experience has taught me that’s the easy way. Other times I say “never” to try to shut them up, when I really want to say “it is not any of your ******* business”. But apparently, that is not a polite answer to someone who is meddling with your private life, so I save that to myself, vent my anger with Mr.B&R and he tries to make me laugh at it so that we can move on, something I will be forever thankful to him.
It is not the question that bothers me, although partly it does because people do not ask me about other aspects of my life that matter to me right now as much as they do about a possible motherhood. It is the discourse behind the question, the idea that a woman in a stable relationship has to want children, because, why wouldn’t her? I am not saying I will never have children, neither am I saying I am dying to have them. But, as a young woman and as a feminist who loves working, who gets pretty good grades and feels at her best when at school (be it lessons, a meeting or just talking to my classmates and professors), I wonder what do people really think of me. And with “me” I mean what I stand for, which is a European, middle-class, white, heterosexual, young, hard-working woman.
As a feminist, I think motherhood is one of the fields where more work needs to be done because it has been culturally constructed in ways that have not proven healthy and I think it can be an amazing experience; but I’ll devote yet another Feminist Sunday to it. I am in no way suggesting that motherhood should be not talked about nor am I promoting anti-motherhood feelings; today I am just talking about being asked the question. Because maybe it is time for people to see more in a woman than a mother. And especially when that woman is young, when there are so many options in life and motherhood can come in so very different ways nowadays. What if the woman or her partner suffer from a medical condition and cannot have children? What if it is a daily struggle for them? Should they feel compelled to tell everyone asking why they don’t have children? What if they just simply do not want them? Or, what if they are hiring a surrogate mother or adopting a child? Does the “have children” in the question mean the same, then?
Extending the question out of the matrix of heterosexual couples: Would the same question be asked to a homosexual – be it gay or lesbian – couple? Would they ask the same to a single woman? Or more importantly, would they ask a single man about the possibility of adopting a child? The gap of expectations between different people, with different sexualities and different emotional situations, is huge and it is harming us a society. By setting these “standards” we are opening and closing different life paths to people depending – mainly, although not always – on their sexuality and their love lives. And it’s not fair for any of us because feeling the expectations to do something is as harmful as being told you will never have such an option in your life.
So, let’s talk! Have you experienced these kind prejudices? Have you been asked “the question”? I would love to hear from you all – men and women – and especially how your perception of this issue has changed, or not, in time :)