Women Do Not Need ‘Reasons’ for Being Single or Childless
by Jen Doll, June 5, 2012
There are a couple of articles circulating today that have this writer feeling ranty, not because of the articles themselves, per se, but because of what they indicate about the world in which women currently live. The first of these posts is on Jezebel. It’s written by Samhita Mukhopadhyay, executive editor of Feministing, and it’s titled “Ten Very Good Reasons You Aren’t Married Yet.” The second is a piece in Slate responding to a(n unsurprising) Katie Roiphe piece saying that the decision not to have kids is still taboo. In this new article, titled “I Don’t Want to Have Children: I’m not even sure I have a biological clock,” Soraya Roberts explains how she feels about not having kids or even knowing she wants to at the ripe old age of 32, and Double X invites readers to share their own tales of why they have happily decided not to have babies.
All well and good, right? Women should feel free not to have babies, or not to get married, as they see fit. That’s the mark of a progressive society! Except, if that’s the case, why do we have to keep talking, talking, talking about it? And why do these kinds of articles pop up again and again for women, who need (someone has decided) to remind themselves repeatedly of why their decision is OK, even good. Really, really, it is! We promise! Thus, on a platter for your unmarried, child-free self are another set of reasons why; print them out, stick them to your sad-sack single-lady fridge, keep them handy for when that neighbor across the Thanksgiving table asks your mom what’s wrong with you that you’re not married and having kids already. Because it would be too much to say, simply, that’s not what I’m doing. Or to refuse to acknowledge the question.
Therein lies the problem with these articles. Why do women feel the need to explain themselves (womansplain?) over and over again when questions about marriage or having children come up? Why this incessant need to announce to the world, especially if they are writers, “I did this right, even if I did it differently! I may be a total weirdo, but my choice is valid, too!” Who’s the last childless, unmarried dude who has done that?
I can’t place all the blame on the writers of such pieces, though, nor can I fully blame the publications that put them out there (such pieces seem to do pretty well, after all, which is a how-the-sausage-is-made reason they keep getting written). But what we can fault is the world in which women live, that it has not progressed so very much indeed if we have to keep reading this stuff. Even as we make some strides toward gender equality, there are many, many places in which we are not so—journalism and health care are just a few that we’ve been talking about a lot lately.
But beneath those topical areas, there’s also this persistent blanket assumption about women: That they do want to get married. And that they do want to have kids. Those two things seem to inform all else. The fact is, many women do want those things, and that’s great, but there are some who don’t—according to a Pew Research report from 2010, “nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child.” Yet even after acknowledging this, that people may make different choices about they want to do with their lives [clouds part! angels sing!], women writers and magazines and websites continue to pander to society’s default expectations about women with articles reminding us of why it’s OK we haven’t done that (yet) or might not want to at all. We accept and even embrace these pieces about women as empowering, even though we would likely find them hopelessly outmoded if they were about other aspects of the life a woman has decided to lead: “Ten Very Good Reasons I Decided to Use Birth Control,” for example, or “I Don’t Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Wife: I’m not even sure I even like cleaning.”
And, since when, just because people continue to ask these questions about women and marriage and children (showcasing their small-mindedness, not ours), do we have to formulate serious responses to them? Frankly, I think we’ve come far enough that we can stop needing excuses, no matter how “very good” Mukhopadhyay’s reasons—careers and standards among them—for not yet being hitched are (the fact that a reason for not getting married might be considered “bad” is also inherently problematic here).
By accepting that these are the natural, expected states for women of a certain age, we are complicit in upholding these stereotypical norms. By offering reasons for why women might be otherwise, we’re just continuing to have the same old conversation, saturated as it is in traditional values and expectations.
I do appreciate, however, that Mukhopadhyay is trying to offer up an alternative to the yucky, oft-woman-shaming advice proffered by dating advice books, and to remind people that not everyone wants to get married. Similarly, Roberts’ piece reminds women that they can be different, it’s OK to not desperately crave babies, you’re not a total freak if that’s the case.
But wouldn’t it be ever the more empowering if we didn’t have to have such justifying articles at all? Imagine a world in which if women were asked why they weren’t married or didn’t have kids, they simply shrugged their shoulders and said, no excuses, no reasons why: “Not into it,” “I didn’t want to,” or, someday, maybe even, “That’s a weird question…why in the world do you ask?”