You’re still nothing until you’re a mom: Why does pop culture hate the child-free?
Child-free adults are everywhere, but movies like “While We’re Young” still make babies a condition of growing up
- Noah Baumbach’s latest film is a missed opportunity. I watched it with delight and glee and then, finally, dismay, as it faded into a tired cliché: You can’t grow up until you have kids of your own. “While We’re Young” tells the story of a childless couple in their 40s, Josh and Cornelia (played by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts),
- who befriend a hipsterish couple in their 20s, Jamie and Darby (played by Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried).
- Throughout the movie, Josh and Cornelia are pressured by their friends Marina and Fletcher, who just had a baby of their own, to procreate. They aren’t childless because of a lack of trying. Cornelia had a couple of miscarriages, and they decided not to have kids.
- They struggle to fit in with their friends who are new parents. Cornelia attends a music class for babies and is so horrified that she runs out of the room. Josh and Cornelia show up to Marina and Fletcher’s apartment, intending to surprise them, only to discover them throwing a party they weren’t invited to.
- There’s a division between the couple who have grown up (Marina and Fletcher) and the couple who are still having fun (Josh and Cornelia). By the end of the film, the message is clear: Being an adult means finally settling down and having kids, whether you give birth to one or adopt one.
- What could have been a forward-thinking film that shows it’s OK to not change your mind about having kids instead dissolves into an age-old stereotype.
- This is incredibly frustrating—particularly in a cultural moment in which writers are giving voice to nontraditional narratives, and people are noticing and making it part of the conversation.
- Meghan Daum’s “Selfish, Shallow, & Self-Absorbed” is a new essay anthology featuring many prominent authors on why they don’t and won’t have kids. Kate Bolick’s “Spinster” is a nuanced look at one woman’s independence, and a welcome reminder that one doesn’t need to be married (or have kids) to have a fulfilling life.
- …The condescending conversations childless women endure are an exercise in patience.
- …We live in a society where people are judged for everything, but especially parenting. My friends who are moms are just as criticized, if not more so, than the childless ones. Nothing is ever good enough. So why do we care what other people think?
- I’ve known since I was a child that I didn’t want to have kids—and that feeling grows stronger as I get older. Family members who used to say, “You just haven’t met the right person yet,” have learned to not bring the subject up with me.
- …I have no issue with moms or motherhood.
- What I do feel incredibly frustrated by is the reminder, again and again, that by not having kids there’s something wrong with me.
- And I worry that right now, there are teenagers going out with their friends to see “While We’re Young” and getting brainwashed by the same message I was brainwashed with again and again in the movies and TV shows I consumed while I was growing up.
- Where are the fictional role models who are living fulfilling lives without kids? One can argue that there are plenty of these characters in pop culture, but my point is that there aren’t that many narratives that are centered around the active decision not to have kids. It’s almost inevitable that when the issue comes up, by the end of the story the person will make the “right” decision and choose to procreate.
- …There are pressures for men and women, but it’s still particularly bad for females. As Marisa Tomei said: “I don’t know why women need to have children to be seen as complete human beings.” That’s the part that really gets to me. And that’s what rubs me the wrong way with Baumbach’s movie. The idea that we’re all (but especially females) just frivolous people who are wasting our lives away until we add to the world’s population isn’t just wrong—it’s offensive.
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