In our book, A Womb of Her Own (Routledge 2017) author Adi Avivi writes of the way in which child-free women are marginalized in our culture.
Unlike many of my peers who struggled to recruit subjects for their dissertation projects, I was flooded with enthusiastic volunteers for my study of women who chose to remain childfree. They explicitly articulated their desire to contribute to CF research, to have their voices heard, and to present their positions to the professional community. Their reasons for volunteering were remarkable. For example:
S16 said: “If clinical research were done, then people would (hopefully) have an unbiased, truthful picture of who the CF is. I hope I can help the CF and the researcher in this instance.”
S4 said: “We need to get our voice heard. It is important that people understand that there are other lifestyles out there that are just as natural as starting a family and that every lifestyle is a choice. I hope that by being part of studies that look at objective, empirical research, it will help dispel common myths that are often attached to CF women.”
S22 said: “My reason for volunteering was to broaden out the pool of respondents and to show that you can get to disgraceful middle-age being CF and have no regrets, you can still find CF love as an older CFer [i.e., childfree individual]and live life with no fear of the future.”
The dedication and commitment these women showed were incredible and turned out to be directly related to the research question that this project sought to answer—“What are the functions of Internet communication for CF women?”—because the answers the women provided showed how the Internet addressed in different ways their deep desire to be heard by others and to listen to their CF peers.
Introduction to Child Freedom
In The Baby Matrix, Carrol (2012) discusses how U.S. culture supports and encourages bearing children, using the term pronatalist culture (i.e., supporting and encouraging having children) and the social devices it uses to promote parenthood as an inevitability. In pronatalist culture, having children is not only the expected norm but considered a sign of health and happiness. Moreover, bearing and rearing children is perceived as each individual’s natural destiny. Carrol reveals myriad techniques used by media, political groups, and religious institutions to promote pronatalism. In such a culture, not having children renders one “the other,” leaving the diverse group of those who do not want to partake in parenting in a minority status. Both as the choice not to have children and, for some, a subculture that supports that choice, child freedom has received growing attention in the past few years. For example, the August 12, 2013 cover of Time featured child freedom. Yet, as Carrol points out, the childfree are not accepted as an integrated part of society, or as a group holding a place deemed equal to those who choose to parent.
Despite an increasing proportion of individuals and couples choosing to remain childfree, parenthood is typically considered an essential part of “creating a family” as well as a key stepping stone of maturity (Gold and Wilson, 2002; Letherby, 2002). Most women still become mothers, although the percentage of women who do not have doubled since the 1980s, with a slight decrease in that trend over the past few years (Monte and Ellis, 2014; Mcquillan, Greil, Shreffler, Wonch-Hill, Gentzler, and Hathcoat, 2012).
Childfree Women Marginalized
In a culture that considers parenting the key to happiness, adulthood, and normality, women who lead childfree lives are marginalized. They have been described as sick, insensitive, uncaring, unkind, aberrant, immature, unfeminine, egotistical, cold, materialistic, peculiar, abnormal, and/or unsatisfied in marriage (Calhoun and Selby, 1980; Coffey, 2005; Giles, Shaw and Morgan, 2009; La Mastro, 2001, Letherby, 2002; Mollen 2006). The decision to remain childfree is pathologized and attributed to childhood trauma, poor parental role models, oppressive childrearing, too many siblings’ childcare responsibility, and negative identification with one’s own mother (Reading and Amatea, 1986, as cited in Hird and Abshoff, 2000).
In fact, being dismissed and criticized when talking about one’s child freedom is so common that it has a term in the childfree community: “getting bingoed.” The phrase was coined when a humoristic bingo board (West, 2006) was published online, making light of the frequency with which childfree people encounter unpleasant reactions when sharing that they do not want children. Instead of numbers to be matched from randomly drawn balls, CF people could collect dismissive statements plotted on the board, such as “You will regret it,” “Only selfish people don’t want children,” “If everyone thought like you, the human race will be extinct,” “Children are the future,” and “Who will take care of you when you’re old?”
Calhoun L., & Selby, J. (1980). Voluntary Childlessness, Involuntary Childlessness, and Having Children: A Study of Social Perceptions (Book Review). Family Relations, 29(2), 181.
Carrol, L. (2012). The Baby Matrix: Why Freeing Our Minds From Outmoded Thinking About Parenthood & Reproduction Will Create a Better World. Live True Books, http//livetruebooks.com
Coffey, K. (2005). Selected factors related to a childfree woman’s decision to remain childfree and her self-identified sexual orientation. Dissertation Abstracts International, 66.
Giles, D., Shaw, R., & Morgan, W. (2009). Representations of voluntary childlessness in the UK press, 1990-2008. Journal of Health Psychology, 14(8), 1218-1228.
Gold, J., & Wilson, J. (2002). Legitimizing the child-free family: The role of the family counselor. The Family Journal, 10(1), 70-74.
La Mastro,V. (2001). Childless by choice? Attributions and attitudes concerning family size. Social Behavior and Personality, 29, 231–244.
Letherby, G. (2002). Childless and bereft? Stereotypes and realities in relation to ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ childlessness and womanhood. Sociological Inquiry, 72(1), 7-20.
Mcquillan. J., Greil. A., Shreffler. K., Wonch-Hill. P., Gentzler. K., & Hathcoat. J. (2012). Does the Reason Matter? Variation in Childlessness Concerns among U.S. Women. Journal of Marriage and Family. 74(5), 1166–1181.
Mollen, D. (2006). Voluntarily childfree women: Experiences and counseling considerations. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 28(3), 269-282.
Monte, L & Ellis, R. (2012) Fertility of Women in the United States: 2012 – Population Characteristics. U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration U.S. CENSUS BUREAU. Retrieved from: census.govhttp://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p20-575.pdf
West. K. (2006). The Breeder Bingo Card. The Seven Deadly Sinners: A Seven Headed Art Beast. Retrieved from: http://7deadlysinners.typepad.com/sinners/2006/04/breeder_bingo_c.html