In our book A Womb of Her Own (Routledge 2017)author Adi Avivi writes as follows:
To thoughtfully make the decision whether or not to live a childfree life, it is crucial that women receive the empathic support of others. However, they often find others to be unsupportive and critical. As mentioned above, child freedom is typically stigmatized. This is especially true for women (Park, 2002). Research by Durham (2008) and Donat (2007) revealed that when others react negatively to the topic of child freedom, such reactions were frequently influenced by the view that child freedom is deviant. The childfree, by acknowledging their status, were therefore at risk of being criticized, insulted, and alienated in important relationships. Park (2002) claimed, referring to Veevers (1980), ‘‘Those who are childless by choice are stigmatized by their blemished characters, while the sterile or infertile are stigmatized by their physical abnormalities’’ (pp. 30–31).
Donat (2007) found that, despite some openness to challenging the pronatalist dogma in Israeli media, her subjects still found little room to publicly discuss their childfree identity: “While the subjects in this study describe their choice not to be parents, as producing a tremendous amount of freedom in their personal life—most of them report a subsequent reduction, or even a total loss of freedom in the public arena, due to the explicit and implicit restrictions of the people around them, that point them out as ‘out of place’ anomalies” (p. 9) . Donat portrayed this group experience as “living in the closet,” and the discussion with others who comply with the pronatalist hegemony in Israel as a “coming out” process. Durham (2008) reported similar wording in his participants’ testimonies of disclosing their choice.
An Intersubjective Psychoanalytic Perspective
“Taking responsibility for the social relations of science and technology means refusing an anti-science metaphysics, a demonology of technology, and so means embracing the skillful task of reconstructing the boundaries of daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts.” (Haraway, 1985, p. 100)
I decided to approach my research from an intersubjective psychoanalytic viewpoint. The radical notion that reality is co-constructed and molded by the meeting of minds implies a call for responsibility, acknowledgment of both privileges and weaknesses, and striving to truly see others and truly let them see us. Human identity is formed in the ongoing dance between I, thou, and the third (Ogden, 1994), the mutual recognition (Benjamin, 1990; Aron, 2001) that allows the parties in interaction to fully experience themselves in connection.
An Online “Safe Haven”
This position evoked my curiosity regarding the childfree experience of self and other. Especially when a childfree person has not yet fully consolidated that part of her identity, how could it be created, separated, and connected to others, if that part of her is unknown, lacking language to signify itself? How could the childfree play with that aspect of her identity without sympathetic others who would reflect it as a positive possibility? The answer, I found, was online (Basten, 2009). While “in real-life” child freedom remains marginal, online there are blogs, message boards, chat rooms, and informational websites dedicated to the issue, inviting visitors to discuss the topic in an environment of like-minded others. In fact, many of the women who participated in my study used the term “safe haven” when referring to their discovery of childfree online forums. From a self-psychological stance, these online venues provide opportunities for mirroring and validation.
I explored childfree women’s experiences online and used intersubjectivity and gender identity theories to discuss my findings (Avivi, 2012). I will present the core findings of my qualitative data analysis (Auerbach & Silverstein, 2003), which generated four theoretical constructs: The CF identity is complex and dynamic; Being a childfree woman influences interpersonal relationships; Childfree dedicated websites are powerful tools of communication, support, information, and socialization; and for childfree women, the personal is political. Each construct will be presented with special regard to those aspects most pertaining to clinical applications, using direct quotes from my participants.
Limitations of the Study
It is important to note that, despite a relatively large number of participants (N=29) for a qualitative study, my sample did have some limitations. My inclusion criteria were: being a woman, identifying as childfree, using childfree dedicated websites, and being literate in English. Although I believe my sample is a good representation of the group of CF women who are active online, my criteria exposed me to a very narrow sample within the Western childfree population at large since being part of a group does not necessarily mean consuming its related literature or conversing about it actively on social media sites. Possibly because of that, most of the women were self-identified as leaning toward a liberal political and social standpoint; White; had at least an undergraduate degree; and all were American, Canadian, or European. Most were also either married or cohabitating with a significant other. This does not necessarily mean that being childfree is reserved to women from within these demographic categories. It stands to reason that White, educated, and Western women might be the first wave of open “representatives” of child freedom, so to speak, possibly much as in other movements, where those who have social privilege are often the first to be acknowledged. Demographic exploration of the childfree community at large has been scarce thus far. Hopefully this will be remedied in the near future by further research, which would allow the voices of a more diverse racial, ethnic, gender, and SES groups to be heard.
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Avivi, A. (2012). Childfree Women’s Online Discussions of the Choice to Not Have Children:
A Qualitative Study. Doctoral Dissertation, LIU Post, Brookville, NY. Retrieved from: https://www.academia.edu/14178557/Childfree_Women_s_Online_Discussions_of_the_Choice_to_Not_Have_Children
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