I came across an article today that attracted my attention, titled:
Knowing it to be a defense of women who take active steps to avoid having children, I read the article, eager to help myself understand someone with a different point of view from my own. I think my efforts to understand this person may benefit others, so here it goes.
Two passages caught my attention specifically:
“I was livid. I had asked for a procedure for six straight years with no break in my desires, opinions, or beliefs. Why did the medical community continue to deny me of my personal right to sterilization? I attempted to argue with her, citing examples of several men who were allowed vasectomies at the age of 21, but she wouldn’t budge. My anger was fueled by such blatant sexism. What is the difference from an adult man deciding he doesn’t want to procreate and an adult woman making the same choice? Why can’t I be the one to decide what’s best for my life? And why, with the advancements in healthcare and women’s rights issues, were women still being forced into conforming to the societal definition of how women should conduct their lives? Society has begun to recognize how the stereotypical nuclear family ideals are outdated, yet at the same time these ideals are perpetually imposed — harming those who choose to live outside of this box.”
“It’s been two years since my procedure. Even with the increasing number of women who are living a childfree existence, I still regularly fend off questions and judgments from people that barely know me (and clearly don’t understand me). It’s time that society stop lumping non-nuclear women into statistics, and begin to understand more than anything that we are women too. There is nothing wrong our decision to live a child free life, and there is nothing wrong with us as human beings. The decision to not have children does not make us less than women who choose to be mothers. Yes, we are all born with the biology to give birth, but we’re not all meant to be mothers. Becoming a mother is a personal decision that all women have the right to decide for themselves without external influence or societal pressure.”
The first part of these quotations centers on whether a woman should or should not be impeded from altering her body. Personally, I don’t wish to delve too deep into this subject, but I’ll venture to say that there is a difference between a tattoo and a sterilization procedure: though both are generally permanent, one alters your appearance, while the other alters your very being.
Consider the fact that gender differences have a direct connection with the role each plays in procreation- if you’re born a man, then that means that your only role in procreation could ever be the donation of semen. If you’re born a woman, your only role could ever be the donation of the ovum, and (generally speaking) pregnancy and labor.
I’m not saying that to sterilize yourself makes you less of a person, less of a man, less of a woman, etc. But I absolutely understand the doctors’ hesitancy to give this woman a sterilization procedure: it is easy to cast aside your potency to produce children, but once gone, it can never be retrieved. In the passage above, the woman bemoans her inability to be sterilized by the doctors. However, I’m sure the doctor has heard plenty of patients bemoan their inability to produce children.
-The second part of these quotations includes a sweeping generalization that “the stereotypical nuclear family ideals are outdated.” Several problems with this assertion.
First, outdated how? Are they no longer beneficial for society? Are there no more nuclear families? Fewer? Are they different? There simply isn’t enough clarity here for the statement to be accepted.
Second, given the context of the second quotation, what if we assume a Margaret Thatcher sort of meaning to this statement: that society has recognized that we need to (and partially have) shed the restraints on women to seek happiness only within the confines of the nuclear family. Now the focus is merely on peer pressure . . . how uncomfortable this woman or anyone else in society feels by having made their life choices.
Let’s make something clear: an ideology of victimization is not uncommon. Families with many kids complain that they are constantly being asked “why do you have so many children?” and “when are you going to stop?” Families without kids complain that they are being pressured to have children. Families with a few or moderate amount of children complain of pressures from both parties.
And that’s just talking about being victimized by pressures relating to your family size. No, I don’t believe that feeling uncomfortable by the pressures of society gives you the right to complain about society, and demand that it change. Rather, I suggest that we all should feel comfortable enough with our life decisions that such social pressures don’t have an effect on our happiness.
I can understand the frustration with a potential inability to find a doctor willing to perform a procedure, but this does not translate to such a generalized critique of society infringing on one’s happiness (notably, the child-less women was NOT unable to find such a doctor . . . the article details how she merely had care ride to a different doctor).
Indeed, we are all different people, and yet we all generally believe our choices to be the best for us . . . so perhaps we should simply stop demanding that society should have an ideology just like mine. No society of cookie-cutter ideology for me, nor for the child-less woman, nor for anyone else.
Finally, a word about our ability to relate.
I’m a firm believer that, at the most basic level of all, we can all relate to one another, because we all want the same thing: happiness. I therefore conclude that our differences arise merely from the manner in which we choose to pursue happiness.
The child-free woman, for example, believes that she will be happier not only if she remains child-less, but also if she receives better support and better freedom for this choice. To support her position, this woman claims that she is happy, and that the improvement of her external conditions will further improve her happiness.
A contrast: I am full-time graduate student while staying at home with my children, two boys aged 5 years old and 2 years old. They often make messes, scream, cry, annoy, antagonize, destroy, flood, hit, wreck, take without asking and generally make a nuisance of themselves. I sometimes am asked why they aren’t in daycare, if I dare have any more, or even why I had kids in the first place. And yet I claim that I am happy.
I am happy because I treat distress as an opportunity. My kids, for example, are not always fun, but all of their antics are an opportunity to grow in patience, and all of their deficiencies are a reminder that they may have learned these deficiencies from me. My children look up to me, but in many ways, I must look up to them to see my own path for improvement.
And there’s the key: no matter how miserable my condition, I always have control over how I react to it. I personally believe that the more effort I put into patience, thankfulness and self-discipline, the happier I will be. Personally, I believe that happiness is contingent upon just one condition, just one person: yourself. Because ultimately, this is the only person who we can control.
Now let me be clear: I don’t believe that everyone would be happy in my position. Kids are not for everyone, and I’m certainly not suggesting that the child-less woman ought to have/have-had children. Rather, we all have a vocation specific to us as individuals, and I wouldn’t question or criticize another’s vocation without a deep personal familiarization with that person.
I would, however, criticize several of the assertions which have been outlined above:
-It is wrong to criticize a doctor who is hesitant to sterilize you. At worst, they are merely saying: it is better to have fertility and not need it than to want it and not have it.
-It is wrong to assume that society should do a better job of supporting your life choices: being your own person means that you have enough self-confidence that social judgement are utterly meaningless.
-It is wrong to assume that one’s happiness is entirely reliant upon external conditions: not all of us have as much money as Donald Trump, but I would wager that plenty of us are happier.
As I conclude my response to “What It Really Feels Like To Be A Childfree Woman,” I readily admit that I am not a woman, nor am I considering becoming a woman. Further, I’m not child-free right now.
However, I have played many roles so far in my life: son, husband, father, student, teacher, disciplinarian, supporter, speaker, debater, laborer, employer, comedian, sympathizer, friend, peer, acquaintance . . . etc. etc., and in each of these roles, I have found that it is better to reform yourself than to demand that others reform themselves for you.