As the infamous exchange between Gloria Steinem and Jennifer Aniston at the Makers Conference is getting a lot of news attention I feel a desire to speak out on something I see happening recently in the world of feminism that concerns me.
All of my life I knew that having children was not for me. I didn’t play with baby dolls, I wasn’t a teenaged babysitter and I never dreamed of how many kids I wanted, what sexes or what to name them. This was never something I questioned about myself. That was just the way it was for me. However, 10-15 years ago when I was in my early to mid-twenties and married I began to get the constant, “When are you going to have kids?” I abhorred that inquiry. For one, that’s an incredibly person decision and not something I feel that as a society is an appropriate thing to ask someone. Second, I hate the way it is worded with such certainty. It always felt to me like the real question was, “You’re a woman with a uterus you must fill it, when will this happen?” At first I wasn’t shy answering that I didn’t ever plan to have kids. Before long, the shocked stares, the looks of disbelief and the flat out responses of how selfish that was and what kind of woman was I (yes, someone actually said those words to me) beat me down to become afraid to answer. I started feeling like I needed to explain myself or give an acceptable reason for my choice. I had to frame it in a way that everyone else could approve of my life decision.
However, now, a decade later on the odd occasion I’m asked about having kids. (Unfortunately, people do still ask.) When I express my lack of desire to procreate, I rarely get a sideways glance. Something happened to change the expectation that all women should want and have children simply as a biological imperative. I am no longer being viewed as if something is clearly wrong with me because sleepless nights, breast feeding and diaper changes were never something I was excited about. While it is nice that this societal pressure has been lifted and I should be relieved and finally feel validated instead I’m seeing a new troubling trend.
I’m witnessing a bizarre feminist backlash against women who are choosing to have a family. I see glares of disapproval when a woman expresses excitement to get married and have kids. They’re being accused of not being a “strong, independent woman”. That now somehow wanting to settle down into family life is the death of self. Suddenly, motherhood and marriage are bondage and the sacrifice of the feminist ideals. If your dreams don’t involve world domination than you’re letting you whole gender down and spitting on the graves of those who came before. Why does every woman have to aim for a life less ordinary as if being content, secure and happy are no longer acceptable. You must want more! Why? I’m no more comfortable with this disparaging of women by other women than when I was being told just the opposite.
To me, feminism is about a woman having the strength of character and will to make her own decisions regardless of society’s expectations of them. Whatever those life choices may be, not just what is en vogue. Yes, fewer and fewer of my generation are choosing to have families and the generation behind us are even less likely to do so. However, I feel that shaming those women who do want a family is just as anti-feminist as it was to shame me for my decision not to a decade ago. Let’s find a way to support each other whichever lifestyle we feel is right for us. Making that choice for oneself against social norms because a woman feels it is right for her is true feminism.