It’s so much more work to have children. To have lives besides your own that you are responsible for — I didn’t take that on. That did make things easier for me. A baby — that’s all day, every day for eighteen years. -Cameron Diaz
Cameron Diaz made headlines recently – and not for the first time – when she spoke about her status as a chlidfree woman. Thankfully, she also spoke about her status as a happy woman: “I like being forty-one. I love it. So much shit just falls away.”
I say thankfully because while Diaz isn’t the only woman to – horror of all horrors – publicly declare herself to be childfree and happy, happily childfree women remain “the unicorns of society,” viewed as “dangerous oddities.”
What makes a dangerous oddity less dangerous? Unfortunately, it is apologizing for her dangerousness.
The Apology Typology
Diaz is one of a long line of celebrities regularly asked to defend their choice not to have kids. And one of a bajillion (yes, that’s a technical term) non-celebrity childfree people who face the “But why don’t you want kids!” objections on a near-daily basis. A not-uncommon response to such objections is to apologize to the objector. I’ve been guilty of it myself.
Some of us have apologized so many times for our choice that our apologies have types.
- Parents are Saints & I Kinda Suck
This is Diaz’s brand of apology. The worst thing about this apology is that it reinforces the selfish myth we childfree all know and love so much.
- I Love Kids But
Perhaps one of the most controversial apologies within the childfree community, celebrities love this one. So many examples I could cite but here’s just one, courtesy of Eva Mendes: “I don’t wanna have kids … I love the little suckers; they’re so cute. But I love sleep so much.” While I maintain – and research shows – that the belief that the childfree hate kids is a myth, it’s really not the point. Whether we like kids or not, we shouldn’t have to declare our love for them to justify our choice not to have them.
- I’m Not a Real Woman
You know that thing where people assume that you’ll never really be complete until you’ve given birth? Yeah, that’s what this apology is all about. Margaret Cho offers this version of childfree apology: “I do not want children. When I see children, I feel nothing. I have no maternal instinct. I am barren. I ovulate sand.” Cho is forgiven for apologizing for her childfree status because, well, her apology is hilarious.
- I’d Have Made a Terrible Parent
Similar to the “Mothers are Saints & I Kinda Suck” apology this one differs in that the emphasis is less on our supposed selfishness as childfree people and more on the myth of our inability to behave like functioning, responsible adults. I’ll give Rupert Everett credit for this one: “Oh God, I could never do that to a child. Can you imagine what it would be like, having your two dads coming to school speech days? And hearing those awful queeny rows while you are trying to get to sleep?“
Whatever the reason we choose to be childfree, we shouldn’t have to apologize for our choice. It’s our choice. Some childfree seem to have the non-apologetic response down pat. Others of us, present company included, are a work in progress.
We could all learn a thing or two from Dame Helen Mirren – how to age well, how to be generally awesome, and how not to apologize for our choice. I think she put it best.
“It was only boring old men [who gave me a hard time about not having kids]. And whenever they went ‘What? No children? Well, you’d better get on with it, old girl,’ I’d say ‘No! F— off!’” -Helen Mirren
You go, girl!
Sorry We’re Not Sorry
Please don’t misunderstand. I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone what they can or cannot say with respect to their own choice. I do worry, though, about the unintended consequences of some responses. Because pronatalism is so deeply ingrained in our way of thinking, even we childfree occasionally (if unintentionally) reinforce its tenets.
That’s exactly what I fear Diaz does in her remarks about her choice not to have kids. And by reinforcing pronatalism’s tenets, she apologizes for her choice, if not overtly then at least implicitly. By positioning mothers as saints, Diaz positions herself as “less than.”
I don’t mean to pick on Diaz. I’m a fan, really. I once sat right behind her on an airplane and she was ever so patient and kind with the fans – adults and children alike – who refused to allow her to travel in peace.
As a public figure, she’s in the unfortunate position of having to navigate thorny waters (waters can be thorny, right?). I’m sure she doesn’t intend to alienate us, her people, but she is also in the position of having to take care not to place herself at odds with the 80+ percent of people who are parents, many of whom make up her fan base.
As I say about childfree celebrity apologies in a forthcoming piece on Feminist Reflections, “By explaining their choice in this way, they call into question their own and other childfree women’s completeness as human beings. I’m certain that’s not what they intend but it is a consequence of their remarks.”
Let’s find a new way to explain our choice. Better yet, we could consider leaving it unexplained. Or, rather than dance around the matter with an implied apology, just come right out and say, “I’M SOOOOO SORRY THAT I MADE THE CHOICE THAT’S RIGHT FOR ME TO BE CHILDFREE!”
In some ways, the implied apology does even more damage than that sort of outright (non)apology might do. Rather than naming the ideology that’s at fault for placing childfree on the defensive, the implied apologies described in the above Apology Typology let pronatalism stand unquestioned. Perhaps it’s time for us to question to unquestionable.