Cross-posted from Feminist Reflections with permission.
“I don’t know why women need to have children to be seen as complete human beings.” —Marisa Tomei
In sixteen short words, Marisa Tomei sums up pretty much everything I think about having kids. It’s not for me but I understand it’s a choice that has meaning for lots of people. Whatever any woman’s choice, Tomei is right: it has nothing to do to with our completeness as human beings.
Tomei isn’t the only celebrity who’s been asked to account for her status as a non-mom. Last month, Cameron Diaz made headlines by sharing her thoughts about (not) having kids. Diaz explained,
“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.”
Other celebrities too have been asked to explain their childfree status. As a person with an embarrassingly sizable wine glass collection, I especially appreciate what Ellen DeGeneres has to say about her and Portia de Rossi’s choice.
“We thought about it. We love to be around children after they’ve been fed and bathed. But we ultimately decided that we don’t want children of our own. There is far too much glass in our house.”
I think I understand the sentiments behind Diaz’s and DeGeneres’s remarks. They also make me cringe a little every time I read them.
Both do what many childfree do. They apologize for their choice. I’ve been guilty of the same thing. I know how they feel. They want their choice to be respected but they don’t want people to get the wrong idea; they’re human! In fact they’re complete humans!
Though the choice not to have kids may be “outside the norm,” it is normal in that it is not freakish or strange.
I call the Diaz and DeGeneres versions of apology the “Parents are Saints & I Kinda Suck” and the “I Love Kids But” apologies. 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.
Kim, a teacher in her early 40s and a participant in my study of childfree women and men, put it well when she declared,
“Am I less of a woman because I don’t have kids? I don’t think so.”
Right on, Kim!
The sad truth is that we do sometimes think of women who don’t want kids as less than, as not complete. We’ve been taught to fear – even hate – women who don’t want kids. As feminist bloggers Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter say, childfree women are looked upon as “dangerous oddities.”
Though it’s still not the most common choice, the fact is that more and more women are choosing not to have kids. In the U.S., the percent of women in their forties who don’t have kids has nearly doubled over the last forty years. Estimates suggest that about half of those who never have kids are childfree, meaning they’ve made the choice not to have them.
One of the (great many) gifts of feminism is that it offers us choice – choice about how we live our lives and with whom we live our lives. Childfree women have simply chosen a life without kids. And they are complete without them.