Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest!
We recently had the pleasure of meeting Kimya N. Dennis, a sociologist and criminologist who has embarked on a study of childfree Black women. After posting a call to participate in her research, we invited Kimya to share a little more about her research with us and she does so in this post. Many thanks, Kimya, for your work in this area!
Guest Post from Sociologist & Criminologist Kimya N. Dennis
As a sociologist and overall inquisitive person, there are many things that I observe and would like to know more about. It is through this lens that I began to learn more about the childfree identity and community. The personal freedom to choose to have children or choose not to have children seems like “common sense” to some people. This is generally not the case. Societal norms and values, sex education, laws, and overall pressures make having children an assumed, natural, normative, and even forced part of adults’ lives. Childfree people are often pressured to question and explain their decision whereas aspiring parents and actual parents (sometimes regardless of age and life circumstances) are rarely pressured to question and explain their decision. People who are childfree often feel bombarded with institutional policies and practices that define “family” solely as adults and their children. Some people believe everyone should have biological (planned or unplanned) or adopted children. Some people believe whether to have children is a couple’s decision that should be discussed and decided with a life partner. In contrast, some people believe it is an individual decision that does not require discussion and compromise.
Upon learning more about the childfree identity and community, I became interested in childfree racial and ethnic minorities with an emphasis on childfree Black women around the world. Childfree Black women, and racial and ethnic minorities, in general, are underrepresented in the majority of childfree research. There are few studies on the impact of race and ethnicity on the experiences of the childfree. It is therefore important to give Black women a voice to address how their perspectives and experiences compare and contrast with the childfree community at large. This understudied approach also examines the intersection of race and ethnicity, gender, and age—among other dynamics. In addition to providing a much needed voice, one goal of my research is to foster understanding of cultures in which parenting (motherhood, in particular) is widely expected and encouraged. Women of the African diaspora face a range of assumptions, stereotypes, and can be treated with shock and mistrust if they are not mothers. Some childfree Black women express feeling alienated and ridiculed based on their decision. It is perhaps the case that these feelings are stronger for the childfree whose choice defies a number of norms and expectations, including racial and ethnic norms and gender norms. Despite world changes in women’s liberation, women’s reproductive rights, and civil rights for racial and ethnic minorities, there remain pressures and stigmatization of liberation and reproduction for women, in general, and Black women in particular. I posit these assumptions are based on a range of factors including race and ethnicity, gender, and the role of social institutions such as religion and the family.
The women in my study are happy to share their perspectives. Childfree Black women typically have limited access to people, childfree or otherwise, in home or work environments with whom to discuss such life choices. There is fear of being considered inept, untrustworthy, and selfish by people who either discredit or have no knowledge of these women’s contributions to the world around them. These women desire to not have to hide their childfreedom and to not be judged. These women want to live their lives in peace, just as they do not inflict their assumptions, opinions, and preferences on the parents (aspiring and actual) around them.
I, myself, am childfree. I, myself, am Black. I, myself, am a woman. I, myself, am a childfree Black woman. As a childfree Black woman, I know firsthand the “bingos” that family, friends, and complete strangers can deliver. Some people are well-intentioned, curious, and loving. Other people know very well they are being nosey, rude, angry, and imposing on something that is none of their business. I am sometimes prepared to passionately debate when people bring up children because I can predict the end results. I am therefore shocked and elated when I come across people who respectfully see it as a nonissue. They respect the right to choose and respect the childfree. Such positive encounters serve as reminders for us all to relax and “live and let live.”
Kimya N. Dennis
Sociologist and Criminologist