Last weekend the Women’s March took place in cities around the world. People of all cultures gathered in an effort to bring discussions about discrimination to the forefront. I am writing to shed light on an often subtle form of discrimination that continues to take place in society today.
In a 2009 working paper titled Voluntary childlessness and being Childfree, Dr. Basten reminds readers of a 1960 study conducted by Rainwater and Weinstein concluding that of 96 American men and women surveyed “there was an almost universal rejection of women – not couples – who wanted to remain childless.” It is often stated that acceptance of childfree women has increased over that past few decades. Although the intentional choice to remain childfree has become increasingly common, society continues to view parenthood as the acceptable norm and childfree women as “less than.”
A 2005-2006 study examined the perceptions university students hold towards heterosexual couples with and without children (Koropeckyj-Cox, et al., 2015). The results indicated that compared to parents, childless adults – especially women – continue to be perceived as less warm and more emotionally troubled. This perception can lead to sometimes subtle and oftentimes overt judgment toward childfree women.
When a woman declares that she has decided not to have children, she’s confronted by a range of responses. The most common response might be reassurance that she’ll change her mind. There might also be disapproving glances from other women who have chosen a different path for themselves. While someone might support her, more often she’ll face questions about why she would ever make such a choice. These reactions can tap into the vulnerability of being a woman leaving her feeling ashamed, confused, and unsure of her own inner knowing.
The decision to remain childless is a personal one. It’s a choice that can be emotionally difficult for some and matter-of-fact for others. In either case, it is a private journey that can stir the deepest of emotions and impact the most precious of relationships. Even today as childfree women continue to grow in numbers, the impact of society’s expectations on a woman’s individual choice continue to lead to unwarranted confusion and pain.
Without a doubt, it is a privilege to live in a time and place where one can make the choice to raise a child or not. Women of decades past have fought tirelessly for this choice and for equal rights for women around the globe. This privilege, however, continues to come with the possibility of societal judgment and emotional and psychological pain. The question remains, when will a woman’s choice to be childfree be no less valued than a woman’s choice to be a mother?