The Gateway Women Manifesto: are childless women the new suffragettes?

If you take a moment to think about it, there have probably never been so many educated, liberated women without children in their 40s and 50s alive at one time before.

Let that sink in for a moment… In the past, most of us would have been either bringing up children or already dead from childbirth. And of those women who were childless (mostly by chance but a small percentage by choice) very few of them would have had the social, economic or political power to take advantage of their freedom from child-rearing.

1 in 5 women in the UK and USA is now reaching their mid-forties without having children. Some of them by choice, many of them by chance. This is double what it was a generation ago.

This cohort of women is diverse in other ways, but many of us are liberated and thoughtful about what shape the rest of our lives will take. We are grateful for the choices that our ancestors didn’t have. However, there are some days that those choices weigh heavily upon us, days when we somehow wish they’d just go away.

I didn’t choose this freedom, we might think, I wanted to be one of those women complaining about the fact that I don’t even get to go to the bathroom on my own anymore. I didn’t choose this identity. 

Tough as being a mother can be on bad days, months or years, for many women it’s an identity into which they can collapse with relief and with a certain guilty pleasure. A break from all that evolving. All that striving. Unlike childfree women, many of whom seem to relish the non-mainstream life they ‘signed up’ for, childless by circumstance women find this identity thrust upon them. And it’s not always a comfy fit.

Katie Rolphe, in her review of  French feminist Elisabeth Badinter’s book The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women quotes a characteristically provocative passage from Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage:

“People need to feel that they have been thwarted by circumstances from pursuing the life which, had they led it, they would not have wanted; whereas the life they really want is a compound of all those thwarting circumstances… That’s why children are so convenient: you have children because you are struggling to get by as an artist—which is actually what being an artist means—or failing to get on with your career. Then you can persuade yourself that children had prevented you from having this career that had never looked like working out…

But then, just imagine for a moment that instead of (on a bad day) feeling marginalised, grief stricken and insulted we were, as a tribe to realise our collective power. To rise up together as a tribe of powerful, liberated, independent, educated, thoughtful women and say: ENOUGH! And used our freedom to make the world a better place for everyone’s children to inherit.

The Gateway Women Manifesto:

  1. Enough of the stigma around childlessness (chosen or not)!
  2. Enough of the natalist insults about our selfishness, our lack of womanliness, our freakish outsiderness
  3. Enough of our invisibility on TV, in the cinema, in women’s magazines, in the culture.
  4. Enough of the ignorant comments like ‘why don’t you adopt’ or ‘maybe God didn’t want you to be a mother’
  5. Enough of the lack of recognition of how much we (mostly willingly) contribute to fund the education and health of other people’s children
  6. Enough of the heartless lack of compassion towards those women who grieve for the children and grandchildren they’ll never know
  7. Enough of the family-friendly policies and tax breaks without some consideration of the challenges facing single childless women or childless couples (elderly care anyone?)
  8. Enough of the glorification of motherhood as the only way to be a ‘real’ woman
  9. Enough of the ‘Baby on Board’ stickers, the celebrity ‘bump watch’ and open season on childless/childfree celebrities
  10. Enough of the endless ‘miracle baby’ IVF stories disguising the truth about infertility.

We may not be Mothers but we’re here, we care, we count and we ROCK!!

So, then there’s the whole ‘label’ things.  Childfree-by-circumstance is accurate in many ways (after a while – it takes time to move from childless to childfree) but not exactly catchy – and the childfree community would rather that we didn’t adopt their label.  I respect that because many childfree adults have known all their life that they didn’t want to have children and have built their life around that knowledge. Melanie Notkin has coined the expression childful but that doesn’t work for me as it’s still focused explicitly on what we don’t have because it starts with the word child. Nomos (not-mothers) at least sounds like a groovy district in New York City if you don’t know what it stands for. Yes, it’s still about what we’re not rather than who we are, but it’s the best one I’ve come up with so far.

Yes, I know it’s annoying that we need a ‘label’ at all….  Interestingly, the suffragettes thought so too – and the term was coined by that famously women-friendly newspaper the Daily Mail to ridicule members of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Which they then reclaimed and made their own.

No one uses the term suffragette anymore. Why? Because their work is done and we accept that women have as much right to vote as men. So we don’t need the ‘label’ anymore.

What do you want to change? What do you want to add to the Gateway Women manifesto? The suffragettes had the audacity to want to be involved in the running of the country and they wanted to be treated as equals to men. What’s going to make the Daily Mail give us a bad name?!

What do you think should be on the Gateway Women Manifesto? Please comment below, the Gateway Women Global Movement needs YOU and your voice!

***

Jody Day - Founder of Gateway Women - www.gateway-women.comJody Day is the Founder of Gateway Women(UK): an organization to support, inspire and empower childless women to live fertile, passionate, meaningful lives. A qualified counsellor and trainee integrative psychotherapist, Jody runs groups & workshops for Gateway Women, and also offers one-to-ones for women looking to explore issues around identity, maternity & fertility. She speaks regularly at events and is always looking to share her empowering message with new audiences. If you would like Jody to speak at one of your events, or to write for your blog or magazine, please contact her on jody@gateway-women.com

For priority booking for all Gateway Women events, please join our mailing list by clicking here.

About Jody 93 Articles
JODY DAY is the British founder of Gateway Women, the global friendship and support network for childless women, and the author of 2016’s 'Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children'. A founding and board member at AWOC.org (Ageing Without Children), she’s a former Cambridge Judge Business School Fellow in Social Innovation, a TEDx speaker and a trainee integrative psychotherapist. Jody takes great pleasure in helping childless women get their groove back and find their tribe via the Gateway Women workshops, social media communities and live social meetups across the world. www.gateway-women.com
Contact: Website

25 Comments on The Gateway Women Manifesto: are childless women the new suffragettes?

  1. We need to spread the word esp to young women that you DON’T have to have children to be happy.
    So much pressure is put on people to reproduce and clearly, many regret it.
    That said, we all need to organize against the anti choice laws being passed and have passed. A personhood amendment for zygotes? JFC.

  2. Hi Jody,
    I am 32 and recently married to an older man with children from a previous marriage. Though I haven’t felt the drive to give birth to another human, he and I promised we would not have one unless we both agreed. So far, we’ve agreed that the answer is no.
    Compounding the social pressure to have children is the choice of my career–I have a BA in Child Development and work with mothers and children in addiction. How could I /not/ want children?!
    I cannot ride with the ‘childfree’ crowd (stepchildren plus loving kids seems to disqualify me in some groups), and I don’t quite fit in with the mommies’ group in the neighborhood.
    I took a long, hard look at my choice after reading your article.
    It feels like the right choice to me.
    You said that we have the responsibility to make ourselves into the person that we want without anyone waking us up in the morning and telling us what to do. After reading your article, I applied for my Masters in Social Work. I have nothing holding me back except my own fears and anxiety about not being a mother.
    So, thanks to you and this community, I am working on doing away with those fears.

    Jessica

  3. I dont want children i never have and i never will. Im 30 now, im also a lesbian. Ive noticed that being a lesbian tends to be the point of focus for others, when im in that box they dont bother asking why i dont want children. Its almost like they see that as the reason why. When i was in my late teans early 20’s i got a bit of hassle of my mother about it, she told me i would change my mind. She only had one child, and one day i turned around and said that if she had more children herself then she might have had grandchildren. That was the last we spoke about it.
    I dont feel bad for living the way i do. I probably am inclined to identify with radical views like motherhood is a social construct. Infact i think most traditional female behaviour is caused by fear based conditioning. It seems very easy to be a biological female and bee seen as masculine, the second a woman is no longer afraid she is masculine. Men do use and abuse the female body, femininity and motherhood do oppress women. The reason why men control women is so they can reprocuce. I cannot see how women on the mass scale can ever be equal to men, because women are the only ones with a womb. Men get angry that they are not the ones in control, when there seed is in a woman she is the boss of it.
    This is why men are threatened by female power. Its all a situation with no answer as when women take control men go breed with women from another nation who they can still control. Women in other nations who are poor have no time to think about freedom. When every woman in the world is free to make her own choices, male power can be got rid of. Women who want children can then choose less masculine men. But men them selves will see this will never happen as they continue to create wealth inequalities and wage war.

  4. Jody- if there is some ambiguity to the ..i think negative …name of ‘no.mo’s…, that IS full of the negative and DOESNT sound like a cool district of new york. .. im wondering why cant you let go of it until a more positive name can be collectively thought of? this name.. is stopping me feeling that i can be part of this.. what is mostly … i think.. a positive idea..

    • Hi Lucinda

      You may not have noticed that I didn’t use the term “NOMOS” in the recent description of the new Gateway Women Meetup Group (ie: I didn’t call it the ‘Gateway Women Nomos Group, or a Nomos Meetup, etc). I do respect that the term ‘nomo’ isn’t for everyone, and I took your personal views on board when naming the Meetup.

      Perhaps you might be interested to know that in Greek, NOMOS means “natural law”. In Greek mythology, NOMOS (or Nomus) was the god or spirit (daimon) of law. He was the husband of Eusebia (Piety) and the father of Dike (Justice). I didn’t know this when I created the term, but a Greek-Cypriot-Australian friend of mine alerted me to it, and it doesn’t seem too shabby a thing to be associated with!

      I believe that childless women deserve more respect, more justice and to be valued and honoured as part of society, and part of the natural world. We are only outcasts if we allow ourselves to believe it. It’s an ‘idea’ and ideas can be changed and rejected.

      I would be very sad if you felt that you couldn’t engage with Gateway Women because of the ‘nomos’ word, but ultimately that’s your choice. I would very much like to invite and encourage you to come to a Meetup very soon and engage with some Gateway Women, rather than an abstract ‘label’ and and see how you feel after that. What we all have in common is that we wanted (or want) to be mothers but it either hasn’t happened or is looking a bit iffy. But that bonds us in ways that are not dissimilar to motherhood – because we understand the unspoken challenges of our lifepath in a way that parents find (mostly) impossible. There are mothers who ‘get’ it, and I’m grateful that some of them are my friends, but in general, I don’t need to say HERE how little respect, compassion and understanding we usually receive.

      Sometimes, it’s can be convenient to find a reason NOT to join something or identify with it because that helps us deal with the fact that it’s not something we WANT to accept. Gateway Women is not a club any of us wanted to join, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a richness of experince, warmth, friendship and compassion which is yours for the taking if you risk getting more closely involved.

      Hope this helps – and look forward to meeting you soon! There are so many readers who live abroad who would LOVE to be in the UK and able to come… maybe you could come for them and then share how you found it?

      With warmest wishes & a big hug

      Jody x

  5. Hi Jody, great post as always. Sorry I’m a bit late in replying this time. I wish I had something to contribute to the “Nomos Manifesto”, but I do want to tell you that your list really speaks to me, and makes me feel less alone. I must have pre-menopausal hormones raging or something as these feelings get so intense, so when I read understanding words it really means so much. I like rantywoman’s list, too. I feel like these days I need such encouragement and validation. That may sound ridiculous but that is how I feel. Thanks again, Jody.

    • Totally not ridiculous. A 41-year-old childless acquintance of mine just announced her pregnancy on Facebook today– that stuff continues to be tough for me.

  6. Thank you for writing this! I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I know there are other women like me who never felt called to have children, but how do I find them? It’s not that I define myself by not having children, but I do often find a resonance and a connection with women who also have chosen not to have kids. Nomos is an interesting twist on the naming. How about “She Herself”?

  7. Oh how I enjoyed this post, Jody! And I very much like the idea of a tribe too. Your term ‘nomo’ is the very best label I’ve found so far, in that it discards at least some of the ‘non’ component, but like Sue Fagalde Lick I would love a name that was immediately meaningful to whomever-I-was-speaking-to. And most of all, a name that (as you say) is based 100% on what we are, rather than what we’re not.

    Sometimes I feel it must be on the tip of my tongue – a term like vegetarian, or pacifist, or introvert that could easily have been formed in the negative (a non-meat-eater, a non-fighter, a non-people-person) but instead has found somewhere solid to rest. But I realise I’m probably coming at it from the wrong angle. No doubt when we’ve found the solid place, the name will come.

    But in the meantime, I’ll happily drink to your call to “rise up together as a tribe of powerful, liberated, independent, educated, thoughtful women”! And I like your manifesto very much x

    • Hi Olivia

      I was very happy when an article came out in The Sunday Times Style Magazine this weekend (Sunday 6 May, p23) and used the word “NoMos” to describe women without children (it used it as an umbrella term to describe all women without children, rather than the childless-by-circumstance only, but I’m OK with that!) I’m glad you like the term. I agree that it would be nice not to have to explain it, but I think as it enters the culture more and more that wont’ be the case. I also agree with Sue that ‘woman’ would be even better… but we’re a way off that yet, and we’re going to have to make the taboos against us visible first. Unfortunately, we can’t jump to that point without walking this road first. Considering how many ‘women’ don’t ‘get’ the childless / childfree, let alone the wider culture, there’s a bracing walk ahead!

      I’m glad you like the Manifesto. It will evolve as the NoMos Movement grows, but it’s been well received as a start. Thanks for stopping by and good to have you back online 🙂

      Jody x

  8. It is interesting the way we have yet to claim our power, isn’t it? For those of us who are childless-not-by-choice, part of this is may be due to the grieving process and the toll that takes. I also think, though, that society hasn’t provided other avenues for us. Instead, as you have written, we are marginalized as the pronatalism grows ever shriller.

    I think some of the things we could be for are:
    1) connecting with each other
    2) discussion of models of adulthood that don’t involve parenthood, especially for women
    3) expanding social, travel, and living arrangements for adults without children
    4) new solutions for old age for those without children
    5) flexibility in the workplace for all adults, not just those with children
    6) celebration of the societal legacies of childless adults

    I’d like to say “more inclusion in society” by those with children, but I don’t think that is going to happen, at least not before accomplishing some of the things on the list above first. I think it is up to us to find our voice first.

    • Definitely the old-age issue should be addressed for those without children. It’s a worry for me as I’m also an ‘only’. My dream is to create an old-people’s commune – with friends or other childless folk. Not sure it would work in practise but nice idea. I’ve talked about it on and off with friends over the years but some of them have children and you would expect them to want to pass down property to their own, so they would be unable to invest that money in the communal ‘home’. I haven’t thought it through very well yet…

      • I think the old-age issue is a BIGGIE and that perhaps it is the childless / childfree who will be the pioneers in addressing this for our generation, whilst many of our peers who are parents will continue to ‘cross their fingers’ that their kids will sort this out. Our society already cannot take care of its elderly with dignity, so this may become the ‘issue’ that enables the nomos to enter mainstream consciousness.

        I too think a ‘commune’ or ‘community’ is the way to go but this masks the biggest inequality of old age, which is health. I’m pretty sure that as long as my health is good, I can earn a living till the day I die. But what if it doesn’t? My pension was wiped out in the credit crunch and I lost my foot on the ‘property ladder’ when I divorced, and in the relationship decisions I made in the 5 subsequent years (and with a blindness due to ‘baby goggles’)

        It’s fine that we haven’t thought it through yet – no-one has. Because it’s scary. But this could be where we make our mark, and change the idea for once and ****ing all that childless / childfree people are selfish, or a burden, or somehow ‘useless’. Grrrrr.

    • I love these points, because they start to move us towards a manifesto which is inclusive and will improve the lives of all adults. Bravo, RantyWoman – just love having your heart and intellect on the team. xx

  9. I do love the idea of us as the New Suffragettes! And equally love the idea of a manifesto. But I did wonder whether a manifesto should be expressed more in terms of what we are for – rather than what we are against (or had enough of?) So I started trying to rework the manifesto around that… and realised how hard it is! We all live in a pro-natalist society, and with the dominance of that cultural norm it’s really hard to come up with an equally strong alternative narrative.

    • Thanks HoneyMyrtle,
      Yes, I agree that what we are for rather than what we are against is the best form for a manifesto.
      It’s a work in progress, which is why I’d really love our whole tribe to do what you’ve done and think what they’d like to see included.
      Thinking ‘outside’ the flipping box isn’t easy, but it has to be done if we’re going to wake up the culture about this issue.
      1 in 5 women deserve better than to be marginalized, misunderstood and insulted!
      Jody x

    • I think rantywomans’ list is great and could be a good starting point for a “positive” nomo-manifesto or a good extension of the one Jody suggests. I specially love the point “flexibility in the workplace for all adults”.
      If we are to be the new suffragettes, we have to consider what we stand for when it comes to gender-politics.
      Being childless-not-by-choice really forced me to reconsider many of my feminist positions. I think the quote in Jody’s post about women wanting children just because they are too lazy to face the challenges of a career (that’s what it really comes down to) is to harsh and one-sided. Wanting a child is a need which originates on many levels of our feelings: Expectations from society, desire for sexual fulfilment by conceiving the “love child”, and I think there is a “true core” of the deep-down wish of every creature to procreate.
      BUT the aspect at which the quote aims is still there: Not becoming a woman leaves a gap in identity and leaves us disoriented what to do with our lives since we never had any other plan for our future. That’s WHY the career, artwork etc. are not our only goal and identity in life and that’s why we wait and wait for the child to come – and are confused when it doesn’t. This makes us realize a bitter truth: We are not as emancipated as we think we are.

      When I planned to have child i thought i was being very feminist about it and expected myself to keep working part-time (not full time of course) and my partner to help look after the children. That’s what all my women (and feminist) friends with children do. If I’m completely honest, that would have meant being dependent on my partner: For generating more income than me from his job (because the cost for day-care eats up the earnings of a part-time-working woman, as i can see in my friends; and men still simply earn more, EVEN MORE SO when they are fathers – whereas women will earn LESS once they are mothers) and for help with the children. I would also probably have been dependent on the state to provide/subisidize day-care at least partially and probably on my mum/mother in law to look after the children as well.

      If I’m really really honest with myself I have to admit that being dependent is the opposite of emancipated.

      Why doesn’t this evolve any more? Because we live under the dictate of the job market. THAT’s where things have to change. We need a society where it is NORMAL again for people to have a private life. Men and women, with and without children, alike.
      Feminists and social democrats lobby for more daycare but i believe that this will just enhance the dictatorship of economics over people’s lives. Family will always be a burden and that burden will remain with the women. The dilemma expressed in said quote will therefore continue for the childless as will the pressure to do the overtime the parents aren’t able/prepared to do, and the negative labelling which often leads to a questioning of the career successes of the childless as long as we can’t present that ultimate success also – being parents IN ADDITION to our career successes.
      We don’t need a pseudo-family-friendly job market, we need a society where each person is valued again for what they are and not for what they achieve or manage to balance between “careers” and “family”.

      • Mina

        Thank you! Always great to have your views here.

        In Nordic countries, they are taxed 50% and have incredibly cheap, excellent, well-staffed all-day day-care. If you are on benefits, the care is subsidised even further. The carer to child ratio is about 1:5 and the carers are well-trained, well-trained professionals and respected as such.

        Because of this, it is absolutely NORMAL for women to have children younger, and to go back to work extremely quickly. There is no mummy-mania, no helicopter parenting, no fetishisation of childhood or motherhood. And if you choose to stay home and look after the kids instead of going back to work, it’s not seen as something you do because you can afford to… you are considered to be a bit ‘thick’, and to be wasting your education. Maternity leave is split equally between the father and mother (or other primary carer) and men take an active role in the day to day life of their children in terms of taking them to hospital appointments and staying home from work if they are ill.

        They have much lower rates of involuntary childlessness than us, and a much higher tolerance of a chosen childfree lifestyle. They also have an almost 50/50 split in the labour force.

        Sometimes, when viewed from the UK/USA perspective, we imagine that all modern western societies are experiencing what we are. But it’s not so. We don’t hear all that much about the Nordic nomos, as they don’t seem to have our problem.

        This is not rocket science. It’s egalitarian, progressive and makes economic sense. Yes, it’s expensive… But by allowing ourselves to be run by the bankers, we ended up broke anyway. And living in societies where no-one except the rich can afford childcare, or women who would rather NOT be supported by a man find that that’s the deal they have to agree to in order to make ends meet for the first few years.

        Childcare and the care of the elderly: traditionally the two things that women take the largest share of. Yet I think these issues may be at the core of what we need to address in our manifesto if we’re going to shift things for the young women of the future.

        Jody x

  10. Good post! I’m not overly keen on labels per se and ‘nomos’ does focus on what we’re not. I don’t want o be defined by whether or not I have offspring. It’s tricky because some people feel the need for solidarity and a label provides that.

  11. Australia’s childless PM is dismissed as “barren” on a regular basis. There’s a lot of work to do out there, Nomos. Onwards.

  12. Here, here, Jody. I love your manifesto, and I love the term nomos, although of course we would have to explain what it means every time we say it to someone new. This is an interesting contrast to the new Childless Mothers Connect, http://www.childlessmothersconnect.com, site which maintains that we are all mothers even though we don’t have kids. Sigh. Enough of having to define ourselves.

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