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:
- Enough of the stigma around childlessness (chosen or not)!
- Enough of the natalist insults about our selfishness, our lack of womanliness, our freakish outsiderness
- Enough of our invisibility on TV, in the cinema, in women’s magazines, in the culture.
- Enough of the ignorant comments like ‘why don’t you adopt’ or ‘maybe God didn’t want you to be a mother’
- Enough of the lack of recognition of how much we (mostly willingly) contribute to fund the education and health of other people’s children
- Enough of the heartless lack of compassion towards those women who grieve for the children and grandchildren they’ll never know
- 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?)
- Enough of the glorification of motherhood as the only way to be a ‘real’ woman
- Enough of the ‘Baby on Board’ stickers, the celebrity ‘bump watch’ and open season on childless/childfree celebrities
- 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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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