I wanted to post something positive today. Something cheerful. Something hopeful. Possibly even something spiritual. I’ve been feeling pretty good most of the week, actually, though my blog posts don’t reflect that at all. And on this blog, I feel like I’m “off my game” when I’m just doing what everybody else does–joining in the fray of linkage and commentary and reaction and sarcasm and “wtf-ism”.
But of all things, what I can’t let go of wanting to wtf about is this Feministing post. The main point is essentially good:
…people don’t choose to remain childless for some weird or nefarious reason. Some of us, uh, just don’t want kids, and have decided our lives will be just as happy or happier without them.
Check. I’ve spent plenty of time talking to people about the choice not to have children. Over the past few years since my separation, I’ve become more and more convinced that having children is not something I can see myself doing, ever. As a policy, I always admit that I could be wrong and change my mind about that. I mean, four years ago, when I was recently engaged, I had no intention of joining the ranks of failed marriage statistics (not how I see it now, but at the time, that was my feeling) and meant every word of the marriage vows I made. I’ve changed pretty radically in the meantime, and I remain willing to hold out the possibility that I will again change further, swing a little more towards considering whether children will fit in to my life.
Any conversation I have on the topic inevitably ends when I say that it’s possible that I could change my mind. Basically, at that point, I’ve satisfied my conversation partner that I understand that I’m just a flaky little girl, or that I’m currently bitter over my divorce, or that as I get older and start to hear the tick-tick-ticking of thirty or forty, I will rejoin the ranks of those seeking normal white-picket-fence banality. In other words, it’s not that I’ve convinced them to respect my position or me as an individual mature enough to consider the ramifications of my choices, it’s that they can walk away secure in the knowledge that they’ve won, and eventually I will come to know it, too. Probably as a direct result of meeting my “dream guy” who will sweep me off my feet, but who will (in their hypothetical) obviously want children and not be willing to tolerate a partner who isn’t interested. Never mind that first, if there’s one thing I’ve learned this past year, it’s that I’m more frightened of he who might present himself as a “dream guy” than of any other kind, and second, as soon as the latter part of that conditional becomes true (he wants children so much that it’s a deal-breaker), this isn’t my “dream guy” anymore at all (hey, they’re the ones establishing the existence of such a hypothetical standard of perfection, I’m just using their own flawed framework to point out the logical flaws in their framework).
Sorry. Getting way off topic here.
The other thing about this conversation is that people who have children or want children are making the obvious assumption that having children is better than not. Not just that it’s normal or natural, though they might only use those terms, but fundamentally better. Less selfish, as I’ve already discussed in post after post after post. Richer, fuller, more involved.
Not to mention harder. And we live in a culture that values difficulty and hard work. We resent people who we perceive as having it “easy” or making “easy” choices in their lifestyles. Feminists are criticized constantly for being nothing more than selfish, slutty bitches who just want everything their own way, who aren’t willing to give up their own desires for anyone or anything and who just can’t recognize the value of good, old-fashioned motherly self-sacrifice.
Which brings me, finally, back to my point. That Feministing post ends up referencing a passage from The Simpsons that includes a “childless activist”:
Bart: Mom, I locked your keys in the car.
Marge: Then wait in the shadows!
Bart: Also, Maggie puked in your purse again.
Lindsey Naegle: Poor me… all my purse is full of is disposable income.
See, the thing with The Simpsons is that both sides of that straw man debate are being satirized in that sketch, which is why, at its best, the show is so goddamn brilliant. And maybe I’m not giving Ann, the author of that Feministing post, enough credit here, but I hate seeing people getting smug about their choices, whether they happen to be mine or not. Sure, she qualifies by immediately saying “hey, you should feel free to have kids if that’s what floats your boat”, but there’s still the tone of superiority to her attitude–like she has access to this special knowledge of the inherent truth that childlessness is objectively the better choice.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think a conversation that says “My way is better”/”No, my opposing way is” is going to get anyone anywhere. And while I’d also rather not get involved in any kind of comparative evaluation of difficulties, I’m also mighty sick of those who assume that because I’m single, childless and live alone, my life is easy and carefree. While I recognize that children (and partners) introduce complications and stresses and limitations, many of which I am grateful not to have to consider in my day-to-day decisions, people who have families are often extremely patronizing in projecting onto me those generalizations and condescending when I tell them that I have a pretty high level of stress in my personal life.
I get that there’s a tone of shock to the note that people might just choose to remain childless because that’s what is good for them, but still–I really don’t need other feminists helping to convince people that all that condescension is well-deserved.