My Dirty Little Secret

2 Mar

by Emily Coccia

I have a secret. Well, it’s really not so secret. But when I tell people they gasp; they stare at me with wide, disbelieving eyes; they giggle nervously and uncomfortably shift their feet; they insist it’s just a phase.

Do you want to know what this little secret is? Do you want to know what I tell people that leaves them so shocked, even at a progressive university in the 21st century?

I don’t want children.

I can hear the whispers. I can feel the tension. I can see the confusion. Then I can predict what will come next: “But you will. Give it ten years. You’ll see.” But the thing is, I really don’t think that there’s anything wrong with my position. After all, it’s nothing more than a point of view, a personal opinion. What makes it so much worse than someone who, at age twenty, knows that she wants to have four children and has their names all picked out and ready, just waiting for the day that each one is born? What is the big difference between Sally who knows that her first daughter will be named Katherine Marie and me who knows that my first cat will be named Emily Dickinson? (I love you, Liz Lemon, even if I don’t actually want a cat.)

But in all seriousness, I really don’t understand why my position is necessarily the “deviant” one, the “other,” to put it in colonialist theory terms. Especially with all the talk about contraception, we emphasize a women’s right to choose. However, people tend to assume this is a women’s right to choose when she will have a child, not if she will have a child. No one ever tells little girls, “Just give it a few years; you may find you don’t actually want to have children when you get older.” No one ever questions this dominant cultural belief. But what about those of us who don’t think we’d actually be great with kids? What about those of us who might have a little bit of neurotic perfectionism and who maybe panic and move out of our apartments for an entire week if one of our roommates says she feels “a little nauseous?” What about those of us who can “aww” at children but don’t understand why those cute little hands are perpetually covered in some sticky substance that smells like plain Cheerios and Play-Doh? What about those of us who are in perpetual gratitude to our own mothers but would like to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into a career without feeling like we’re abandoning a baby at home? Why can’t we have that choice?

Quite often (not always) feminism is associated—for better or for worse—with women being able to “have it all” (or the debate over whether or not they can), but we tend to ignore the fact that the underlying assumption states that “having it all” entails having children. The article references The Good Wife (aka the greatest TV show ever—and I don’t want to hear about how it’s an “old person show” because that’s just fundamentally false; it’s fabulous) and the characters of Alicia and Diane. It throws Diane into the category of women who have had to sacrifice family for professional success. But let’s just look at Diane; let’s think about her personality. Does she seem like she really wants children? No. But more importantly, do we ever see her as a character who lacks something, who is fundamentally incomplete? Absolutely not! Alicia is wonderful and all, but I wouldn’t mind being Diane (or Kalinda, save for that crazy ex-husband).

So I just ask: the next time someone turns to you and tells you that she doesn’t want kids, please don’t treat her like she’s crazy. You don’t have to like her decision, but try to respect it for what it is—her choice to make.

4 Responses to “My Dirty Little Secret”

  1. Allie March 3, 2013 at 5:15 am #

    Thank you so much for writing this. For most of my life I have felt that I don’t want to have children, and the number of people who challenge this and just won’t accept it is absurd. I am constantly told that I’ll change my mind and settle down and want kids. If someone goes so far as to ask why I don’t want to have kids, they almost never find any reason I give legitimate. The reasons I don’t want kids are many: I want to be free and independent to live my life for a very long time, without having to worry about my responsibility to another person’s life in such a serious way. The careers I am interested in will likely not ever pay enough money for me to raise a kid the way I would want to. I also don’t like kids all that much aside from brief interactions with those of friends, family, etc. These are all legitimate reasons to not want children, and I shouldn’t feel pressured into having kids when I don’t want to. If we’re serious about women’s choice, women’s choice to not have children should be respected along with any other reproductive decisions a woman might make.

    • In Defense of the Dominant Paradigm March 4, 2013 at 1:00 am #

      Thank you for writing this. All too often modern Progressivism works to expand people’s options without pausing to consider what path one should take through that ever-expanding field of options. Of course some paths will work better for some people and others for others, but you cannot just tell a seven-year-old to follow the heart and leave it at that. Most kids go to school, visit with relatives, eat things other than ice cream, and wear clothes when they walk outside—all for good though often non-obvious reasons. And there are certain behaviors we, as a society, feel comfortable expecting of adults, autonomous creatures though they are. We call these “manners” and “responsibilities” and “norms.” And while there will be well-founded exceptions to them, more than mere chance worked to make them the default behavior in the first place.

      The question is why thus-and-so is the norm rather than the exception.

      In the case of having kids, I submit the following as reasons for its status as norm:

      1) Family pulls one out of oneself. While I am extremely skeptical of the historical tendency to teach charity and obedience and selflessness disproportionately to women, the solution is not, I think, to abandon those virtues properly understood but rather to spread them more evenly between the genders. For society to function, we need people to truly love one another as they love themselves and for both men and women, the relationships with one’s spouse and one’s children are a fecund ground for that kind of love. There is perhaps a reason the social norm is an act of immersion in the desires of others (having kids) and the exception is an act of immersion in desires one’s own (not).

      G.K. Chesterton, though a little patriarchal in his flavor, makes much the same point: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/chesterton/heretics.xiv.html

      2) If only those who thought themselves qualified to have kids had kids, we would all be dead by now and those still alive would be assholes.

      I also suspect that if the norm were not having kids and the exception were having them, then eugenics would be all the rage right now. Expecting everyone to reproduce guarantees a certain egalitarianism to the next generation. Anything less invites “quality control” by our social movers and shakers.

      ———————-

      Of course this isn’t to say that therefore kids are for you. Merely that, I propose, these factors bear upon the social default and bear upon any individual choice. They may well be balanced out by other considerations, but making a choice without understanding all its consequences is an illusory freedom indeed.

      Cheers.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “Watch the Falling Icicles–They’ll Kill Ya!” | Reading My Way Through Italy - March 30, 2013

    […] good! Me too!” in response to all my answers. Even though I might not always adore children (to be perfectly honest), I had a wonderful day with my little translator, getting to actually be a kid […]

  2. An Open Letter to Raylan Alleman | Feminists-at-Large - September 25, 2013

    […] God calls women to use their talents. Of course these talents are limited to child rearing and homeschooling, and if one feels an aversion to children, she should be immediately directed toward the single life or that of a religious sister, which, by your standards, means she also has no appropriate talent. (Awkward…) […]

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