Motherhood and the patriarchy: How society profits from judging women without children

I don’t have children. That has always appeared to be a problem for many people around me. They have

  • Tried to justify it: For example, indirectly trying to get a reason out of me or make one up by throwing at me versions of “Not everybody can have children”, “There are so many IVF treatments that fail”, “Adoption is not for everyone”.
  • Judged me: I still remember the father of a colleague at work that after a brief intro directly asked me if I had children. When I said no, he announced that I was the “kind of woman” that prioritised her career.
  • Kept track of my fertility timeline: As I was getting older, countless times I received reminders from those around me that “I was running out of time” to have children.
  • Reminded me that it’s my duty: For years, I was told/suggested/demanded that I should provide continuity to our bloodline.
  • Called me selfish: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told that women that don’t have children “only think about themselves”.
  • Diminished my pain: As I wrote in the article Levels of pain, often doctors have disregarded my pain because they judged that either it was not comparable to birth pain or I should endure it because it was somehow related to not having children.
  • Assumed that I don’t have other responsibilities: Others have thrown at me pearls of wisdom such as “it should be great to be so carefree” or “you must have plenty of free time”.

But that’s not only people, it’s also how I was socialised:

  • The Bible — I was raised Catholic — is a constant reminder that pious women’s obligation is to breed more souls.
  • Typically, wicked female characters in children’s stories — like witches and stepmothers- don’t have children.
  • We are indoctrinated in the belief that motherhood is selfless and birthing is the experience that makes you “a real woman”.
  • When we assume women should have children, we imply there is something wrong with women without children and we should fix them through advice and coercion.
  • We believe that women need a reason to not have children. We play with terms such as childless and childfree that are centred on the word “child” to categorise those women.
  • Abortion bans are easy to justify.
  • We believe that “no children” means no caring duties. For society, family caregivers don’t exist and therefore often they are not supported financially or otherwise by governments. 
  • We sugarcoat motherhood, so we don’t create the space to discuss issues like post-partum depression, miscarriage, lack of childcare support, or the professional penalty to have children.

What if instead, we thought that women that don’t have children

  • Have reflected on the fact that we’re already 8 billion on the planet and that not having children is a good remedy for overpopulation.
  • Have exerted their rights over their bodies.
  • Know what they want.
  • Don’t need your or anybody’s permission, blessing, or pity.
  • Have caregiving and financial duties that — although may not involve children – involve parents, siblings, and other family members that have physical or mental disabilities, cannot live on their own, or don’t have the financial means to support themselves.
  • They may still like children, just they don’t want to have their own.

Bottom line

My challenge to you is that the next time you learn a woman doesn’t have children instead of feeling pity, disdain, or empathy, you shift to respect.

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How does this article resonate with you?