Monday, June 26, 2017

What We Get Wrong About Women Who Don't Have Kids

Refinery 29
considered this subject. In 2015, Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum edited the collection Selfish, Shallow, and Self Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on The Decision Not To Have Kids, which included essays from Anna Holmes, Kate Christensen, Lionel Shriver, and Geoff Dyer. And although Daum has become a major face of the childfree movement, she isn’t a fan of the word itself. “I am sort of allergic to jargon, and it sounds like jargon,” she said over the phone from her home in L.A. “‘Childfree by choice’ is redundant.” Daum refers to herself as “childless by choice,” but she finds the phrase cumbersome and would rather keep working toward finding a sharper, snappier term. (She likes "barrenness," because it sounds like “baroness.")
Ultimately, we're each going to find what terminology, or lack thereof works for us. I think a lot of people don't like labels or jargon because we want to feel like individuals. Perhaps, then, the problem is not the term "childfree" but the assumptions we have that all childfree women are the same; that we all have an excess of disposable income, that we're all child-loving PANKs or child-hating non-breeders. If we can make room for the vast diversity within our community, we are then free to use the term to represent what we do have in common, and celebrate it.

I happen to find labels pretty handy. At the very least, it's a lot more efficient than describing my choice longhand each and every time, and it is a useful way to use a search term to find one another on social media. I don't think it makes me any less unique to accept that many other women have made the same choice I have, and many of them for the same reason. Or even that there is a community of childfree people who have made similar choices - an urban life, exercizing one's freedom to travel, opting for fewer work hours and serving the community and relishing the fact that we couldn't do that to the same extent with children. In the end, it's the combination of these choices, plus my hobbies, plus so many intangibles that makes me who I am.

But to each their own. I relish being part of a community that shares so much of my lifestyle, others bristle at being lumped together, and we each have to determine what we're comfortable with.

she adds, "One criticism that was made [of the book] is that a lot of people seem to be bending over backwards to say they like kids or feel like they have to apologize for it." That’s because Daum essentially had to reach two groups at once — she had to speak to parents who believed they’d made the right decision by having children but were curious about those who’d chosen to live a childfree life, but also be a voice for childfree individuals who felt like they’d been ignored by traditional narratives about families and relationships. That false dichotomy went back to Daum’s initial issue with the word "childfree" — it created a division that felt politicized, rather than simply identifying a group by name.
. . . .
The I-don't-have-kids-but-I-like-them community has been dubbed PANKs (Professional Aunt, No Kids). The term was coined by Melanie Notkin, who turned her Savvy Auntie blog, aimed at women like herself who were involved aunts or godmothers and wanted to buy kid stuff without the judgment, into a full-on lifestyle brand dubbed "Otherhood." She has been praised by some feminists for acknowledging all the underappreciated childrearing work done by non-mother family members and criticized by others for taking too much advantage of marketing opportunities.
. . .
Ultimately, Daum says, choosing not to have children is fascinating and controversial to so many people because it gets at a larger question about what it means to be an adult. Many of the social markers we’ve used in the past — owning a home, having a steady job, leaving the big city for the suburbs, being married — have fallen away or been redefined. The ongoing debates about whether women can “have it all” inquire whether a woman can balance a spouse, kids, career, and personal pursuits like hobbies — without stopping to ask what “all” would look like for a woman who’s not interested in one of the usual elements, or to consider what that means for women who marry other women.
I don't have any neices and nephews, but my cousin and close friend is a PANK and seems to love it (yes, childfreedom seems to run in our family). So while we forge toward more and more acceptance and new definitions, I'll be here representing the rest of the childfree. Those who don't really have children in our lives, and seek out childfree spaces to relax. The childfree community is madnotdefined by one or the other, and this divergence perhaps represents just how large we have become. At least, I hope so.
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