The past forty years have been witness to a variety of changes in the roles of women in American society -- from the Harriet Nelson homemakers of the fifties, to the bra-burning feminists of the late sixties and early seventies, to the supermoms of the eighties and nineties. While these are superficial stereotypes applied to women's roles by the dominant culture of our society, the metamorphosis in roles is undeniable.
Many women of the fifties were not like perky Harriet. Instead, they suffered depression from the confusing status of being the idolized wife and mother, put on a pedestal, while at the same time being essentially a second-class citizen. The bra-burning seventies got their fame from a one-time event. It is not a bad icon, however, because it signifies women's struggle for equal citizenship within American society. And supermom? I'm certain some women do choose to maintain a demanding career while at the same time nurturing a family. However, for many women, it is economic necessity which demands two incomes to make ends meet, rather than untiring commitment to both job and family which causes them to take on the role of supermom.
Due to a combination of desire for legal equality and the vagaries of economic change, in today's society it has become culturally acceptable for a woman to choose any number of roles -- except one. It is still socially questionable to choose to be childless.
When I was a young adult, I expected to have children. At that time in my life, it didn't occur to me that I had a choice. Heck, everyone had kids. However, I was cognizant of the fact that birth control would allow me to delay having children until I was ready. And every day, I thanked medical science for providing me the ability to choose the timing of child-bearing without sacrificing sexual intimacy with my mate. As the years passed, an interesting thing happened. I became even less interested in having children. Now, I'm thirty-four years old and have chosen not to reproduce.
I have found it is not a socially acceptable decision. When acquaintances ask me about my children and I reply that I don't have any, they immediately apologize, assuming it is a fertility problem instead of a matter of choice. People who are familiar with my choice tell me that it is a phase and assure me that someday I will want children. Others react as if I have a psychological problem, and I've been asked if I am gay. (I don't happen to be gay and many gay couples do want children, so I don't understand the reason for that question.) I've even been informed that it is my "duty" to pass on my genes, the logic being that I may be depriving the world of the next Einstein. Flattering, but hardly reality.
There is a deep-seated cultural belief that because I have a womb, I should naturally want to be a parent. It is another stereotype about women as a group that denies individuality. And it is as ridiculous an assumption as stating that, because men don't have wombs, none want to be or will make good parents. It is simply a matter of choice -- a choice I can act upon due to the medical advances of the last thirty years.
The medical technology to prevent conception has been in place for thirty years, but our thinking as a culture still has not caught up with the facts. We must realize that not all women want to be mothers, and this has most certainly been true throughout history. The only difference is, unlike our grandmothers, we are blessed with the ability to do something to prevent it.
Let's face it, not all people have the temperament to be parents. Being a parent is a complex job. The successful candidate must be part teacher, philosopher, healer, and child. The old idea of "a roof over their heads and food on the table" is simply outmoded. A child reared under these bare minimums will not become a successful adult, because life in our increasingly interwoven and wonderful society is about more than mere survival.
For those people who do have the temperament to be a parent, many still fail to apply their aptitude. They do not make the rearing of their children their main priority. Children are precious human beings who should be the first priority in their parents' lives. Unfortunately, many people are opting to have children without consideration of their own ability or interest in being a parent. People feel that they "should" want children, and so they have them whether they truly want children or not.
There is nothing more tragic than a child being born to a woman who does not want children. This can lead to a childhood of neglect, emotional abuse and/or physical abuse. With child abuse as the number one cause of death of children in this country, prevention of the birth of unwanted children is a necessity. One of the most effective ways to deal with this situation is to make each woman cognizant of the fact that bearing children is her choice -- not something to be done simply because it is expected. The day when humans have children in the unthinking manner in which a cat has kittens is long past.
I would urge every woman to seriously consider her choice of whether or not to bear children. Upon consideration, a majority of women will still find the desire to bear children intact. But for those who find the desire lacking, remember that you do have a choice, and it is okay not to want children.
Michelle Churchman earns her living as a medical laboratory technologist. She is beginning to see her aspiration of becoming a published writer realized in eclectic mix of short fiction and articles. And she is certain there is novel lurking somewhere in her head if only she'd become self-disciplined enough to write it. She resides on the plains where she shares her life with her parents, an assortment of cattle, and two spoiled cats.
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