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Choosing to be childless is more than okay

  • 31 January 2020


Statistics and cultural trends indicate that the nuclear family model is losing its veneer. Fewer people are getting married. Couples without children are on the increase. Single women have found ways to have children without husbands. LGBTQIA+ couples are redefining not only how to start families but also broadening what a family looks like. And mothers are revealing that parenthood isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Yet despite this and all the noted physical and psychosocial side effects of having children (it affects one's marriage, career, finances, mental health and body), the ideal of the nuclear family persists.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a cisgender woman in possession of a healthy reproductive system must be in want of a child. Society has conditioned us to view women without children as an abnormality. I specify women, as the stigma and shame are predominantly applied to women. Historically (with the exception of nuns), unmarried childless women were 'spinsters' and unmarried childless men were bachelors. Women also have a 'biological' deadline for marriage and babies. There's never really been such a time limit thrust onto men.

The modern 'old maid' is no longer confined to the attic. She's in the workforce, the senate and leading in the community. But the spinster stigma persists, and the Modern Old Maid still faces scrutiny from coworkers, friends, family and the wider public. Former prime minister Julia Gillard was once described as a 'menopausal monster' and 'deliberately barren'. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's 'frivolous' nature is a result of her absence of progeny. And one can only speculate how much income tabloid magazines have made from bemoaning Jennifer Aniston's childless state.

It's irrelevant that these women are powerful figures in their respective fields. Their success is invalidated by their childlessness. By virtue of not being mothers, they are to be pitied. They are unfulfilled. They aren't grounded. And worst of all, they don't understand real love.

There are many reasons why people cast shame on women without children. Internalised misogyny. The idea that people should continue a legacy or bloodline. But ultimately, it comes down to that knee-jerk reaction to anything counterculture. Being childfree goes against the cultural and social expectations of womanhood. It's expected that you'll get married and have babies.

Sure, gender norms are being deconstructed and cultural ideas of femininity are evolving, but the idea that women exist only to nurture and procreate still persists. Women are not