"Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life.
Don't be trapped by Dogma which is living with the results of other people's thinking.
Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your inner voice.
And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become."
- Steve Jobs

Thursday, July 30, 2009

It takes guts to say: 'I don't want children'

Cameron Diaz always struck me as sensible. Maybe because she never joined Scientology, or married anyone patently ridiculous, despite toiling for a decade and a half at the coalface of Hollywood A-listiness. Maybe because she gives a damn fine impression of not taking herself too seriously.

Last week, Diaz proved herself especially sensible. I'll go further. She was wise, insightful, right.

The actress told Cosmopolitan magazine that being a woman and admitting you didn't want children is taboo. "I think women are afraid to say that they don't want children because they're going to get shunned ... I have more girlfriends who don't have kids than those that do. And honestly? We don't need any more kids. We have plenty of people on this planet."

Diaz, who is 36, didn't go as far as to say that she definitely does not want children. But to be openly, loudly undecided on the issue - at the point when her biological clock should be ticking so loudly that she can hardly sleep, eat or think about anything else - is to be brave enough, frankly. It's an admission that invites suspicion and pity. To be a thirtysomething woman in 2009 and not want a child so desperately that you think you might die is simply not allowed.

In February, I wrote a column for Observer Woman about not wanting children. I am 37, nearly a year to the day older than Diaz and I just don't. I never have.

Unlike Diaz, I did not know that voluntary childlessness is an unacceptable crime to cop to. I thought I was merely expressing an opinion. I thought that people who want - or have - children, would accept that I do not, just as I accept their choice. After all, it's my (notional) babies I am rejecting, not theirs.

I was wrong.

I stated my case. I listed my reasons, even though it annoys me that the child-free have to justify their status. No one ever asks a parent why they have kids. But I explained that I like my life as it is, my lifestyle, my career. I explained that I had felt this way for 30 years - and that even though all the things that were supposed to change my mind (love, a long-term relationship, pressure from breeding contemporaries) had happened to me, I remain resolutely childless.

I explained that I like the potential of my childless existence: to travel, sleep, read, drink, watch HBO box sets, have feckless fun.

I talked about how difficult it is to be child-free, when popular culture fetishises parenthood in general and motherhood in particular. When the dramatic arc of all TV dramas, of all rom-coms, is dependent on someone becoming pregnant and finding true happiness as a consequence. Babies are the newest archetype on the happy ending, therefore not wanting them is tantamount to not wanting to be happy.

I talked about how weird it is to be disconnected from this baby-crazy culture. Like being sober while everyone else is drunk. I talked about how strange it is to not even care whether or not I'm infertile, when apparently it's all anyone else thinks about.

Was I antagonistic? Possibly. I tried not to be, but I am passionate about this. I was certainly a bit sensational, a bit flippant. The headline referred to the rise of the "dummy mummy" generation - an inflammatory turn of phrase.

The reaction to the piece was terrifying. Emails and letters arrived, condemning me, expressing disgust. I was denounced as bitter, selfish, un-sisterly, unnatural, evil. I'm now routinely referred to as "baby-hating journalist Polly Vernon".

So yes, Cameron Diaz, I can tell you from experience that you are right. Admit that you don't ache for children with every fibre of your being and you will be shunned. Shunning's the tip of the iceberg. I wish I'd been shunned. Shunning would have been blissful, relatively.

The furore's blown over; my childlessness endures. I've registered a gender split in the way people respond to it, if it comes up socially.

Women might think I'm in denial, but they let me get on with it now. Men, meanwhile, are astounded. Flummoxed. They become aggressive, sneering. They psychoanalyse me, they try to work out what's wrong with me. Who knows why? Perhaps they feel rejected. Perhaps the idea that there are women at large who are not actively pursuing their sperm is an out-and-out affront to a certain kind of man. The same men who have spent years believing that all women secretly want to trap them into commitment and fatherhood, probably.

For whatever reason, I've been pulled up on my wanton childless status, loudly and at length, by three different men, in three different pubs, over the course of the last fortnight alone.

Here's the thing: we need to stop pretending that childlessness isn't happening to us. It is. The birth rate in Europe is in steep decline. We know this. We know that, currently, 40% of UK university graduates aged 35 are childless and that at least 30% will stay that way permanently. We know that much of this childlessness is involuntary or, at least, unconsidered, the consequence of infertility, a lack of opportunity or leaving it too late.

But some of it will be like mine - cherished, rigorously maintained, valued. For everyone's sake, it's good to have that sort of a blueprint on a life without children. Childlessness is going to be a feature in many of our lives; we need to start seeing it as a choice, a valid option, rather than a failing. We certainly need it not to be taboo.

We need to stop making the voluntarily childless feel like they have a guilty secret. We need to stop shunning or vilifying the likes of me (in this instance, at least), and, much more importantly, Cameron Diaz and her mates.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Trouble with Single Childfree Women

Found this post here: http://unmarriedestate.wordpress.com/2009/07/22/the-trouble-with-single-childfree-women/

Great blog!


They must be stopped. They are dangerous. American society has a fear of single childfree women. Can you really blame them?

Most people are under the impression that once a woman reaches a certain age (usually before 30), she is supposed to “settle down.” That is, she is to get married and get on with the baby-making. However, those who follow the settle-down advice often find themselves in a quandary. They wonder why adjusting to this supposedly perfect family life is so difficult. They wonder why the marital bliss that everyone promised would naturally flow their way has been so elusive. So what is the reason for all of this? According to this author, when a woman gets married and has children her life as she knows it is over. This is a life she has spent 5, 10, sometimes 20 years building. She loves her family, of course, but she begins to resent her husband and children for the unhappy state of her life. Because traditional family life is so over hyped, women are led to believe that NOTHING, not friends, volunteer work or a great career, can make them happier than marriage and children. The part they never mention is that some women are already happy. They have wonderful lives, they are financially independent and socially active and perfectly content. Some women are beginning to realize that they do not want marriage or children. They like their lives as they are.

It is these women that are dangerous. Because unlike other women, they cannot be shamed, blamed or tamed.

The culture demands that we tame independent women, but since we can’t brand them as witches and drown them anymore, we must find some other way to diminish their power. So we shame women by calling them sluts for having the audacity to take control of their own sex lives, to ask for sex when they want it and tell their partner how they want it. We shame women for using contraceptives and abortion, which allows them to enjoy sex without the consequence of motherhood. We scare them with the image of the old hag that grows old alone and tell them that they will never attract a good man if they keep having all that enjoyable sex and working at that fulfilling job that will never love them back. After the shame comes the blame. “Unhappy, little girl? It’s your fault. If you would just do what we say, get married, have the kids, and go broke buying clothing, beauty and diet products, you would be happy!!!” Single mothers get the brunt of this. Single motherhood is blamed for every social ill you can possibly imagine: crime, drug abuse, high school drop out rates, and low college attendance among certain populations (black people and poor people – which many believe are the same thing). The solution for the federal government is to coerce poor mothers into get married, while the Wedding Industrial Complex sells happily every after to the middle and upper class women.

Once women are shamed and blamed, they can more easily be tamed. The shame leads them to stop having free and active sex lives and focusing on those great careers. The blame leads women to look for husbands and mortgage their house to pay for the perfect wedding. And once women have been shamed and blamed into submission, they are tamed and are no longer a threat.

The single childfree woman is immune to this. She has no interest in marriage, so she is not shamed into thinking she will never find a husband if she has sex before marriage. She has no desire to mother so she cannot be blamed for society’s ills and will never be guilt tripped into marrying her child’s father simply because the government believes marriage is better. She will not quit the job she loves because she is made to feel guilty for working and paying another to care for her children during the day. She is truly free. She cannot be tamed. And she is not alone. As of the 2000 census, there are about 5.3 million of her.