Women should not be pressured into motherhood

Women should not be pressured into motherhood

“You’ll change your mind when you’re older.” It’s a statement that I’ve heard too many times to count, and it’s always delivered the same way: Just a little bit of casual ‘hint-hint, wink-wink’ advice between women. As soon as I tell someone that I don’t want to have children, they get this knowing smile on their face and nod solemnly as if they have some insider knowledge that I haven’t unlocked yet. Then they say the magic words.

I just smile and nod because it’s easier that way. In the moment, I can never manage to string together the right phrases; I don’t know how to tell them that my body belongs to me and it’s my decision whether or not I want to share it with a child.

I was discussing feminism with a co-worker the other day, trading stories about being catcalled, when we got onto the topic of children. She told me she wanted five kids. I jokingly wrinkled my nose and told her that I didn’t want any children. Then she dropped that all-too-common line, reducing my choice to nothing more than a passing phase. It surprised me, so I just smiled and nodded like always. I didn’t understand how she could be advocating for women’s independence one second and then turn around and tell me what to do with my body the next.

Insinuating that a woman will inevitably end up having children is sexist. It’s the same basic message perpetuated by the men on Capitol Hill: Your body doesn’t belong to you; you don’t get to make your own decisions. Suggesting that I’m going to grow up and fulfill my biological role in society is regressive and counterproductive because it rests on the notion that women belong in the home. We don’t. I can do whatever I want with my life, and that includes making the decision to not have children.

And, according to data from the latest Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, increasingly more women are making that decision. In 2014, 47.6 percent of women between the age 15 and 44 reported never having children. This number was up from 46.5 percent in 2012.

This represents the highest number of childless women since the Bureau started conducting the survey in 1976. It’s not that these women who decide to remain childless have a lack of respect for mothers or the institution of motherhood; I think being a mother is probably the hardest job in the world, and my mom is the strongest woman I know. She raised two children and built a home. That’s no easy task. There is no manual for motherhood, no Wikihow with all the answers.

However, it’s a task that I don’t want to do, and to suggest that I’m somehow wrong about how I feel is an insult to my independence as a young woman in the 21st century. Women shouldn’t be pressured into having children or shamed for not wanting to follow in their mothers’ footsteps. Motherhood is not a predestined occupation. It’s a choice, and I, along with all other women, should be able to reserve that choice and make it on my own.

Maybe I will change my mind and have children. Maybe I won’t. Regardless of what I do, it’s ultimately my decision. If you respect a woman’s right to choose, then extend that right to all decisions regarding her body. I am so much more than my biological processes, and it would serve society well if everyone could remember that.

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