Do We Secretly Envy the Childfree?

From Slate:

Or is childlessness still a taboo?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rationally, of course, we know that not everyone should have kids, and that not everyone wants to have kids, and that life without kids is an entirely plausible and even pleasant possibility; and yet, do many of us secretly feel sorry for or condescend to or fail to understand women who don’t have children? Do we assume they are bravely harboring some deep disappointment, do we think they can’t possibly be happy with things as they are, that there is some brittleness, some emptiness at the center? This is the argument of the French feminist, Elisabeth Badinter, and I think she is probably right.

A recent Pew Poll found that one in five women in her early 40s has not had a child. So the decision, or the situation, is not exactly exotic, and yet to many, a woman without a child is still a tragic or at least disappointed figure.

Taboo is a strong and unsubtle word, probably, for how we feel about childlessness; it might be more precise to say that the shrewder, wilier form that taboo takes is probably something closer to pity, as if the childless woman has somehow not pulled it together, as if she is damaged or thwarted. Especially if that childless woman conforms to our clichéd narrative, and say has a dog or cat, or a dog and a cat, or multiple dogs or cats: the general interpretation is that she is sad, not that she is doing a different thing.

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