Edge of Everywhere

“Childless Women Lack an Essential Humanity”

Posted on: January 12, 2011

Cool art alert: Moved by the negative reactions to her and other women’s decisions not to have children, Miriam Schaer embroidered real quotes onto white baby dresses with red thread, creating a shocking visual representation of the societal prejudice against childless women.

The artist writes:

“Selfish… Neurotic… Irresponsible… Immature… Unfeminine… Unfulfilling… Materialistic… Uptight… Deviant” — all words I have heard to characterize my decision to not have children, a decision transforming me into a target of one of society’s remaining and widely held prejudices.

Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, addresses the question of why the existence of women who choose maternal independence over child-rearing angers or offends so many people and institutions. The work presented here is part of a continuing exploration of our culture’s pejorative views about women without kids. For Baby (Not) on Board: The Last Prejudice?, I hand-embroidered representative negative comments on baby dresses using red thread to create scarlet letters. Gathered from interviews with childless women, online research, and personal experience, the statements taunt and accuse, and are typical of an endless flow of critical statements that seem to be growing bolder even as non-traditional families are gaining greater acceptance.

***

As a women who has never had any interest in having children, this work struck a chord with me. The quote most similar to the reactions I’ve received is “You still have time; maybe you’ll change your mind. You can adopt.” Many of the others Scher uses are shockingly negative, like “Childless women lack an essential humanity” (shown above) and “Your not having children was the biggest disappointment of our life.”

I have a lot of trouble understanding why anyone would be angry about a woman choosing not to have children. I can understand the idea of parents being disappointed about not having grandchildren, to a certain point (though not the point reached in the last quote above), but I can’t get my head around the idea of anger toward and disdain for a woman whose life plans do not include raising children. Raising children is a very difficult and lifelong job. We should be glad when a woman who does not desire to undertake this job chooses not to; unfortunately, many women who do raise children do not have the desire or ability to perform the job well, which is a horrible situation for any child to be in.

Cheers to Miriam Schaer for bringing a little-discussed form of discrimination into the public eye in a clever and powerful way.

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8 Responses to "“Childless Women Lack an Essential Humanity”"

I don’t understand it, either. Maybe women without children make some women with children question their own choice? It’s weird because I’ve found myself thinking, a few times in my life, “This person has kids, so maybe she’ll be more sympathetic/understanding/nicer/etc”. I feel like ideally, being a parent could help you see the “inner child” in everyone, but this is obviously not the case. I’ve noticed no correlation whatsoever between parenthood and “humane” behavior. People can be very defensive sometimes…

Thank you for this well-written article, I don’t understand the attitude from both men and women either at my reaction to admit I don’t want children and I don’t understand why I feel I have to withold admitting that I don’t want children, people assume you don’t like children! I love children, I have two nieces and a nephew and I’ve been a nanny many times and I am great with kids too but I can tell you how glad I am to get home to my partner and not have any of my own children! I think when women call you selfish for not wanting your own kids it implies that they perhaps didn’t really want them or at least not for the right reasons in the first place, because they must see having children as being utterly selfless and in fact acknowledge that it is not personally rewarding, fun or pleasurable and also how much it takes away from the life they really want. I don’t think having children is all downs, I really fell in love with the last babies I nannied and to this day, when I think of them, I miss them and I love my nieces and nephew, I miss them when I don’t see them for a while but I am not afraid to also admit that most of the time when you are caring for children, it’s hard work, boring after 10 minutes and absolutely exhausting because they take every tiny bit of your attention. I agree, if you don’t have a really strong desire to have kids, don’t have them, you have to be whole-heartedly committed, it has to be your life’s calling. I would advise anyone who is not sure whether they want kids or would like them but has no idea what it is really like to be a mother or father, do some full-time nanny work for at least a few months before deciding, then you’ll know if you’re really cut out!

I would also like to add that many people who want kids have a very romantic idea of what it is like to have kids and if you are only out to have kids to achieve that romantic picture, you either need to come to reality (like I said, do some nanny work) and then if you still want them after accepting the reality, great, you are cut out to have kids or if you are only in for that romantic picture, then you are not cut out to have kids, this applies to both men and women.

Sinead,

Thank you for the very forthright response to the article. Your attitude perfectly exemplify the selfishness (or perhaps self-centeredness) that the article implies. You primary interest is “What’s in it for me?”

I did not want a kid. He was an “accident”. Birth control is not 100% effective. But having the kid dramatically changed me. People who had known me for decades remarked on how much I had changed. I became less self-centered, more compassionate, and more open-hearted. These are the very characteristics that I notice missing in childless adults.

I appreciate how clear you made the distinction, and thank you for not having children. They would be at a disadvantage having a mother like you.

You may have become “less self-centered, more compassionate, and more open-hearted” but you certainly aren’t proving it here, Judgey McJudginstein.
BTW, you might want to refer to this card in future dealings with the childless/childfree, because it’s clear that original thought isn’t your strong suit:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/kipling_west/5607299287/

Yes, because childless careers & volunteers are selfish. I doubt you became more compassionate – you clearly lack that trait. I got told the other day “people without kids aren’t as developed”. Then there was some backtracking. I don’t know why anything needs to be said.

Love your work Seventh Sinner.

JJ…you are truly a sad person for lashing back with a comment like yours. It is impossible for you to even grasp what Sinead was saying…because you ARE the person she was talking about. You refer to your child as an accident and incessantly talk about YOURSELF. REALLY?? You sound like a selfish pig and your poor accident is truly the one who is disadvantaged.

jj…who are you to judge anyone’s capabilities of mothering? Your comment makes question this now “open” heart that you have now acquired. This is from a woman who wanted children but missed out. I find your reaction infuriating.

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