A few days ago, when I got the news that a TODAY show segment I had taped would be airing, I posted the news on my Facebook wall. Though it was a fairly innocuous status update, the topic of the segment was anything but – I would be speaking about my choice to be childfree.
Most of the time, my childfree status is about as noteworthy as my eye color – something that’s such a basic part of myself that I forget it’s there. But the eruption of comments on my Facebook wall reminded me that being childfree is something that can be political or offensive to others.
The comments ranged from “Cool, I’ll DVR it!” to “Why does anyone care enough to do a segment on people who don’t have kids – that’s not even interesting” to “Shut up, breeders!”
I left my desk for an hour to go to a meeting, and when I got back there were 48 comments and 60 likes on my status update. While many of the comments were positive, the backbiting between two of my friends – one another childfree woman, one a new father – started to give me a migraine. I wanted to step in, parent-style, and announce that I was turning this car around.
The rapid-fire discourse pretty quickly disproved the comment that “nobody cared” about the topic. Despite the advancements that women have made in the public and private spheres, our bodies – and the choices we make about them – continue to be a battlefield.
It isn’t just children. Magazines run articles about which female celebrities have the best and worst beach bodies; blogs show close-up pictures of women’s stomachs and speculate about whether they are pregnant. Weight loss, weight gain, plastic surgery, nutrition, contraception – women’s bodies are constantly up for discussion.
I agree that it shouldn’t be important whether a woman has children or not, but most of our culture doesn’t concur. “You’ll change your mind when you’re (five years older than age I am),” someone wrote. I tried to imagine the opposite situation – a woman my age (28), pregnant or with a child, being told that in five years she’d change her mind about wanting to be a mother. Or what about a guy my age being told that his “daddy instinct” would kick in soon and he would start wanting to pop out kids? I’m old enough to vote, to drink alcohol and to die for my country, but I’m still being told – sometimes by my own peers – that I’m not mature enough to decide about my body, my family and my future.
I wish that the commenter on my Facebook page was right, and that someone’s decision to have or not have kids wouldn’t be noteworthy. But as a culture, we’re not there yet. And there’s a whole lot to talk about before we get there – so I guess I shouldn’t turn the car around, after all.
Lilit Marcus is a contributing editor at B5 Media and the author of "Save the Assistants: A Guide for Surviving and Thriving in the Workplace." She also blogs at lilitmarcus.tumblr.com.