"both choices are radical": the decision not to parent
In response to my last post about the children-as-people thing, my awesome friend Laura Cutter sent me this thoughtful email, which I repost with her permission. I think it's super-important to underscore the fact that arguing that children (and by extension, their caregivers) are marginalized in our society doesn't mean that people (read: women) who are not parents (by accident or choice) don't face enormous social censure.
No one's interests are served, I'd argue, by turning this into a case of oppression olympics, trying to parse out whose pain is more exquisite than the next person's. Instead, we need to place the blame where it belongs: fucked up cultural norms that demand one single best way for women and young people to be in the world and be in relationship with one another. The human species is just too awesomely diverse for us to waste our time on that sort of one-size-fits-all crap.
Without further editorializing, here's Laura.
I really appreciate your post from today - I find it heartbreaking when various groups (who are themselves often marginalized) insist on further marginalization. In my more pessimistic moments, I wonder if our biological minds, which from very early evolution needed to separate, delineate, and categorize everything from people to plants in order to survive, are somehow on overdrive - pushing us apart. That being said. One of the things that really struck me about your post and the links you added was this:
Our generation is one that is rapidly moving towards a time where some of us are choosing to have children. That is right now, the present. But what everyone seems to be forgetting is that many of our ideas and experiences were not formed in this cultural moment. Just as some of us remember feeling marginalized as children, others of us remember being told constantly that we would and should expect to have a child/children. I remember feeling livid as my protestation that I never wanted children were brushed aside by adults who were certain that they understood me better than I did. I am very aware that my own community and intellectual life is quite rarified - it is for many of us. But the underlying assumption to many of these arguments seems to be that it is so acceptable not to have children that the women who now choose to have them are the new marginalized poster child (red is the new black?). Many of us still must validate, on a daily basis, our choice not to have children. We experience invasive, insulting, manipulative, and inappropriate responses from people who, in other circumstances, would never pass judgment on another person's choice. This is my point: both choices are radical. Both choices carry tremendous cultural significance and personal meaning. In my world, it is still radical to choose not to become a parent, and I carry with me all the baggage of years spent being told that my choice was wrong. But I understand and respect that for many other women, the decision to choose parenting means other sacrifices, for which they, in turn, are judged.
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I feel like it happens this way (as my friend Marie-Laure says, "tell me a story"): I have kids and you don't. In you, I see all of the people who told me that having children was a waste of my talent, a second choice, a vote for the patriarchy. I also see all of the freedom and choices that you have in your life and think it's a little unfair and that your life must be easier than mine. In me, you see everyone who told you that you were born to have children, that it is natural and beautiful, that you would never be complete without them, that you will change your mind. I also see all of the social acceptance and special treatment that you have in your life and think it's a little unfair and that your life must be easier than mine. But of course, that's not who you are and that's not who I am, but when we (especially women), have these debates, we bring into them all of this damage and judgment and project on each other with our own insecurities. I do think this parent/not parent issue really is a false dichotomy and everybody knows that progress is never made when everyone is just in fighting.