Being a spokesperson for child-free living.
Recently, I’ve found myself in a few conversations with people about motherhood. More specifically, what it means for a woman to not have children after a certain age. Out of all the questions asked to these women, or about these women, one of the last things to stumble on is the consideration that she may not want a child. Ever.
“I don’t have the need to breed”
Not my line, but Joy Bryant’s. I don’t know what my line is. But I certainly respect her for hers.
Lenny Letter published an article penned by the actress on not wanting to have children. She rattles through a list of comments that people (mostly women) make when she discloses her lack of desire to have children: “Just give him a baby already!” A call which Bryant says is a real stinger. It’s at this point that the most compelling part of the article comes into play. She talks about parenthood as a choice, not a given. Women have long been fighting for more choices, not just to be viewed as a vessel for new generations. She nominates her choice to be an unpopular one, but a valid one.
Joy Bryant is a 42-year-old actress. Commonly, people assess women in their mid-thirties to mid-forties to being in the danger zone. Their clock is ticking louder and faster than ever and their brains should be bogged down with their impending inability to breed. At 42, Bryant’s calm rejection of the expected hysteria is comforting.
Her voice is not unique. There are many cases of women choosing to not have children. However, it’s true that most women who are child-free are not that way by choice. 80% of women who remain child-free are so because of circumstance, 10% because of medical reasons and only 10% because of choice.
Motherhood was the default position in previous generations, and arguably still is. If you don’t have children, people want to know why. For a while, we may still need articles like Byrant’s giving rational lists as to why she doesn’t want children. However, the overall percentage of childless women has been on the rise over the past century. Does female autonomy have a hand in this? As more women like Byrant step forward to voice their indifference towards that specific role, will it become more common?
For now, we still wrestle with the enduring stereotype of the unwed, childless woman.
Miranda Hobbs, the early years. Probably the most rational, funny and successful of the Sex and the City ladies. But also, the one who none of my friends wanted to be compared to when they were younger. In practical terms, she had her own apartment, successful job, a gang of ladies to test out new clubs with. She was also the one who would call bullshit on Saturday brunch conversations that revolved too much around men.
But the thing about Miranda that resonated for me and my peers was the fact that she seemed the most alone. The countless episodes of Miranda isolated in her apartment, devouring whole cakes and ordering Chinese food in quick succession to eat in the company of her cat hardly advocated for a single gal lifestyle.
Interestingly, out of the Sex and the City gang, she’s the first one to have a child and land what is arguably the most normal family set up. By the end of the series (and one passable and one flammable film later) half of the quartet remain childless. My guess is that it’s easier for audiences to swallow a Carrie or a Samantha remaining childfree than a Miranda.
In a similar vein, we’re able to get behind Bryant. Because of her success and beauty, we are able to accept her child-free life as a choice because we assume the world is completely open to women like her.
For some women, motherhood may be the most rewarding thing in their lives. That’s perfectly admirable. In turn, some people’s reasons for not having children are undoubtedly complicated, personal and sometimes painful. In the same way that some people’s reasons for not having children are clear, it’s because they don’t want them. That’s also fine. And better for the environment.
What we can learn from Bryant is to stop pissing women off with the assumption that they must want children. Because, clearly, some don’t.