I Don’t Want to Have Children. What’s It to You?
Today is International Women’s Day and I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the freedoms in my life. I am an educated woman in my thirties. I am free to spend the money I earn at work how I choose. I am free to travel where I choose, on my own if I so choose. I am free to love whomever I like. I can choose to marry or not, to have children or not.
I owe these freedoms, in no small part, to the brave women who paved the way before me. They won us those freedoms through determination, struggle and sacrifice. They won them by bucking the status quo, being ready to endure ridicule and persecution and probably worse.
And they won many only recently. Within my own mother’s lifetime, many of the freedoms I take for granted did not exist in our society. The Department of Social Services published a telling list of milestones for women in Australian society. Consider these facts:
- In 1949-50, a female basic wage was established, but only at 75% of the male wage. The concept of ‘equal pay for work of equal value’ wasn’t introduced into the (then) Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission until 1969.
- Although most Australian women won the right to vote in Federal elections in 1903, in some States our Indigenous sisters were not given the same respect until 1962.
- In 1963, Australian women stood up for their right to patronise pubs, with some even chaining themselves to the bar in protest. Before this, some pubs only allowed women into a ladies lounge, and often only when accompanied by a man.
I am indebted to the strong women who came before me, those who fought for the kind of equality I now take for granted, even in the simplest instances like walking into a pub to meet friends. A generation later, it seems ridiculous to imagine I’d be turned away because of my second X chromosome.
But let’s not rest easy on their laurels. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a way to go. Countless women around the world don’t have the freedoms I do, and within this society things are still far from perfect.
Even within my own rather privileged life, I am often judged for my choices. You see, I have chosen not to marry and not to have children. The reactions it elicits range from pity (‘You just haven’t found the right man yet’) to fear (‘What will happen when you’re old? You won’t have children to look after you’) to a special kind of indignation that comes thinly disguised as advice (‘You’ll regret it down the track, you know!’)
But why? I’m not hurting anybody. I’m doing my best to make my life a meaningful, positive contribution to the world. I can still love my brothers in this world without needing to be anyone’s ‘better half’, and I most definitely love children (refer the feature picture at the top of the page, if you will—it’s a treasured memory from a time I worked as a volunteer kindergarten teacher in a disadvantaged community). I also take joy in the fact that many of my friends have chosen to marry and/or have children, because it was their choice and it was made both with love and freedom. And so is mine.
My choice for my life does not—and cannot—invalidate anyone else’s choice for their life. Some of my sisters are choosing to be stay-at-home mums. Great! Some are choosing to engage in paid work while also raising their children. Wonderful! Some are in a committed relationship with another woman. More power to them! Many (not enough yet, I believe, but more than ever) are holding positions of power within the systems of commercial enterprise, government, academia, and not-for-profit organisations. Yay!
None of our lives are perfect, but we’re all doing the best we can to move forward with what we feel are the best decisions for us. When we all have wildly different skills, personalities and inclinations, what sense could it possibly make for all of us to choose the same path?
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Make It Happen’. Ultimately, what ‘it’ looks like is left for each of us to decide. My hope is that we may all find the courage to boldly live our individual paths of maximum love, personal evolution, and benefit to others in the world. Our respective choices are bound to look different… but may we treat that as a cause for celebration instead of fear or derision, as it the hallmark of freedom.
With love, Narissa
Narissa Doumani, author of A Spacious Life: Memoir of a Meditator
live mindfully ~ love openly
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