Single or not so single, married, divorced, widow, straight, gay or bi, a large amount of women often have to answer the following: When are you going to have kids? At a certain point in their lifetime, women have had to answer to this intrusive question. Yes, extremely intrusive question that violates one’s privacy.
As one approaches certain age, people seem to enjoy asking, almost as if one’s biological clock was ticking above one’s head: When are you having kids? How many children do you want to have? Aren’t you concerned that you are single and hence your chances of reproducing perhaps smaller? Or, today you don’t need a man to have a child, so when are you planning to get pregnant? You could freeze your eggs you know? These questions annoy me. Do they annoy you? You are in the right place.
I’m in a relationship, and of course my loving and yet still conservative Bolivian family has asked me when will I get married, and when will I have kids. It’s understandable that they want to know. I do understand, because they will like to be grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc., and because they are my family I don’t punch anyone in the face. I answer that I’m not ready for either, not financially, not emotionally. I also remind them that to raise a child it takes a village, and I doubt any of them will move to rainy Holland to share such responsibility.
At 28, my eggs are the peak of productivity and yet I can’t imagine myself taking care of another human being. I’m still trying to figure out what I want for dinner, let alone what do with my life. (OK, I do know what I want to do, film making, I just need to find out how) It’s not that I can’t take care of children because I can, they do happen to like me. Most of the time anyway, but it’s easy to babysit for a few hours, it’s a whole different thing to be responsible for one all the time. There are many reasons why having kids or not having them becomes a debate over dinners, with family or unpleasantly so, less familiar faces.
Recently, I read, hands down, the greatest feminist book of all time: Caitlin Moran’s “How to be a Woman”. I believe it’s the best feminist book ever, because it’s not pretentious. It isn’t written for scholars and academics to decipher or analyze. It is written for all women, it is written so any woman can say loud and proudly: YES, I AM A FEMINIST. It’s not written in code. It’s philosophy is clear, funny and honest. It is her book that made me realize that the world is ridiculously concerned with women having kids and when, but no one seems to care when men reproduce or why. “For some reason, the world really wants to know when women are having children, ” Moran writes. Further in chapter 13, Moran says that there’s a much darker reason why the world is obsessed with women’ reproduction, “If you listen very, very carefully – turn off all extraneous sound-sources, and press your finger to your lips to silence passers-by – you can hear it. It’s this: When are you going to fuck it all up by having kids?” The world is obsessed with working women and their fertility. Women work extremely hard to get to the top, until they are confronted with the to have or not to have question? Then they stop working. People want to know when will this happen. Some maliciously await, to take over.
Nature, social constructs, and time are harsh on women. Think about all the shit we go through. PMS, our period itself, bloody and uncomfortable. The things we do to our bodies to avoid pregnancy, pills, IUD’s, diaphragms. The best time, according to many studies, to have children is between 25 and 35. Our egg production will drop drastically after we reach 35. Sadly in our late twenties, early thirties, we, working/career women start doing well at work. We have been in our bodies long enough that we are more accepting of them. Hopefully we are making more money, and have established a great network. When we are at the top, we are constantly reminded by everyone and their mom that our biological clock is ticking and that we must hurry up, or freeze up our precious eggs or we can say good-bye to baby-land and motherhood.
Moran argues that, “men and women alike have convinced themselves of a dragging belief: that somehow, women are incomplete without children.” While visiting my family in Bolivia last year, I went out with friends and had found myself in an almost blood and tears kind of discussion. I had a conversation with a friend of a friend, who is a mother of two, and recently. To my every argument about women’s rights and equality she answered that I had no clue what it meant to be a mother, even when I argued that men should take care of the household and kids too. Above all things motherhood is our role in life, she said. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that we don’t credit motherhood enough. It’s a full-time job, that doesn’t end. It’s not something you can quit. I value mothers all over the world, so don’t hate me just yet.
At the same time I believe that society should demand more of men as fathers. A few months ago I watched a Doctor OZ episode, and the theme was, to America’s horror, mother’s who drink and put their kids in danger!! Dr OZ who otherwise gives good advice, was promoting this idea that women are drinking themselves unconscious every day because they are overwhelmed. Lots of crying women were interviewed admitting that they had an issue with alcohol. No one asked, not once: WHERE ARE THE FATHERS??? WHY ARE THE FATHERS NOT HELPING THEIR WIVES WITH THE OVERWHELMING HOUSEHOLD WORK? No one. Shame on you Dr. OZ. People should ask, why women have to work, clean, cook and take care of the children while men are out an about enjoying their fair share of alcohol and football??
I find offensive that people don’t seem to respect women who chose not to have children, society doesn’t seem to be okay with women not having kids. If a woman remains single and childless she’ll be called spinster, a poor sad woman who will die alone and be eaten by her cats. Let me just tell you, not all old single men are rich and good-looking when they get old. Not all men age like Sean Connery.
Another reason this question bothers me, is that I find it very, VERY, intrusive. What if the person you are asking this to wants to have kids but has fertility issues? What if she’s been trying? Should she feel less of a woman because of it? No. But asking this annoying questions might make her feel that way. What if she’s having an internal debate? What if she finally got her dream job? Isn’t it okay for that woman to pursue happiness, and maybe that happiness has nothing to do with giving birth and breastfeeding. What if she chooses not to, ever, have kids? Whatever her wants, and desires to have or not have a family are hers, and no one else’s. Having a kid is the most intimate, private decision any one can make. I don’t go around asking people how much money they have in the bank, or how many sexual partners they have. I don’t ask women when are they having kids, unless we bring it up together, and we discuss it together. Without judgement.
Women’s value and contribution to the world does not rely in their ability to reproduce. Our value as women resides in the amazing things we are able to do. Think of the great women who didn’t have children, but left us a legacy, opened doors. Queen Elizabeth (the Virgin Queen), Marie Curie, Joan of Arc, Marilyn Monroe. If you are a woman go invent, write, paint, discover, travel, create, imagine. Live how you want to live. We are more than enough on our own.
**Thank you Caitlin Moran, for inspiring me to write this.