Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Childfree & Childed: Changing the Conversation

When I was in grad school, I wrote a paper for my Classical Rhetoric course entitled "Aristotle's Children." Though it sounds like a survey of the classical rhetors, it was in fact a discussion about the rhetorical battle between the childfree and those with children. The paper focused on the language that permeates the struggle between these two groups. Because, frankly, the language is ugly on both sides and it's making the situation worse for everyone involved. Both sides are culpable. The language coming out of both sides is hateful, petty, and divisive. We need to change the conversation.

One perfect example (but by not the only example) is a recent yahoo answers rant that calls parents "breeders" and then goes on to wonder why these people judge and dislike us. Maybe it's because we call them names like "breeder" and "mombie." If someone referred to me like that, I'd dislike them, too. I certainly dislike those who call me selfish, say I'm less of a person and woman, and/or assert that I'm responsible for the world's ills. Clearly, the language and the way we engage with one another is the problem. Until we change our approach, until both sides start to respect those who have made a different choice enough not to call them names, we will never see the equality the movement is ultimately seeking. Nor will parents find peace from judgment for their willingness to bring more people into the world. And that's the point, right? Equality of choice for everyone.

Because, just like feminism's goal is to seek equality with men, the childfree goal is to seek equality with the childed. It's a fight we can't completely win, of course, but there's can be nobility in seeking it if we allow ourselves to fight fair. Our decision to remain childfree should be as acceptable as the decision to have children, but the name calling--on both sides--needs to stop if we're ever going to get anywhere. Since we, the childfree, are the ones who've made a deliberate, and very adult, choice to remain without children, shouldn't it be us who is willing to rise above the hateful name calling and be the bigger person? Should we treat others the way we want to be treated? Isn't that the golden rule? Do unto others and all that.

Shouldn't the bottom line be that everyone's choices deserve to be respected? Obviously, it's a rhetorical question. Everyone's choices definitely deserve to be respected and this should be reflected in the way we speak to one another. We're all people, after all, and we all have feelings. It's as bad, or worse, for us to call them "breeders" and "mombies" as it is for them to call us "selfish" and "soulless." Everyone needs to take at least one step back and refocus on their points. Wash out our proverbial mouths with soap, wash away hateful, disrespectful language and then reengage one another with not only a new perspective, but a new vocabulary.

We should also think about what our points really are before we make them. What is it we're really trying to communicate? Do we really hate one another? Or, are we simply frustrated with the lack of respect for one another? For me, it's the lack of respect and attention to the fact that we're human beings and are, therefore, much more than our reproductive choices. And when I say we, I mean all of us, on both sides. Everyone deserves respect, as long as they're willing to give it, and suggesting that we're defined by the choices we've made with our reproductive systems is demeaning and disrespectful.

Ultimately, if every single childfree person would vow to stop using the word "breeder" then it would go away. If every childed person dedicated themselves to stop calling us "selfish" then the sentiment might change. We should stop judging one another. If we all dedicated ourselves to making a more respectful choices, then we would all interact in an environment built on a platform of mutual respect and consideration. Think about it.