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.


  1. Who are these people calling childfree women "selfish" and "souless"? At my work place, my principal is childfree, along with my assistant principal and several teachers--all women who opted to not have kids. In my seven years there, I have never ONCE heard a negative reference to any of the childfree women at my work. My coworkers have complained about our principal's policies and a slew of other stuff, but no one has once commented on her reproductive status. No one thinks about it or even cares.

    If you dig around on the internet, you're going to find extremists out there complaining about everything under the sun. But in reality, the majority of people DON'T CARE if someone is childfree. I would focus more on your day to day interactions with the people in your flesh and blood world and ditch those forums or whatever that are accusing childfree women of being 'souless.' They make a very tiny minorities' nasty opinions about you seem like the majorities', which is not only going to irritate the crap out of you, but it's simply not reality-based.

  2. Perhaps it's not the case that people would say it in the real world, but this wasn't about the real world. It's not significant that it's not reality-based because the point was that on the web, we sling hate at one another, using hateful language, and it needs to change. If people in this arena (the web-based community) would change their approach, then the ugliness would simmer down. The outside world is a whole other issue.

  3. Yeah, the Internet has definitely generated a great deal of hostility in regards to both mothers and the childfree. I will admit though, I think the childfree do have to deal with SOME annoyances even without the Internet. For example, one of the new interns at my work was asked if she had children, to which she politely replied that her and her husband didn't plan on having any. Then she was asked, "Why aren't you going to have any?" This wasn't a big deal, but it did make me think: If she had said she DID plan on having kids, nobody would have asked her "Why?" I think those kind of repetitive little encounters could accumulate to some degree of aggravation over time.
    However, the internet has escalated this to an unbelievably volatile level. I do agree with you Kristyn, the language needs to change! The more hate that is slung from both sides, the further all women drift from the equality they worked so hard to obtain. Ironically, those who are spewing the hate are those who are most insecure in their roles. Mothers who are truly at peace with their roles do not feel a need to attack those who do not have children, and vice-versa. I do agree with Jodi, that this cyber space volatility isn't representative of the general population. But considering that the Internet consumes a large segment of many individual's lives, it can be disturbing when exposed to it.
    Maybe you can be the one that changes the language! Sometimes change starts with only one person...:-)

  4. When you put it like that Kristyn, then yeah, I have to agree. Don't you find the hate-slinging via the web kind of cowardly too? I mean, these women who are doing it, whether they are childed or child-free, most likely would never say these things to a colleague or an acquaintance in their flesh-and-blood world. Yet the anonymity of the web gives them a get-out-of-jail-free card to throw blanket insults and discriminations at each other. Your blog entry not only addresses the fact that the language needs to change, but (and I don't think you intended to) it also brings attention to the fact that people need to NOT say things on the web that they wouldn't say to someone in real life. I think we're all guilty of that to a small degree, but some of these women are taking it to extremes.

  5. [...] Childfree & Childed: Changing the Conversation – This thoughtful blog post talks about improving communication between parents and the childfree.  According to this post, work can be done on both sides to create lasting change for the better.  Are you up for this challenge?  Are you ready to change the way you refer to parents and their lifestyle?  Read this post to find out more. [...]