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Subjective Truth and Being Child-Free

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So http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/07/28/aint-i-a-mama/

http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/07/27/shorter-cuter-more-honest-people/

There’s plenty to be said.  Most of it has been said already, but these two posts really solidified some things about being a child-free feminist in relation to motherhood, mothers, non-human life and my particular Shinto way.

Mai’a, the original poster says “Uou do not have a right to child-free spaces.”…

There’s lots of talk of “radical love” and “decentering” and how there is apparently some great schism between child free feminists (me!) and mothers. But you know, I don’t feel that. Mothering and parenting can represent love, but it can also represent profound selfishness and abuse.

There is no universal truth accessible to parents, and parenting does not mean the same thing in all places at all times across cultures. Hell, the concepts of childhood and adolescence are fluid across cultures. Do I think children as a class deserve special protection? Absolutely. Children are incredibly vulnerable, and are quite literally at the mercy of  their caretakers and other adults.

Do I think children as a class are oppressed? I’m not so certain about that.  Childhood and adolescence is by its very nature a temporary identity. It is not the same as race, gender or sexual orientation. It is not a marker of identity which one will carry for ones entire life. Children are the only class towards which maternalism and paternalism is entirely appropriate and necessary.

It is necessary and appropriate because it is temporary, not in spite of it.

So, child-free spaces are also appropriate in a way that other barred spaces are not. A golf club that excludes women and black people will forever bar entry to people who cannot change their identity. A restaurant that bars entry to toddlers will not forever and always be beyond the reach of said toddlers. They will grow up, learn the social mores of their milieu and be able to enter that space. And they need to do this.

I believe that motherhood is fucking hard. I believe that mothers, especially single mothers and WOC (and women who are both) have it incredibly hard. I will agitate right alongside mothers and children for equal pay, better leave policies, universally accessible safe childcare, and respect for mothers who work outside the home and inside the home. That work is invaluable. Those rights are my rights too. They make my life better, because they make the world better.

But.

I do believe in the necessity of child-free spaces. For parents, especially mothers, who need to maintain an identity separate from their children. For people who need to sort out the pain, and anomie and struggle and death and sex and mess of life that young children are frankly not equipped to deal with. Sometimes, you sort that out via shots of tequila and fisticuffs, tobacco and necking, swearing and sobbing and freaking.the.fuck.out. Sometimes you sort that in a quiet coffee shop, or over a romantic dinner.

You know how, when you were a kid, you’d ask questions, and your parents would tell you that you’d understand when you were older? If you’re reading this, then you probably know that they weren’t lying. There are things you literally cannot understand until you run full fucking tilt into them as an adult. People look back at their teenaged know-it-all selves with chagrin for that very reason.

So how do these posts speak to me?

Well, it’s a sore spot. I believe that every woman (and man and trans-person and gender-queer person) should be able to define themselves without regard to their reproductive choices. It should be a non-issue. It should never occur to anyone to ask anyone whether zie will have children, or how many, or at what age, or why or why not. Because that person in front of you is always, always more than their reproductive abilities. Those choices are profoundly, perhaps sacredly, personal. It would be gauche and rude to question a person’s religious faith, and ideally, the choice to parent or not should (in my happy world) be treated with the same gravitas.  I also recognize that the inverse pressures faced by middle class white women (to reproduce) versus WOC (not to reproduce).

Choosing to make motherhood or parenthood the center of ones identity is a choice I will honor and defend. But it offers subjective truths, not universal ones. Let me be clear. I don’t believe subjective truths are lesser. Subjective truths and the experiences that bear them out are at the core of my Shinto beliefs.

In fact being childfree is also at the core of my Shinto practice. I’m not going to exhaustively explain Shinto here because you can click out to my Jinja. I will clarify that I’m not Japanese, and I don’t particularly identify with secular Japanese culture other than enjoying some aesthetic aspects. Shinto is lots of things for me. It doesn’t conflict with science, it doesn’t denigrate me as a woman, it is a felt, physical sort of faith without a lot of  metaphysical tangles. It’s not something you do publicly, or can preach. There isn’t a core sacred text that you study, or a charismatic leader. As one Shinto priest famously said to Joseph Campbell “I don’t think we have a theology. We just dance.”

Shinto emphasizes that one persons lived truth is just as valid as another’s as long as it is built on respect, tolerance, kindness and makoto no kokoro a kind of trueness, purity, or straightness of heart. So here’s the thing.

I can accept it as an absolute but subjective truth when other people talk about what parenting has meant and done for them, their lives, the world, everything.

I can’t accept it as the objective truth about what it is to be a human, and especially a woman, spoken with a voice and vision that is centered everywhere and nowhere, that is absolutely neutral and not value and experience laden. Which is to say, that is not my truth.

Which is not to say that my truth is more valuable.

See, I can’t build my life around children. I could explain, but I don’t owe anyone an explanation. As with sex, I don’t want to, is, in fact, a good enough reason for the world to accept my no.  I don’t doubt the folks who say that they felt the same but their own kid was different. Thats your truth. Not mine.

My Shinto? Is ok with this. Does not put the yoke of “Not a Real Woman” around my neck for my truth.

My Shinto says that being child-free is another life-way, a way that is able to honor mothers and fathers and care-givers and children by literally physically opening up space and resources for them.

The original posts talk about the struggles of WOC and women in the developing world. I will never know, I won’t even pretend to know. But what I do know, is that as a privileged white woman, married to a privileged white dude, by not having children I am not using huge amounts of food, oil, water, clean air, arable land, slots in schools, and opportunities for less privileged kids to succeed. Space and Resources. This should not be taken as a pot shot at privileged people who have kids. I’m not judging you either. That’s the point. Respect me and what my choices mean for the world, and I will do the same for you.

I am also able to use my child-free privileges to campaign for you. Things that single mothers (and fathers not really referred to here because of the nature of the posts  being discussed), poor mothers, WOC mothers, LGBTQ mothers may not have the time or resources or energy to be rallying and fighting for themselves. For child-care, for health care, for better education, for a better environment. For the stuff that benefits us both. We are not mutually exclusive in our needs. All the stuff that I want for myself is stuff that I want for everyone else and your children too.

So it is a spiritual service of sorts, this choice of mine to be child-free. It is selfish and selfless, as is, I strongly suspect, parenthood. Most things are.

Sowing seeds of malcontent, by making absurd statements about how I don’t have a right to child free spaces and how mama-ing is the one true way to the one true truth doesn’t rectify any injustices for anyone, really. Erasing the lived truths of others does not make your truth any truer.

I do have to credit those particular posts with helping me crystallize and explicate a part of my Shinto faith and practice that I had struggled to clarify to myself. And also giving me something pretty heavy to shoot across the bows of the next person who questions my no in response to the “when you having babies?” question.

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About Pepper

Pepper Lee Hales is a twenty something, married, vicious feminist liberal. She likes dogs, cats, spiders, epistemics and cake.

5 responses »

  1. Oh man.

    Those posts really rattled me. Srsly.

    First of all – any one else feel a little like we’re arguing/picking a side… simply to be argumentative/have a side? Or something? Look – I can’t possibly say I know a whole heck of a lot about feminism, because, unfortunately, aside from the general yay-women-can-vote stuff, it wasn’t a part of my education. I need to educate myself on this – definitely on the to-do list. However. My own personal take on the term? YES I want to live in an equal world. YES I want to blur gender stereotypes and change societal definitions. Did I say I want women to be the same as men who are subjugated themselves? Did I say I want women to be better than men? Did I say that pertains to white, middle class, privileged women only?

    Yeah no. Didn’t say that. And, ps, please don’t assume that I am ignorant and naive enough to think that we’re all the same, or that my fight is better than your fight.

    We’re all fucking human, dammit. To me, feminism means just that. To me, feminism is something that should bring people together, to fight together, not to compare our battles. I realize fully that those opinions are ignorant of the history of feminism. But… aren’t they better than the alternative?

    Because the language in these posts is somewhat offensive to me. Not because I don’t understand – scratch that – don’t comprehend what you’re saying and agree with you for the most part, but because… do you have to define your battle, your fight, your life, by how wrong I have it? Because I am white, etc?

    Can’t we be on the same page, celebrate our different victories, learn from our varied experience, and YES use our varied resources to help one another? This DOES NOT mean I think my battle is easier than yours – I get it, it’s not. But… does that mean I don’t have one?

    I beg to differ. Srsly.

    As for Mamas… Hmmm. I agree with you. I don’t plan on having children either – but I can’t imagine that that means I can’t relate. Or that I can’t stand up for your rights as a Mama. That I can’t respect the term. But there needs to be a place in there for non-Mama Mamas. Being a woman, being a human, is not defined by giving birth.

    And yes, I have to say – children require protection, etc. They also require their own spaces. Obviously. I think I need my own sometimes too. Not just because some people don’t have super-cool kids (and for that I blame the parents, sorry) and I screaming children are, again sorry, disruptive. But also because… it’s in the children’s best interest, too. There are some thing they don’t need to learn about. The other thing they’re missing is that, because children are vulnerable, many spaces should be altered to be appropriate for children. Period. And the adult world shouldn’t have to cater to kids – kids will see it when they’re adults. That’s just reality – not discriminatory. And I agree – being a child is a life history stage, not the definition of a person.

    Reply
  2. It just seems like… so much of the definition of woman, or Mama, is having a child. Is giving birth. Is that I am missing out, or am not a true woman, if I don’t have kids. There is something that I don’t understand, that I won’t understand – something better and beyond what I am now.

    No – that is taking your experience and using it to define things that it does not. I find utter joy and experience bliss too – but it’s not because I can breastfeed. That is my experience. Can we celebrate our own joys, bliss, our own experiences in their diversity – instead of discussing their contrast? Or how one is better than another? This isn’t explicit, exactly… but it is implicit.

    Sorry – now my turn to go off…

    Reply
  3. Yeah– those posts were definitely baiting. I mean, I don’t doubt the veracity of the poster or whatever work she is doing in the mid-east. But. Solidarity, hey?

    I won’t lie, I get effing exhausted with the children questions (When are you having kids? How many? Why not? How can you be sure? What if you regret not having any? And that isn’t even touching on the smug assholes who tell me how wrong I am, and how your own kid is different and I should just try it, cause you know, it’s like a toaster and I can just return it if it doesn’t work out), and also the refusal to accept my no. I shouldn’t have to qualify it. It should be like… being gay? Not up for questioning.

    I also get very twitchy about people defining real womanhood, or real manhood.

    And I won’t call myself a mama.

    My purpose in this world is not nurturing, frankly. I am spiky, combative, a snob, a bitch, a voice that makes people think, and pokes holes in their bubbles. I do not cup them soothingly in my hands and help them grow. I do not send warm energies. I am not the great earth mother with unlimited empathies. I don’t hate those women who are, they are important. But I think plenty of women have spent their lives radically, horribly de-centered. A balance of selfishness and giving is necessary for happiness, IMO. And like it or not, children have been used to oppress women for-fucking-ever, to oppress to the point of death, very often. That doesn’t mean we don’t love, on an individual basis, our oppressors (hi men!), but it does merit a systematic examination of the institution of child-bearing. It’s been done by smarter, more French, more elegant writers than I, and it.is.not.for.everyone.

    Seriously, again, the choice to have or not have children is so personal that it is like sexual orientation. I knew I didn’t want kids from as far back as I can remember. I never played with dolls, I never wanted to nurture baby humans. I love animals, so, that rules out sociopathy, I just don’t want to have baybeez– I’m not broken, not even by a biological definition, because again, eusocial insects and other social animals show us that non-reproducing members of a species actually bolster the fitness of those who reproduce. My genes will be partially passed on in my niece, so, not much difference than the 50% that would be gone by me having my own kid.

    But I am a real honest to gosh woman. So– it’s just sort of a fuck you, to people like me. It’s also a fuck you to trans-men, because you know, they may have given birth to children who are biologically their own, but be fathering/mothering them, and those experiences are probably as hard as any other kind of hard in the whole world. Including the hard the WOC go through. This isn’t the oppression olympics, as you said. I respect that the intersection of oppressions is a way fucking harder place to stand than where I am, but its also not an excuse or justification for shitting all over other people who stand at terribly difficult intersections, or people who would be your allies (ohai me! kthxbai!) because… we don’t want your three year old child at the bar? Or something?

    Reply
  4. One day Pepper, you will progress from being ‘child free’ to being ‘childless’.

    You have to think about that a bit to understand it.

    Reply

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