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.
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.