The term most often used to describe a woman without a child is simply childless or childfree.
It is, of course, not so simple because both terms are laden with negative connotations. Child-less insinuates a missing or lack of child, whilst child-free suggests a limitation or restriction of said child. In either case, women (for these terms are used mainly for women not men) who are not compelled to have children are often considered unhappy, selfish, unloving, cold, cruel, hateful; rarely is a positive adjective thrown in. By societal standards ‘childless’ or ‘childfree’ women have no value because all women should apparently want to want to have children - that is what they are ‘designed to do’.
Well, oopsy, oopsy me.
As mentioned earlier, men are rarely described as childless or childfree because men simply happen to not have children even if they never want to have children at all. In fact, men are hardly ever questioned about their reasoning not have children. Women, on the other hand, are grilled, bombarded and lambasted with questions about their desire to remain ‘barren’. They also have to defend themselves from vitriolic innuendos about their personality and value as women. These women who decide that children will not enrich their lives will undoubtedly be interrogated at some point or they will be given the once over teamed with an icy, ‘Oh, you don’t want children?’
You’d think that having children is the only way to define a woman’s personality and value as human.
In 2004 the proportion of women between the ages of 15 – 44 who do not have children was 44%, which is up from 35% in 1976. There seems to be a trend toward ‘thinking’ about whether or not having a child is ‘right’, and I applaud such considerations. In the past, people have had children because it was expected, and too often they have not fully considered the effect this will have on their lives. Even today I hear parents uttering, “I didn’t know it was going to be this hard.”
There are numerous reasons why women and men choose not to have children: financial, independence, over population, fear, responsibility, personal well-being. And there are just as many reasons why people do have children: to be loved, to be cared for in old age, to teach, to share, to continue their name. None are right and none are wrong – it’s individual choice. And selfishness, often used against women without children, can actually be argued for both. I never grill a parent about their choice to have children, so why it is okay to grill me about mine not to?
I don’t doubt that children enrich the lives of people who want them but as a women who doesn’t have the urge or inclination to be pregnant and raise a child, how this could possibly enrich mine?
Why can not having a child be an enriching experience for me? Some say I’ll change once I have them, but really I ask, is that a guarantee? No, of course not.
There are indeed parents who have children and don’t feel the euphoric joy one is told they will feel, instead they pretend they do and persevere to raise their children as best they can. They know they have done something incongruous with their inner desire and are too afraid to admit it, instead they feel compelled to continue the charade otherwise society will harshly judge them.
And it isn’t that I don’t like children, though this is often the assumption. I do like and love them, but I don’t show this side of myself when I’m around my friends’ kids. Why? Because then I have to listen to, “See, you’ll make such a great mother”, “Are you sure you don’t want children, look how good you are with them”, or “I put money on the fact that you’ll have a kid eventually.” It’s these condescending comments that keep me from engaging and playing with children because it boils my blood when they are said to me. Is it really that weird to like children but not want any of my own? And no, I won’t change my mind, I’m 38 years old, I think I know what I do and don’t want by now.
But, whether you decide to use ‘childfree’ or ‘childless’ to describe me it will inevitably infuriate me because it assumes the default position is to have a child when in fact the default position is to not have a child. I don’t know anyone to date that was born with their child. So why am I the one who is ‘less’ or ‘free’? To be without a child is the default position. I am not less anything nor am I free of anyone. The parent is the one that changed their position; they have added to their circumstance.
How would they feel if I referred to them as child-burdened or child-accessorized? I am no less free without children than parents are burdened with them, and I am not less without them than they are accessorized with them.
So, you ask, how do you describe a woman without a child? You don’t, because it shouldn’t bloody matter!