Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Ultimate Peer Pressure: Motherhood

Or, "Night of the Iguana"...

When I was 12 or 13, I was in a conversation with a bunch of girls. They were talking about how many kids they wanted to have in the future. I don’t remember whether I was asked, or if I just declared: “I’m going to have iguanas!”

Looking back, isn’t this an odd thing for young girls to discuss when they’re still kids themselves? Have you ever heard an adult say to a young person (BEFORE they start dating and having sex) that they shouldn’t be thinking right now about having children? No, apparently it’s charming for kids to name their own future kidlets, just like it’s charming for young girls to plan their future weddings. Pregnancy really is the ultimate peer pressure for girls and women of all ages, and we start grooming ‘em early. Sure, we talk a game about girls planning careers and making choices about their lives, but girls and women also get the very strong message that all we should be planning is families. Mixed messages are nothing new; we can at least recognize them for what they are—messages, not facts or commands. They could be just as valid as what your drunk ex-boyfriend leaves on your voicemail at 3am on a Friday night.

What’s really sad is that when women do have children, whether out of desire, pressure, or not knowing what else to do, we don't get a whole lot of support. So we've fulfilled our "major function" in life, and we can't get affordable child care? Nice... And while men are praised for being good fathers just for spending time with their kids, women are encouraged to be perfect mothers in every way-- no amount of effort is enough. It’s a tough nut to crack and if I follow this thread too far, it'll just get depressing.

I actually got the idea for this post many months ago, when I found myself in a conversation with two women, one in her late teens and the other in her late twenties. The older woman had given birth to a child when she was my age, and the younger woman wanted to know every single detail of the process. I was just sitting there like, "Wait for it...wait for it..." Boom: "Isn't it amazing how we can bear children?" And etc, etc. I'm at the age where some people I know are starting to have kids, and honestly, it freaks me out a bit. If I ever wanted kids as much as I wanted iguanas back in the day, then I'd like to adopt them. But I don't understand the desire women have to give birth, and how far some of us will go to do so. Although I know some asexuals do want to give birth, it's not a need I can personally relate to.

Maybe part of it is because I'm a huge enviro-warrior and am concerned about overpopulation. What use are kids on a dead planet, right? But besides Ralph Nader, who might be asexual, I don't think there's a correlation between environmentalism and indifference to child-bearing. If you say my biological clock will start ticking at some point, that's no different from saying that someday I'll "find the right person" who will make me desire sex. I shudder to think that if I ever got married, people would constantly be asking my spouse and I when we were having kids. I always feel impotently frustrated when I hear asexuals talking about how their families are pressuring them to have children or just bugging them about it. Because “Sure, Aunt Enid, the annoyingness of this family is really something I want to pass on”. I consider myself extremely lucky that my family doesn’t do this, but it shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Reducing people to biology ("But the species must be perpetuated!") is such a cop-out. As if personal freedom is the only think holding back a state of nature. Motherhood isn't natural, "amazing", or inevitable for all women. It's viable for men to have other outlets of creation-- novels, music, scientific discoveries, and it shouldn't be any different for women. I don't think having biological kids is out of the question for me-- maybe a physical struggle will be preferable to a bureaucratic struggle if and when I do decide I want kids. I can guess why "your own kids" are so important to people...sort of...but I don't feel it viscerally. Maybe I never will, and that's just fine.

(PS-- If you want more reading material on the topic, check out a great post by Cree at Naturally Curvy here.)


Anonymous said...

"I'm going to have iguanas!" I love it!!

It makes me massively uncomfortable when I find out about women my age or younger getting pregnant, especially if I know them and am supposed to be happy for them, which I never am. I squirm at the thought of the inevitable point at which people will start bugging me about having kids myself, which is something I have never been interested in in the slightest. I also find it really creepy how little girls are socialized to talk about their future weddings and children's names and stuff.

Requiem said...

Agreed! I've been giving this some thought myself, among other messages, lately as I've been rewatching some of disney classics of my childhood.

It is rather infuriating sometimes. And the biologic clock thing really presses on my nerves, it's as if we have no will over ourselves when it comes to our primary instincs and we are just robotic slaves to it. No!

The reality, I think, is that in the end, the say that, not to covince us (biologic clock, meeting the right person, so on), but to convince themselves that we are "normal" like them.
And this is something I haven't yet understood why.

Ah... sorry I got carried away!

And this is the perfect link to share on a post like this:


Take care

Anonymous said...

I loved my post, but my explanation can't be more Darwinian. This is what a friend of mine calls the romantic view of motherhood. After a discussion in Darwinian terms, we drew the conclusion that independently of the ratio of women with this romantic view of motherhood, they are majority the mothers of the next generation. These women transmit the genetic and culturally elements to the next generation, while free women don't reproduce of have fewer children. We may also give a Darwinian explanation for the preference of biological children.

Ily said...

Hee, I thought I might get some backup on this. :-) I guess that whether you want kids or not, it's hard to argue with the fact that it's a big source of pressure. Isaac's theory has me convinced that even if we don't have kids, maybe we should find some young'uns to mentor, and show them that you don't have to follow every social norm to be a functioning adult.

nekobawt said...

what's insidious is it isn't even really peer pressure--it's an automatic assumption. unless that counts as peer pressure.... i really wish i had a dollar every time i had the following conversation:

me: "i don't really like kids."
them: "you'll change your mind when you have one."

"when you have one"! not "if." "when." i could and would fund a hysterectomy on the sheer amount of times i've repeated that conversation with a multitude of women. men seem to take my position at face value; women are flabbergasted that anyone with a uterus wouldn't want to use it.

the heck with that, is what i say. when i was a little girl, i wanted to grow up to be a crazy cat lady. i've got the crazy; all i need now are the cats. :)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I wanted to write "I loved this post."

I also thing that it's better to teach other people's children. I think one may find more compatibility than with biological children. Myself, I've never felt the calling of fatherhood, but I'd like to have (master and doctorate) students in the future. I think that a thought school is a better legacy than your DNA.

Anonymous said...

I totally believe that people who don't have kids should consider mentoring. I always liked working with kids and figured I would continue to find ways to incorporate that into my life and help instill positive values in them, even though I wouldn't be raising any myself.

NancyP said...

I think that most people have some desire to contribute to the next generation. I never wanted to be a mother, and now am 99.9% sure that I never can be a biologic mother in the natural way (translated, I am on my last egg, though not officially postmenopausal). I have noticed that I take more pride in the teaching aspect of my work than in earlier years. My (adult) students will go out into independent practice with professional skills but also, I hope, with certain attitudes that will keep them aware of their patients as well as the technical aspects of their patients' tests, and with a commitment to lifelong professional learning. Perhaps it is a matter of accepting the way things turned out and being kinder to myself concerning my relative lack of scholarly activity caused by depression and material/time issues, but it's not a bad thing to transmit a legacy of service.

Saint Splattergut said...

So many different ways to leave a legacy... I've always preferred art... The most enduring legacy is a fully-functioning world, explorable by all for decades to come. The best video games, stories, etc.

Agatha Christie should be pretty proud of all her kids (books).

Anonymous said...

This discussion has reminded me a book I had read many years ago. This novel is La Tía Tula, by Miguel de Unamuno, published in 1921. I’ve just opened a thread in AVENes about it. The main character, Aunt Tula, might be asexual who uses Catholic morality as a shield. She has a great motherhood instinct and satisfies it with her nephews and nieces. The soul of this family is asexily transmitted form aunts to nieces, as in a beehive.

AFlyingPiglet said...

As I'm shortly to turn 37, my body clock must be ticking away - in the past year or so my periods are starting to get closer together which is an early sign that my 'time for bearing children is running out' - hooray!

I don't dislike children but I have never wanted any. I have 6 nephews and nieces and I don't mind them but I am not the stereotypical doting aunt - my sisters wanted them so they can enjoy them whilst I get on with my own life seeing them sometimes.

I am currently going through the friends having babies thing - for the SECOND time. The first time was in my early 20's and now I have a different group of friends going through the same thing - many of them are in their late 20s early 30s (I can think of at least 6 who are currently pregnant and another 3 or 4 who are trying). I do try and be interested and glad for them but it just isn't for me and trying to make conversation about such things is a chore beyond belief.

I have no problem with accepting that lots of people decide to have children (and maybe want them) but many of them are very threatened when I say that I don't.

There are other things I feel very passionate about and want to be involved in and make a difference. There are other things to 'give birth' to - ideas, hopes, dreams and not just babies.