When liberals talk about states like Texas implementing laws to deter women from their constitutional right to an abortion, the conversation often veers into a frustrated rant, highlighting the hypocritical nature of conservatives who don’t believe in regulation or big government until it comes to a woman’s womb.
But as a society, people of all political stripes are hyper-obsessed with wombs. No matter what decision a woman makes -- to have children, to start a family later in life, or to not have kids at all -- she is likely to be scrutinized and judged.
In a cover story for Time magazine, “The Childfree Life,” Lauren Sandler writes:
The decision to have a child or not is a private one, but it takes place, in America, in a culture that often equates womanhood with motherhood. Any national discussion about the struggle to reconcile womanhood with modernity tends to begin and end with one subject: parenting. If you're a woman who's not in the mommy trenches, more often than not you're excluded from the discussion. But being sidelined doesn't exempt childless women from being scolded.
Commenting on Time’s story, Jezebel’s Tracie Egan Morrissey laments:
As author Lauren Sandler points out, we're raised to believe that becoming a mother is a social imperative. But recent generations have also been raised to want an education and a career. It creates a conflict somewhere in our 30s in which "[w]ithout independence, we’re failures. With it, we’re selfish." So, like everything else about being a woman, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.
For women who choose to forgo motherhood, they’re seen as defying the cultural norm and the critique is blunt. In a CNN segment Friday, anchor Carol Costello summed it up like this:
When people ask me, do you have children and I say no, they always look at me then and say, "Oh, I'm sorry." As if like there's something like physically wrong with me and I'm unable to have children or I'm a poor, sad, selfish person and please go away. [Note: Watch the whole segment below.]
On the flip side, women who do have children are told that they’re contributing to overpopulation and therefore hurting the environment. Worse, women are told they need to pay the motherhood penalty -- that is, accept the consequence that motherhood means sacrificing their careers. Never mind that men aren't victims of pregnancy discrimination or made to feel like they must choose between family or career.
Our culture is certainly in an optimistic period of transition. Many more women are having children in their late 30s and 40s so that they can establish their careers and financial stability first. Prominent women like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer have become cultural examples for women who wish to balance motherhood with their careers. And women like CNN anchor Carol Costello are giving a voice to childfree women.
Still, this obsession, both societal and political, with women’s wombs has to end.