O P I N I O N – G E N D E R & S O C I E T Y
Growing up as a woman means growing up with roles assigned from birth, and that is a blatant truth. From the Golden Age of the Virgin Queen Elizabeth I, who was not so much of a virgin as she was merely unmarried and childless—to the current times when women have almost gained access to equal rights, not bearing children is still stigmatised. Society has not yet learnt to separate womanhood from motherhood.
In Spartan culture, women were considered equal to male warriors in the army due to their unique ability of bearing and raising children. Once a foreign lady, allegedly from Attica, asked Gorgo, the Queen of Sparta, “Why are you, Spartan women, the only ones who can rule men?” Gorgo replied, “Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men.”
Women of Sparta, unlike anywhere else in ancient Greece, were seen to exercise and folly around, unclothed, the same as men—the allowance to exercise being given not as a sign of freedom, rather a guarantee of women surviving childbirth and providing Sparta with strong and healthy offspring.
Now the ancient city of Sparta was no ideal to uphold, for even though women were given access to many rights, such as getting education and owning property; they were seen as little more than vessels of bearing children who were to become strong soldiers. However, at least the recognition that women had due to their intrinsic ability of bearing children, and the honour that was assigned to them for it, is no longer prevalent in society. In fact, childbearing is perceived to be your next responsibility as a woman after getting married.
Where does that leave some women who do not wish to bear children? They are labelled “selfish, shallow, and immature”, according to psychotherapist Zoe Krupka. Women who are fully grown and consensual adults are constantly disregarded, being told that they will change their minds—whenever they express their wish to remain childfree.
Every article that looks into the newer trend remaining childfree, always signifies the question of “why?”. Why are women choosing to not have kids? Well, there are several valid reasons as to why women are increasingly making this choice, including overpopulation, lack of finances, halting genetic illnesses from being passed down the next generations etc. However, the question should not be why a woman chooses to not have children, rather why women are accosted/questioned for not having children. At this day and age, a woman should be able to make choices for herself and her own body without justifying it to the world.
Yet the sad reality is, a lot of rights women enjoy are only worth their face value. There is a term seldom heard of: Surgical sterilisation, which is a permanent contraceptive method for women, popularly known as “getting one’s tubes tied”. Although the legal requirements for this procedure are being older than 21 years, mentally sound, and having a 30-day waiting period, women who meet all these prerequisites are still often turned down by physicians. Such refusal often has little to do with health concerns and more to reasonings like “your husband might want kids” and “you’ll change your mind in a few years”. It is funny how women can vote and go to war starting at 18 years, but when it comes to making decisions about their own body, they are often considered young and immature, at 21 years or above.
Ironically, many organisations either care about children only until they are born, like the pro-life movement, or solely about the child and not their bearer; political bodies are no exception. Natalism, the belief in promoting or advocating for childbirth, has now become a political ideology, with the objective of growing native population. Pronatalist policies provide financial benefits to single mothers and those with typically 3 or more children. As women-friendly as it sounds, it is rather only children-friendly because the nations with pronatalist policies, such as Hungary, not only enforce motherhood as the women’s primary role in the country, also put extreme restrictions on abortion and contraceptives.
Be it by law or medical paternalism, i.e: a concept which allows physicians to make decisions they deem best for their patient, women are often left with little to no autonomy over their own body. Societal prejudice, and the people internalising them, deem an unborn entity more worthy of compassion than the one who would be carrying it. Little is it considered that giving birth is only Step 0 in raising offspring, and that children deserve mothers who would truly want them. Some women are just not ready or willing to be caregivers. When forced to take on the role, such women are at higher risk of facing postnatal PTSD, body diaspora, and not to mention the possibility of inducing childhood trauma to the progeny increases, which can bear adverse lifetime effects.
To quote a TedTalk close to my heart,
“I’ve always believed that having children was an extension of womanhood, not the definition.”
Women have the intrinsic ability of giving birth. When society starts seeing childbirth as a blessing bestowed upon women, rather than women’s mortal responsibility, perhaps then women would finally have more leverage to make choices for themselves, and ensure a better upbringing for the next generations.
Nabiha Nuha is a 19-year-old female who only loves three C’s in her life: cats, cuddles, and chocolate chip cookies.