Thursday 26 April 2018

Jennifer Aniston is right - a childless life isn't a fruitless one

Jennifer Aniston
Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston gave an interview on the US Today show this week where she talked about how we all tend to judge a woman's value on whether she's had children or not. Aniston is often portrayed in the media as the incarnation of spinsterly misery, ever since that scheming, vampy Angelina nabbed Brad from her. Magazine inches continually pity her barren state, but the actress argued: "I've birthed a lot of things and I feel like I've mothered many things. And I don't think it's fair to put that pressure on people."

Despite feminism's strident advances, our society still expects women to want to have children and looks down on women who don't, either as being in denial or else being some kind of freak. You can be the most successful, accomplished high-achieving woman in your neighbourhood, but there's a persistent blanket assumption that all of us women ultimately want to get married and have children. We don't always. I don't want a blood diamond and I don't need a symbolic public ceremony celebrating something I already have. And motherhood isn't something that should be so completely knotted up with proper grown-up femininity.

Helen Mirren appears to be asked about little else; in a 2013 interview with Vogue she discussed her child-free lifestyle. Women, she said, never gave her a hard time: "It was only boring old men. And whenever they went 'What? No children? Well, you'd better get on with it, old girl. I'd say 'No! F*** off!'"

The message is clear: no matter how successful a woman is in her chosen profession, her ultimate purpose is to be a mother and any deviation from this biological destiny is fascinating enough to be pored over endlessly. Singer Linda Martin and former newsreader Anne Doyle are still questioned about the fact that they chose not to have children. Actress Julianne Moore snapped in DuJour magazine: "Men aren't asked about their children… I do feel it becomes reductive when a woman's life becomes, 'Talk to me about your kids and how you feel about plastic surgery'."

Of course, a myriad of different reasons lie behind each individual woman's choice not to have a baby, whether it's a conscious choice, a medical issue or maybe because the timing was just never right. Whatever the reason behind it, it remains a very delicate issue that we haven't quite worked out how to deal with yet. It's estimated that one in five young Irish women won't have any children at all. According to the last census, there were 460,287 women here who have not had children. Almost 100,000 women over 40 have never given birth.

In 2012 a research team talked to 1,200 childless-by-choice American women about how they weren't crying in their immaculate homes over their unused genetic material.

"Motherhood is so highly connected with adult femininity in the US that many women feel that they need to be mothers," said Julia McQuillan, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist and the study's lead author. "Yet we also found that there are women who have low or no distress about not being mothers, even if their friends and family want them to have children."

Common reasons found were not having a suitable partner, career demands, financial concerns or simply not wanting to have a family. The study found that it was only when child-free women came under pressure from family, friends or the media that they felt any distress about their situation.

You see, it only becomes upsetting when you realise that other people are either pitying you or calling you a selfish, irresponsible party girl without a care in the world, apart from your own amusement. Let's stop pitting moms against childless-by-choice ladies. Both camps have fulfilling lives because we're doing exactly what we want to do.

Childless isn't a synonym for hollow or miserable. And let's move together towards a world where if women are asked why they didn't have kids, they simply say: "That's an odd question."

Lorraine Courtney

Irish Independent

Style Newsletter

Stay on top of the latest fashion, beauty and celeb gossip in our Style newsletter.

Editors Choice

Also in this section