Monthly Archives: July 2012

Caitlin Moran is my new childfree hero

Caitlin Moran… even though she’s not childfree. Leave it to a wiseass mother of two to make the best case I’ve ever read for not having kids.

Caitlin Moran is currently having an American media moment as she marks U.S. publication of her book How to Be a Woman, a memoir-slash-manifesto that’s been a massive best-seller in the U.K. She’s been described as the British Tina Fey, the next Nora Ephron, and an occasional Lady Gaga bathroom companion. Everyone’s talking about her fervid defense of feminism. (“Do you have a vagina? and Do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations! You’re a feminist.”) But not enough people are talking about her fervid defense of the childfree life — so I’m going to.

Thing is, Moran loves being a mum (in addition to being many other things, like a columnist for The Times of London). She has a sweet and honkingly funny chapter called “Why You Should Have Children.” But she follows that with a whip-smart chapter entitled “Why You Shouldn’t Have Children.” The latter case so rarely gets vocalized, and Moran vocalizes it so damn well, that I want to block-quote the entire chapter. But that would mean a lot of typing for me. So instead I’ll just block-quote a big chunk, and then you’ll have to go buy the book to read the rest. Which you should do anyway.

[I]f a woman should say she’s doesn’t want to have children at all, the world is apt to go decidedly peculiar: “Ooooh, don’t speak too soon,” it will say — as if knowing whether or not you’re the kind of person who desires to make a whole other human being in your guts, out of sex and food, then base the rest of your life around its welfare, is a breezy, “Hey — whatever” decision. …

[T]his injunction for all women to have children isn’t in any way logical. If you take a moment to consider the state of the world, the thing you notice is that there are plenty of babies being born; the planet really doesn’t need all of us to produce more babies.

Particularly First World babies, with their ferocious consumption of oil and forest and water, and endless burping-out of carbon emissions and landfill. First World babies are eating this planet like termites. If we had any real perspective on fertile Western women, we’d be jumping on them in the streets, screaming, “JESUS! CORK UP YOUR NETHERS! IMMUNIZE YOURSELF AGAINST SPERM!” …

Read the rest of the post at Grist.org.

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Toddlers boost household junk by 30%

messy kid's roomWe know that kids bring a whole lot of crap in their wake, but still this tidbit from the new book Life at Home in the Twenty-first Century startled me:

Each new child in a household leads to a 30 percent increase in a family’s inventory of possessions during the preschool years alone.

Elizabeth Kolbert discusses the book in her latest piece in The New Yorker, about spoiled American kids:

Lavishly illustrated with photographs (by Enzo Ragazzini) of the families’ houses and yards, the book [Life at Home] offers an intimate glimpse into the crap-strewn core of American culture.

“After a few short years,” the text notes, many families amass more objects “than their houses can hold.” The result is garages given over to old furniture and unused sports equipment, home offices given over to boxes of stuff that haven’t yet been stuck in the garage, and, in one particularly jam-packed house, a shower stall given over to storing dirty laundry.

Children, according to “Life at Home,” are disproportionate generators of clutter … Many of the kids’ rooms pictured are so crowded with clothes and toys, so many of which have been tossed on the floor, that there is no path to the bed. (One little girl’s room contains, by the authors’ count, two hundred and forty-eight dolls, including a hundred and sixty-five Beanie Babies.) The kids’ possessions, not to mention their dioramas and their T-ball trophies, spill out into other rooms, giving the houses what the authors call “a very child-centered look.”

Kolbert adds a bit of her own color:

With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. … they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. (The market for Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie “couture” has reportedly been growing by ten per cent a year.)

Yet another reminder of the myriad ways in which childfree living is lighter on the environment — not to mention cheaper, cleaner, and so much more aesthetically pleasing.

A legacy more lasting than children

Rod Espinosa, comic book artist and writer, shared these thoughts via the GINK Facebook page:

I believe human beings are special not because we can reproduce — all animals do that. Human beings are special because we can propagate not just our genes, but our very thoughts and philosophies. We can leave a piece of ourselves behind in the form of our ideas. Our children are the books we write, the organizations we found, and the buildings we put up.

Passing on genes is one thing, but leaving a legacy behind is entirely another. We can leave a definite stamp in human history that far exceeds that of mere reproduction. After all, nobody will remember you three generations removed. But if you were Jane Austen, you’d be remembered for eternity. Tom, Dick, and Harry’s progeny mean nothing to me, but the ideas of Homer, the achievements of Catherine the Great, the monuments of Ramses II, the speeches of Lincoln — those shape not just my thoughts, but the thoughts of millions.

So do I choose to make a difference in three lives or 3 million? I choose to leave a lasting legacy behind.

Forget whether you can have it all. Do you really even want it all?

Atlantic cover: "Why Women Still Can't Have It All"Everyone’s talking about the latest Atlantic cover story: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Anne-Marie Slaughter confesses that it’s really damn hard to have both kids and a demanding career. After two years in her “foreign-policy dream job” at the State Department, she gave it up to spend more time with her family (she really meant it!) and return to a less dreamy but more flexible job as a professor.

She writes at length about what needs to change in American society to make it more possible for women to sanely combine work and child-rearing. More power to her: I fully support the kinds of changes she advocates. Women have gotten the shaft for far too long.

But despite all the chatter about this article, no one’s discussing or even noticing the huge assumption underlying it: that most women want both kids and a fulfilling career.

Over the past half-century, women have made tremendous inroads into the world of work, excelling in every field and earning opportunities our foremothers could only have dreamed of. Not only can a woman be dean of Princeton’s international-affairs school and director of policy planning at the State Department — two positions Slaughter has held — but that woman’s bosses can be women too — in her case, Princeton President Shirley Tilghman and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But while our career options have expanded dramatically, our family options can seem as constrained as ever. The Pill has been available in the U.S. for more than 50 years now, but despite the sexual revolution it brought about, expectations for women in the reproductive realm have changed little: We’re still expected to have kids, or at the very least to want kids and feel inadequate if we don’t have them.

How is it that one major aspect of our lives has become so much more free and open while another is still so narrow and stifled?

Slaughter’s article is aimed in large part at twenty- and thirtysomething women who are currently facing critical decisions about careers and families — and if you’re one such woman who has kids or knows she wants them, Slaughter’s got some good advice.

But for women who aren’t convinced that motherhood must be a part of their future, I have some different advice: Instead of just asking, “Can I have it all?,” start by asking, “Do I actually even want it all?” And step it back even further: “What does ‘it all’ mean for me?”

In my own case, having it all, having what I most want in life, means, among other things, having a satisfying career and not having kids.

I’m certainly not alone: There’s a small but burgeoning childfree contingent. And if we as a society talked openly about childfree life as a potential positive choice, our ranks might swell dramatically. But too many people still don’t even consider it as a serious option. Isn’t it time for women to feel free to choose any reproductive path, just as we’re free to pursue any career path?

Before consigning yourself to a series of tough choices about how to balance career goals and child-rearing (not to mention a romantic partnership, finances, elder-care responsibilities, friendships, health, exercise, sleep …), think hard about whether you really want kids. You might find that the answer is no, and that will make your life a whole lot easier.