My parents always made it clear that I could do and be whatever I wanted to. From “He Bear, She Bear” to “Oh the Places You’ll Go”, I never had any doubt that I could do anything, and certainly anything boys could do. I made a statement about this in seventh grade when I went out for the boys’ football team. When asked dubiously, “Are you sure you want to try out?”, by a wimpy boy generally recognized as the class loser, who was also going out for the team, I sneeringly responded, “Are you sure you do?” to the raucous laughter of the rest of the boys. Though I would later feel a bit bad for making fun of him like that, no one and nobody was going to tell me I couldn’t try whatever I liked. I learned to recognize sexism from an early age. Remember Jessie and Slater from Saved by the Bell?
I even dumped the first boy who asked me to “go out with him” in fifth grade after he called me “sexy mama”; after all, Jessie Spano would never have put up with that shit! While not an ideal feminist role model, the ideas stuck with me.
Now older, and with an anthropology degree under my belt, subtle societal pressures regarding gender roles and expectations are everywhere. Especially in commercials. Case in point: E.P.T. (early pregnancy test) commercials featuring nauseating voice-overs that present only one choice: To want to be a mother (whether now or later). “I want to be a mom… but not yet!“, the woman says; after all, its never ok to say, “ah fuck! I can’t have a kid! I don’t like kids! I never want to be a mom!” (See this site for examples of how e.p.t. has been advertised over the years.) Then let’s not even talk about how anti-choice politicians are trying to force us all to have kids, whether we want to or not, with no planning measures (i.e. birth control) whatsoever, to satisfy their dominant male, women are chattel, psychotic christian world-view. For more info on the statistics of how many anti-women measures have been brought up for vote in this country in past year, see: War on Women Infographic from NARAL and “No War on Women? Our Big A** Chart Says You’re Wrong“.
The issue of a woman’s fertility choices are more up for discussion and debate than ever in the past couple of years, with both sides of the issue being up for societal judgement. Don’t want to me a mom? You must be a terrible person or some kind of selfish deviant. Pregnant and planning a natural childbirth? That’s insane, why would you refuse modern medicine? Just plain pregnant? Be prepared to accept belly petting and advice from perfect strangers, or condescension from your colleagues. “I remember a professor from graduate school speaking once about another graduate student who was expecting a child. He commented on her career simply by saying, “She’s made her choice.”” (Quoted here).
See the recent spate of articles about the “childless/child-free” women: BBC here which likens announcing you don’t want kids to coming out gay several years ago; HuffPost “It’s not child-less, it’s a choice“; or “Is it ok for women not to want kids?“. While on a related note, Marie-Ann Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and a response: “Why Women Shouldn’t Want it All” taking Slaughter to task for not talking about women who don’t want children. Finally, there are many articles about the penalty attached to being a mother in the workplace, video here.
While I really do want to have kids, I resent all of the attacks, assumptions, and obstacles women face in this arena. Moreover note that this whole thing is framed in terms of war, as are most things in this country, rather than in terms of peace, understanding, and open discussion. Always fighting, rather than letting people choose how to live their own lives. Let’s be less obsessed with each other’s choices, and start focusing on being better people and finding happiness in our own lives. Will I be able to “have it all”? Probably not; because no one does. What I will strive towards is to choose paths that make me happier, and learning to accept that other things that I feel pressured to do, to be perceived as better, smarter, or more in line with what is normal, are not on a “must-do” list. Just like back in seventh grade, when I quit the football team, after I decided making a point was less important than being able to quit something that I found out I hated doing.