This was originally published on Sum of My Pieces.
Here are two comments on a recent Huffington Post article of mine, Don't Pity Me Because I Don't Have Kids, in which I wrote about how people have a hard time understanding my childfree life:
People, huh? "People" have a hard time understanding? As you, me and everyone reading this knows, it's "women" who do this to each other overwhelmingly and it's not even close. WOMEN, not "people" and certainly not (nearly all) men. It fascinates me the way everyone is so afraid to point this out in articles like this. -a woman
Not having kids has so many real advantages that I don't know why anyone would care what people (i.e. women because men don't give a damn) think about it. I imagine kids are something of a status symbol in female social circles and the childless woman is considered a "failure" which is where thee pity comments come from. -a man
And while I can proudly report that I told both those people (very nicely) that I thought they were wrong--that it wasn't just women who judged people without kids--I also have a confession. The piece in question was originally a blog post of mine that I initially titled Why WOMEN Should Stop Feeling Sorry For Me.
So yeah, until recently, I also bought into the idea that it's really just women who have problems with childless people. I wrote and titled the blog post, but before I published it I read it to my best friend for feedback (read: for her to tell me that I'm a literary genius and the piece was perfect). But she couldn't get past the title or the line: "And women have a hard time understanding that." We talked for a while and she made some good points, namely that women are probably only more likely to voice their opinion on the matter, not necessarily more likely to have it in the first place.
I changed the title of my post but wasn't entirely convinced until a few months later, when something else happened.
I posted a hilarious meme that said "The best part of kids is that I am not responsible for any of them." I know, right? Told you it was hilarious. Also happens to be true--despite the fact that I love (some) kids, I don't have any myself because I'm not ready to give up the freedom that one loses upon procreation. And someone said this:
Such a sad, sad commentary by someone who has never experienced the pure joy and love a child brings to the heart and soul of one who IS responsible for them.
I'd only been on social media for a short while at the time, and wasn't able to let trolls' comments slide off my back with the same ease that I am now. (Ha.) It made me so angry that I took to Facebook to write the one and only rant that I've ever posted. And let me tell you, it was a pretty good one. I said that it most certainly was not a sad commentary, that a woman doesn't need kids to be fulfilled, that blah blah blah, insert feminist rant here. And I could totally feel both men and women near and far giving me a feminist salute as they liked and commented and shared my post. I was basically saving civilization in general, and feminism in particular.
But here's what was interesting. Everyone assumed that the comment was made by a woman. It wasn't.
I wasn't trying to trick anyone, it just never occurred to me to mention the gender of the commenter. (Unsurprisingly, he had a lot of hunting pictures up on his page--a lot of standing triumphantly over enormous dead animals, his eyes glistening with pride that he was able to outsmart an animal and then turn a weapon on it.) But one by one, the comments came in with feminine pronouns: "don't listen to her," and "what does she know?" and "forget about her."
So my question is--why? Why are we (myself included) so quick to assume that it's only women who care about the status of women's wombs? The idea of a happy marriage with 2.5 happy children is the great American Dream, is it not? Isn't it a societal standard that both men and women designate as the arbiter of what's important and what isn't?
I don't have any definitive answers, but I do know that these questions merit some serious thought. As women, I think we're especially hard on other women. Both of those comments portray women as catty and competitive, but there's something much more aggressive--almost vitriolic--about the woman's comment. There was a resentment there--that I was part of a group of people who were consciously trying to perpetuate a notion that I knew to be false because I was afraid of the truth.
The other day I was talking to a friend and he said that he did think women care more than men about who has kids, and when I asked him why, he couldn't cite any specific examples. Just a general feeling, he said. I assume the same general feeling I used to have. Problem is, we often mistake social constructs for "general feelings." The fact is, we have been trained to think certain things about each gender, and then to attribute those differences to "nature." And if we really want things to change, we need to start examining those ideas and questioning where they have actually come from.
Or, y'know, I could just do as I've been told and stop reading the comment sections of my pieces.
Connect with Dani on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram, and check out her blog Sum of My Pieces, for grown-ups like her who don't have their shit together. She writes about her messy life in order to write about things she thinks are important: societal expectations, sexuality, relationships, and the vortex that is social media.