It's significant that one of the world's "sexiest" women has gone public that she may never have children. When Cameron Diaz told the UK's Cosmopolitan Magazine this month that the planet doesn't need any more children, she acknowledged it's not easy for a woman to address the topic. "I think women are afraid to say that they don't want children because they're going to get shunned," said the actress.
When it's still okay to ask "are the childless weird?"
While Diaz added that she thinks attitudes are changing, there are still plenty who fail to see a choice to not have children as one of the most selfless things a woman, or man, can do for the planet (one U.S. person= 20 tons of CO2 per year).
The same magazine that published her interview turned around and asked in an online poll: "Are women who don't want children weird?". While there was plenty of support for non-breeders, there were the inevitable comments like "isn't [it] natural for women to have children?" and "as women we are or should be born with a natural instinct to have children".
My family is about to require 24 acres more productive land: I'm pregnant.
As a disclaimer, I should say I'm one of the selfish. I have one child and another on the way any day now, but I didn't take the choice lightly.
For me, having children -- and adding to our planet's ecological footprint is a matter that deserves conscious thought, and shouldn't be treated as a duty or simply an instinctual act. When considering that every American requires 24 acres of productive land, according to Harvard ecologist E.O. Wilson, all my eco-diapers and vegetarian meals seem a bit trivial (see my videos demo-ing a flushable diaper and our daily beans & rice).
Not breeding as an "unacceptable crime."
It's a shame, for both our planet and reluctant potential parents, that too many people still see having children as something we all should do, or should at least want. When UK journalist Polly Vernon wrote an editorial about not wanting kids, she discovered that "voluntary childlessness is an unacceptable crime to cop to" and she was "denounced as bitter, selfish, un-sisterly, unnatural, evil".
Filmmaker Nancy Rome agrees, telling Harper's Bazaar that the childless, like herself, are outcasts. "We are doing something that is viewed as un-American, unfeminine, un-Christian, uneverything."
When bosses see the childless as lacking "essential humanity."
Instead of thanking the child-free for being "all that is stopping our local councils from slapping an even bigger charge on us for residential parking, or the mayors of our cities from resorting to more congestion fees," according to Vernon, we continue to penalize them.
Recent research shows that a childless status could even hurt the careers of childless women. Lancaster University professor Dr. Caroline Gatrell found that some employers see female staff who don't want children as lacking "essential humanity". Gatrell explains that these women are seen by bosses as "cold, odd and somehow emotionally deficient in an almost dangerous way that leads to them being excluded from promotions that would place them in charge of others".
Absurdly, the voluntarily childless are being penalized even though our planet doesn't need any more people: many estimate we've surpassed earth's carrying capacity -- the population size our world can sustain longterm -- by a billion or two people. Population growth, according to the Earth Policy Institute's Lester Brown, "contributes to water shortages, cropland conversion to non-farm uses, traffic congestion, more garbage, overfishing, crowding in national parks, a growing dependence on imported oil, and other conditions that diminish the quality of our daily lives".
Breeding for athletes or children as status symbols.
Yet somehow the childless are not seen as heroes, but as "weird". I emailed a voluntarily childless friend of mine -- no she's not single and desperate, but married and attractive -- asking if this topic came up a lot for her. "I get asked a lot why I don't have kids. Two good looking smart people blah, blah," she emailed back, "A friend asked recently, I'm not making this up, 'Hey, I just heard you're pretty athletic. Your husband's athletic. You two should have kids because I bet they'd be athletic.'"
Birthing a basketball team is not the only weird reason to have kids. In recent years, NPR has covered the "competitive birthing" trend -- having more kids as the "ultimate luxury in America today" -- and Slate has reported on having "kids as status symbols".
Our current population bomb.
Another disclaimer: I come from more than a basketball team of siblings, but I don't judge my mother for choosing to add six more to the world. I love having so many siblings, but I know my mother never chose to have us as status symbols or due to "natural instincts". In fact, she felt pressure to stop after the first few thanks to dire warnings of population explosions by the likes of Paul Ehrlich in his late sixties book, The Population Bomb.
The world's population has nearly doubled since my mother first began giving birth (in 1969, there were 3.6 billion people). Today, there are 6.8 billion people and rising. It's estimated there'll be 9.1 billion of us by 2050. The UK's Optimum Population Trust estimates the world's sustainable population is 5 billion and our current, and projected overpopulation, is "rapidly destabilising our climate and destroying the natural world on which we depend for future life".
Warning: Kids can be depressing and why Ms. Diaz is still thinking about it.
I'm not arguing that we should stop having kids, but that we should see it as a choice. As Florida State University professor Robin Simon explained after publishing the results of his study that parents experience higher levels of depression than childfree adults (even after the kids move out): "I adore my kids. I would do it over again. There are enormous emotional benefits. But I think [those benefits] get clouded by the emotional cost... People should really think about whether they want to do this or not."
I respect my mother for making a conscious choice regarding each of her pregnancies and that is really what I'm getting at, that parenthood shouldn't be seen as a given, a duty, or the fallback option, but rather something we elect to do.
Cameron Diaz seems to understand this freedom we all have from our biology. "I have three nieces and a nephew. I know what it's like. I've changed the diapers. I've seen three births, so I totally get the whole picture," she told Parade Magazine. "I don't think it's a compromise to have children. I don't think it's a compromise not to. I think it's just a different choice."