Saying “pregnancy is disgusting” or “breeders are contributing to overpopulation” is just as bad as the concern trolls who say childfree folks are “selfish.”
This morning on Facebook, I saw this piece, “For Young Women, Not Having Children Has Become the Rational Decision,” from Mic, which was published back in April. And then I read the Facebook comments.
I know what you’re thinking: NEVER EVER READ THE COMMENTS, but look, I’m not new here. I’ve been writing about being childfree for a while, and I am familiar with the comments people make. And, predictably, there were the classics: “You will regret it,” “You’re selfish,” “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” “If you don’t have kids, you will never know Real Love,” etc. Fine. Great. I’ll be over here living the life I want, and you keep worrying about my allegedly cold and empty heart.
There is something that’s almost worse than these tired and arrogant concern trolls, and that’s when childfree folks rely on racism, classism, and misogyny to justify our choice. A spin through the online world of childfree forums and support groups will result in some worn out tropes of a different kind. Here’s a brief tour.
1. “We’re better than breeders because we’re not going to contribute to overpopulation.”
The argument against having kids because of overpopulation is really complicated, and it needs to be unpacked thoroughly. On the surface, it’s an easy go-to, because, well, it’s easy to understand. Not having a kid does reduce carbon footprints, but overpopulation isn’t a real thing.
It’s not that there are too many people on the planet, it’s that the resources that exist aren’t being distributed well (or at all). In fact, the global population is actually stabilizing, due to education, more women in the workforce, urbanization, and other advances.
When we talk about overpopulation, there’s a specific image that’s conjured, and that’s of women with black and brown bodies. Overpopulation is seen as an excuse to regulate those bodies—to decide who gets to plan their families and how. The Population and Development Center at Hampshire College does great critical thinking around overpopulation, and has created curriculum and resources about it.
2. “Pregnancy is disgusting.”
Another question that’s frequently leveled at childfree women in particular is whether or not we’re curious about being pregnant, and if not, why not. Very often, the reaction to this inquiry is that pregnancy is gross and destroys your body. While pregnancy certainly changes your body (I hear), lashing out at the bodies of pregnant women and calling them disgusting is actually an expression of deep misogyny.
Recently, Kim Kardashian referred to her pregnancy as the “worst experience” of her life, and got quite a serious amount flack for it on social media. Her feelings about her own pregnancy and physical health are hers, and they are not the same as asserting that the concept of pregnancy, something that is unique to people with uteruses, is disgusting. You might think you’re just making an observation if you say this, but you are also making a political statement.
3. “At least we aren’t those people who can’t take care of their kids/are relying on public assistance.”
What is most frustrating to me about the folks who espouse this and others ideas about being childfree is that I expect us to have more than just our chosen lifestyles in common. Because we’re going against the norm, I’d like to think that we have analyses about how the world works that are inclusive and critical. In other words, understand things like the fact that it’s not for us to judge what good parenting looks like. Using public assistance isn’t an indicator of personal failure, or of one’s ability to take care of a child. The idea that one needs to be vetted by capitalism in order to be able to make reproductive decisions is as classist and racist as it is chilling.
In her recent essay in Elle, Glynnis MacNicol wrote about the unrelenting pressure to procreate and the “baby gap,”—”a baby-shaped void that women are publicly required to account for, no matter what their accomplishments.” It is still frustrating out there for childfree folks, particularly women, and part of the childfree project must include building community based on an intersectional analysis of race, class, and sexuality, not relying on the dominant, destructive narrative to justify our decisions.
Chanel Dubofsky’s work has been published in RH Reality Check, Role Reboot, Cosmopolitan, The Frisky, The Billfold, Lilith and The Forward, among others. She received her MFA in Fiction at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Brooklyn, New York.