One of the facts of misogynist mindsets is that women are judged differently than men. Within communities that make adoptee voices the privileged commenters, it is often pointed out that having children really is not a necessity (and given the world’s population and issues of sustainable resources and quality climate factors, I do agree). It is often suggested that infertility should be as accepted by those who find themselves unable to procreate as the sun coming up every morning.
Yesterday, I stumbled on a reference to an article that Rebecca Solnit wrote, which was published in Harper’s Magazine titled – The Mother of All Questions. She had given a lecture on Virginia Woolf. The subject that seemed to most interest a number of people was whether Woolf should have had children. I answered the question dutifully, noting that Woolf apparently considered having children early in her marriage. Over time Woolf came to see reproduction as unwise for whatever her reasons were. She quoted Woolf’s description of murdering “the angel of the house,” that inner voice that tells many women to be self-sacrificing handmaidens to domesticity and male vanity.
Solnit writes, that the line of questioning was familiar enough to her. A British man interviewing her had hounded her about “why I didn’t have children. No answer I gave could satisfy him. His position seemed to be that I must have children, that it was incomprehensible that I did not, and so we had to talk about why I didn’t, rather than about the books I did have.”
She notes “there are many reasons why I don’t have children: I am very good at birth control; though I love children and adore aunthood, I also love solitude; I was raised by unhappy, unkind people, and I wanted neither to replicate their form of parenting nor to create human beings who might feel about me the way that I felt about my begetters; I really wanted to write books, which as I’ve done it is a fairly consuming vocation. I’m not dogmatic about not having kids. I might have had them under other circumstances and been fine — as I am now.”
Solnit goes on to say, “The interviewer’s question was indecent, because it presumed that women should have children, and that a woman’s reproductive activities were naturally public business. More fundamentally, the question assumed that there was only one proper way for a woman to live.”
She goes on to say, “. . . mothers are consistently found wanting, too. A mother may be treated like a criminal for leaving her child alone for five minutes, even a child whose father has left it alone for several years. Some mothers have told me that having children caused them to be treated as bovine non-intellects who should be disregarded. Other women have been told that they cannot be taken seriously professionally because they will go off and reproduce at some point. And many mothers who do succeed professionally are presumed to be neglecting someone. There is no good answer to being a woman; the art may instead lie in how we refuse the question. . . . These are questions that push you into the herd or nip at you for diverging from it, questions that contain their own answers and whose aim is enforcement and punishment.”
“Questions about happiness generally assume that we know what a happy life looks like. Happiness is understood to be a matter of having a great many ducks lined up in a row — spouse, offspring, private property, erotic experiences — even though a millisecond of reflection will bring to mind countless people who have all those things and are still miserable. We are constantly given one-size-fits-all recipes, but those recipes fail, often and hard.” And adds, “There are entirely different criteria for a good life that might matter more to a person — honor, meaning, depth, engagement, hope.”
“The conservative ‘defense of marriage,’ which is really nothing more than a defense of the old hierarchical arrangement that straight marriage was before feminists began to reform it, has bled over into the general culture, entrenching the devout belief that there is something magically awesome for children about the heterosexual two-parent household, which leads many people to stay in miserable marriages.”
Solnit points out – “I have done what I set out to do in my life, and what I set out to do was not what the interviewer presumed. I set out to write books, to be surrounded by generous, brilliant people, and to have great adventures. Men — romances, flings, and long-term relationships — have been some of those adventures, and so have remote deserts, arctic seas, mountaintops, uprisings and disasters, and the exploration of ideas, archives, records, and lives.”
“Society’s recipes for fulfillment cause a great deal of unhappiness, both in those who are stigmatized for being unable or unwilling to carry them out and in those who obey but don’t find happiness.” She notes, “People lock onto motherhood as a key to feminine identity in part from the belief that children are the best way to fulfill your capacity to love, even though the list of monstrous, ice-hearted mothers is extensive. But there are so many things to love besides one’s own offspring, so many things that need love, so much other work love has to do in the world.”
“. . . all the ways of tending to the world that are less easily validated than parenting, but which are just as fundamentally necessary for children to flourish. I mean here the writing and inventing and the politics and the activism; the reading and the public speaking and the protesting and the teaching and the filmmaking. . . . Most of the things I value most, and from which I trust any improvements in the human condition will come, are violently incompatible with the actual and imaginative work of childcare.” ~ Christina Lupton
Solnit recognizes that “Other eras and cultures often asked other questions than the ones we ask now: What is the most meaningful thing you can do with your life? What is your contribution to the world or your community? Do you live according to your principles? What will your legacy be? What does your life mean?”