No Kidding: How We Talk About Choice and Intentionally Small Families
One of the most interesting blogs I've been introduced to this year is the Worldwatch Institute's Transforming Cultures. The authors often write about the psychology behind the choices we make, especially as it relates to global poverty, population, and sustainability.
The friend who turned me onto the blog is having a baby later this year. She and her partner are staunch environmentalists, personally and professionally. (She works for the government's environmental ministry; he works for one of the world's largest environmental NGOs.) She's always been quick to point out that often, choices conflict with one another; in fact, that's part of her day job, to analyze data about why people make the choices that they do, even when presented with compelling evidence in favor of different options. Her own personal example is front and center right now: For all she knows about overpopulation and environmental issues, she's long wanted to be a mother. She remains conflicted and brings those contradictions to the table every time—more prominently lately, as her bump is getting quite large. Moreover, she's frustrated by the ways society forces a specific prescription for motherhood upon her.
"I don't know why we can't talk about intentionally small families," she once told me as she referred to a Transforming Cultures post about intentional families of three. "I want to have one child. What's wrong with that?" Noticing that she's pregnant, people often immediately ask when she'll have more children. That's not necessarily in the cards for her, but how do you have that discussion without alienating people, while holding everyone's choices as valid?
The Transforming Cultures post about intentionally small families—as well as another very interesting post, with illuminating comments, about population, religious choices, and the environment—explores the same issues that I did in my previous post about multi-child families on television. In part, the TC post says,
There is strong evidence that TV normalizes behavior and in developing countries has even been intentionally used to shift family planning norms to make smaller families more acceptable. [Links to PDF] Has anyone stopped to consider that celebrating a family with seven children (or in resource terms, more like 63 children, as the average American child uses the resources of 9 low-income country children) may be, in subtle ways, ratcheting up the normal family size in the United States?
So here's my pitch for a new reality show that will educate as well as entertain: find an attractive couple that is about to have their first—and only—child and plans to raise this child super sustainably: wearing cloth diapers and used clothing, playing with hand-me-down toys, eating homemade baby food (mostly vegetarian of course), and growing up in a small home in a walkable neighborhood (why is it assumed that having a child mandates having a car in this country, even in a well-planned city?).
What I was referring to in my previous post was the sometimes very flawed idea of "choice feminism," the idea that any choice a woman makes is valid and above moral or ethical scrutiny. I'm not necessarily here to debate the merits of honoring every single choice—that's impossible, and it's something that doesn't exist without contradiction anyway, because we're all full of inherent bias against various lifestyles, religious beliefs, and so on—but I do think it's important to say that television shows that giddily depict families with many, many children are part of a larger system that makes it difficult to have analytical discussions about choosing to not have children. We don't have the luxury of making decisions in a vacuum, without social pressure—hence my questions about the influence of TV shows about enormous families. How does that seep into our subconscious? What does it mean if we don't see childfree role models, or small families modeled in the media? How can we think critically about these types of issues without personalizing them, without feeling so emotionally invested in what other people do?
It seems obvious, but often, when we honor one choice, we often shove another to the sidelines. Many of us live in a world where parenthood, where mothering, is valued very highly, sometimes above all other roles or labels that can be applied to or taken by a woman. To more than a few of us, that can be really frustrating as we'd like to see other choices held up as equally valid. However, there probably won't be a batch of shows about raising only children—let alone no children at all—on TV any time soon.
As someone who writes about choosing to not have children, what I seek are equitable conversations about honoring and giving space to all sorts of reproductive options—in a way, I suppose I want "choice feminism" to extend to us all. In the end, I simply want Bill McKibben's Maybe One to have a shot at being even half as popular as What To Expect When You're Expecting. (I know, a pipe dream, but a gal can hope.) I want every option put on the rhetorical table, for every issue to be given equal consideration when we set out to make decisions about how we live. Just because people claim to not have a bias against something doesn't mean room is made at the table to share those ideas or validate opinions. How can we talk about private, personal decisions related to fertility, childbearing, adoption, family, and love without squashing each other's values and opinions? How do we navigate this rocky terrain?
Homeward Bound, Linda Hirshman, The American Prospect
Today, Some Feminists Hate the Word 'Choice', Patricia Cohen, The New York Times,
Feminism Objectifies Women, amandaw, FWD/Forward
I choose my choice!, part 673, Lisa Jervis, Bitch
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