Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation
Top

“Women who don't want kids are seen as unnatural” Caroline Criado-Perez on the right to be child-free

i-dont-know-how-she-does-it.jpg

Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's regular column tackling issues on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. This week, journalist and activist, Caroline Criado-Perez, discusses why - in an age when we have so many choices - women are still criticised when they say they don't want children.

caroline criado perez

Feminist Caroline Criado-Perez says:

When Holly Brockwell wrote an article for the BBC about her attempts to get sterilised, she expected to be called selfish. After all, she’s been called that for as long as she’s known she doesn’t want kids. She expected to get messages from people telling her she was wrong, she was too young to know, that she’d change her mind, regret it. She’d heard all that before.

What she hadn’t expected was the abuse. The rage. The messages that flooded her twitter, her Facebook, her Instagram, her email, even her LinkedIn page, telling her that she was sick, that she needed psychological help.

One man called her a “media whore”; another helpfully told her he wouldn’t want to “fuck her” — so that’s at least one impregnation she’s ducked. People told her they were glad such a “horrible, self-righteous, don’t give a toss about anyone else woman” hadn’t reproduced (in which case their anger seems rather misplaced — surely they should have been happy?).

People were taking this very personal decision, made by a person they didn’t know, extremely personally. That much was clear. But why?

holly brockwell

Holly Brockwell, 29, wants to get sterilised

There is still something deeply taboo about a woman announcing that she doesn’t want to procreate.

We expect it from men. The assumption is that women will have to “trick” a man into having children. That they will want to “tie him down” with their hysterical baby urges. And once a man has been “trapped”, that’s the sad end of a previously carefree seed-sowing devil-may-care life.

There is, of course, a grain of truth in this latter point: having children does change your life. It does make it less free. It does mean you can’t drop all your plans and rush off on a last minute holiday or night out. It does mean that changing jobs is no longer a decision that affects only you. It does mean your money is spent on school shoes rather than that new pair of heels you’ve been lusting after.

I know this, because I’ve seen it happen to other people. I’ve seen it happen to friends, I’ve seen it happen to family. And I’ve added it to my list of reasons I’m not sure I want kids either. So call me selfish too.

i dont know how she does it

"The reality is, it is women who experience the greatest shift."

The odd thing is, while we frame the change into parenthood as being the most extreme for men, the reality is, it is women who experience the greatest shift.

They are the ones who are most likely to have to move to part-time work, or to miss out on job opportunities. They are the ones who are most likely to be shouldering the majority of the care burden. This is not to say that no woman chooses to put her children over her job — merely that she is most likely to make that choice, whether freely or not.

So why are we so surprised when women look at this reality and think, “no, thanks, not for me”? And not just surprised — angry? 

I rather suspect the answer is simple: it’s because we think women are naturally predisposed to care.

Women are meant to be selfless, to put others before ourselves. To choose a career over a life where we develop the potential in someone else, is to go against what we think of as “nature”. No wonder then, that what for men is seen as “dedicated”, “driven”, “ambitious”, is in women, “selfish”. Something to be condemned. Because it is unnatural.

mother

"We think women are naturally predisposed to care."

Unnatural or not, it’s certainly an option that I am increasingly considering.

While I am not as sure as Holly, I am also shying away from the idea of motherhood. I adore my nephew and my cousin’s little boy. I love playing with them, cuddling them. But I also love my job. I love my life as it is. I see the sacrifices involved in having children — and I just don’t think I want to make them. 

I shouldn’t be demonised for that. Holly shouldn’t be demonised for that. After all, we’ve accepted this ambivalence about children from men for centuries.

Not to accept the same from women is just pure sexism.

Send your feminist dilemmas to stories@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand.  

Related

jenni murray feminism.jpg

Jenni Murray: I wish I'd never changed my name after marriage

strongman.jpg

“Why we need International Men's Day”

key-we-policy-launch-9942.jpg

Why female-only quotas are vital if we want to achieve gender equality

bridget-jones-1887307a.jpg

'I flirt at work to get ahead - is that wrong?'

housework feminism.jpg

'My boyfriend doesn't care about housework, is it fair I do it?'

anofficerandagentleman-590x350.jpg

'I like to feel protected by my husband. Am I a hypocrite feminist?'

dianne-abbott-mp.jpg

Misogynoir is a very real problem: feminism can no longer ignore it

pretty.JPG

'My boyfriend slept with a prostitute before we met'

charlotte-proudman-barrister.jpg

“The LinkedIn barrister wasn't a victim of misogyny”

More

Why Taylor Swift’s sexual assault verdict is a victory for womankind

The pop star has completely changed the narrative

by Kayleigh Dray
16 Aug 2017

“The Boots morning after pill scandal shows the bias of contraception”

Why are women burdened with the responsibility of procuring and taking contraception?

by Jasmine Andersson
26 Jul 2017

“How pathetic sexists tried to tear down the first female Doctor Who”

Misogynists are terrified of Jodie Whittaker and everything she represents

by Kayleigh Dray
17 Jul 2017

“Love Island is proof that 'nice' is feminism's secret weapon”

Harriet Minter says it’s time we dispel the myth that being a feminist means taking no prisoners.

14 Jul 2017

“Rob Kardashian’s social media rampage isn’t funny. It’s revenge porn”

The Kardashian brother posted nude photos of his ex all over Instagram. This is abuse, not entertainment

by Moya Crockett
06 Jul 2017

“Why women are all beauty pageant contestants to Donald Trump”

“I bet she treats you well”

by Anna Pollitt
28 Jun 2017

“How sexists missed the point of this pivotal Handmaid’s Tale scene”

Offred was just getting her tits out for the lads, apparently

by Kayleigh Dray
26 Jun 2017

“The Tories are bartering with women’s bodies and it’s not OK”

Will Theresa May cling to power by trading on our reproductive rights?

by Anna Brech
12 Jun 2017

Ched Evans wants you to drink less to avoid being raped

Ask a Feminist despairs at the latest comments from footballer, Ched Evans.

by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
18 May 2017

Women of France, rejoice! A man has been elected President

by The Stylist web team
08 May 2017