The feminist blogosphere - Feministing.com, in particular - descended into nasty, holier-than-thou shitslinging today, mothers against non-mothers, all in reaction to an article published by Reason magazine defending from a libertarian perspective the decision to forgo childbearing.
I was dishearted by how quickly the thread at feministing crapped out into pure judgmentalism. The actual news item was perfectly reasonable, but the comments quickly degenerated into defensiveness about childfree lives and excoriation of women who opt to have children without first achieving perfect financial security. The mothers in the crowd then responded in kind. While I have more gut-level sympathy for the mothers' arguments and thought they were generally more civil, in the end it was the sort of debate no one can ever win.
I fully agree that women who choose to have no children aren't selfish, or at least no more so than the average human being. They contribute to society in a whole variety of ways - through work, activism, non-parental relationships to kids, etc. Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon states this position well.
Those without kids do have an obligation not to whine about school levies and loud children in down-scale restaurants. We share our communities, we share our futures, and poorly educated, unsocialized kids who become equally rough-edged adults are in nobody's interest. As a mother, I have a return obligation to honor their choices and to defend them particularly when they're exposed to the sort of criticism that childfree men rarely face.
At the same time, I'm frustrated by purported feminists who imply that women who choose to become mothers are dupes. We can contribute through raising children who are feminist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and just plain kind and wise - who will leave the world a better place than they found it, or so I dearly hope. And mothers contribute in other ways, too, because raising children is rarely a whole life's work. Bitch Ph.D. puts forth these arguments at eloquent length.
Mothers and fathers have an obligation not to whine about the alleged shallowness of the childfree, and to appreciate when those without kids pick up some of the loose ends that parents of young children can't (and vice versa, of course - think of the SAHMs whose volunteer work is essential to many communities). We parents have an obligation to teach our kids to behave considerately in public. But we shouldn't have to face opprobrium from people who've never had to manage a child's sudden earache on an airplane (and yeah, we know about the drinking trick), nor should we have to apologize for our parenthood as a burden to the community or as an ostensibly anti-feminist choice. (Our kids will be bankrolling all of our Social Security, after all.)
But what I saw in the feministing thread is what I see in the culture at large: women eviscerating each other for the choices they've made. Welcome back to the Mommy Wars, now raging between the mothers and the non-mothers, instead of between mothers who work for pay and those who don't.
And who wins? Neither group of women, you can be sure. The only true winners are the capitalists who want us all to believe that material values and performance as "ideal workers" ought to be our preeminent goal.
I'd have said all the above before kids, and I'll maintain it even now that I have two lovable little stinkers who make my life both wonderful and sometimes nearly impossible. Kids change everything, yes. But that's at the personal level. Politically, it sometimes feels like nothing has changed since the mid-1970s. Motherhood remains the great tangled conundrum of feminism.
Gustav Klimt's Hope II at MoMA – image from Flickr user wallyg used under a Creative Commons license.