Every year, we’re treated to new statistics about how more and more women in the United States are forgoing motherhood. The panicked media response ensues, we wait for more statistics, and we do it all over again. This year is no different: a new census report found that the percentage of American women infertility is rising – with a little over 15% of women between the ages of 40-45 living childfree – and articles featuring pictures of sad tiny baby hands and ghost children abound.
It’s all well and good to know infertility and family statistics, but I find it a bit curious that this kind of data is only ever gathered about women. Aren’t men living their lives without children, too? Where are the panicked hot-takes about their selfish, childless lives?
Obviously, we all know the answer: men have the distinct privilege of being considered full and fulfilled people no matter what their parenthood status. Women, though, will always be thought of as lacking something without a bouncing baby on their hips.
No one cares if men have children – their identities aren’t inextricably tied to fatherhood in the way that we expect women’s to be with motherhood. It’s acceptable and even lauded for a man to live his life as a perpetual bachelor without children. We live in a country where George Clooney is enviable, but Jennifer Aniston – whose lack of a baby bump is debated and fretted over in tabloid headlines – is somehow pitiful.
The absence of a substantive conversation about men’s childlessness and infertility isn’t just about sexism, though – it’s about health. Studies show that the more advanced a father’s age, the greater a risk there is that his children will have mental health and developmental problems like schizophrenia or autism. Yet it’s women who are bombarded with scare tactics about their ever-decreasing egg rate and increased monitoring when they get pregnant over the ancient age of 35. In some ways, women have made progress when it comes to the decision not to have kids. There is less of a stigma than in past years, there’s a vibrant community for the childfree by choice, and a more nuanced discussion about those who prefer to remain without kids is happening.
But, so long as the research done on family size is focused on women, we will continue to see parenting as a distinctly female endeavor – the consequences of which go beyond statistics and numbers, but impact the way we think about who is responsible for child care, who should be in the workforce, and what it means to be a productive member of society.So please, keep doing the research on women and children. But let’s include some information about men, too. For every article about a woman’s biological clock, I want to see a stock photo of a forlorn man pushing an empty stroller. For every warning that women’s eggs are drying up, there should be headlines about slow sperm and sad sacks. It seems only fair.
If the idea of shaming men the way that we have women for so long doesn’t appeal, there is another solution: we can mind our own business and let people live their lives in whatever way suits them best, whether that is with or without children.
Source: The Guardian