Being childfree is not an “interesting debate”

A little while ago, I was talking to my cousin when he said something to me about “When you have children.” I said “I’m not having children.” He was shocked, and said “Because you can’t, or because you don’t want to?” I honestly don’t understand why he was so shocked, because I had told him five years before this conversation that I was never going to have children, and I reminded him of that. He said “I didn’t think you were serious.” I asked him why he thought I wasn’t serious (because that wouldn’t be a very funny joke. There’s not even a punchline.) He said “Because it’s not just your decision.”

Um.

It is absolutely just my decision, because it’s just MY BODY. He then asked me “What if you meet someone and he really wants kids?”

This is disgusting and misogynistic. If a woman who doesn’t want children is in a relationship with a man, she’s expected to sacrifice her body and the rest of her life for something she doesn’t want? A man is entitled to force her to go through forty weeks of pregnancy, childbirth, and then 18 years of being the primary caregiver for a child that doesn’t even get her name? (While I understand that for most people this isn’t an issue because most people want to breed, and most women don’t seem to have a problem with the patriarchal tradition of men automatically passing their name onto children, for someone who has no desire or intention to use her body that way, it can turn into a violent form of torture.)

In fact, in the past two days, I’ve had two more people ask me a) why I don’t want children, and b) what I would do if I met a man who wanted children. Interestingly, both of the people who asked me this were men. I don’t understand why people ask this question as though it’s thought-provoking, or like it would somehow change my answer. I don’t know to make myself any clearer. “I’m not having kids” doesn’t mean “If I meet a man and he really wants kids then I will have them,” it means “I’m not having kids.”

My cousin said that it was an “interesting debate.” This isn’t interesting, nor is it a debate. I am an adult human being. I have the right to decide what happens to my body. My human rights are not up for debate, and my humanity is not “interesting.”

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The revolution begins… with menstrual pads

It seems as though women’s bodies have always been a source of controversy. Through media and daily interaction, I’ve learned that women’s bodies are disgusting and shameful, and need to be hidden. (That is, of course when we’re not supposed to have our bodies fully on display, but only after we’ve completely altered what we look like to fit a non-human ideal.)

Once, I used the word “clit” in conversation, and my white, male friend flipped out. “Do you kiss you mother with that mouth?” he exclaimed. “I would say dick around my mother, but never clit.” “Oh really?” I asked. “So male body parts are fine to talk about, women’s bodies are too dirty and vulgar? I get it.” He said that it was “different” because men’s body parts are funny. And what, women’s parts are disgusting? On another occasion, a black man (that I would most definitely not call a friend) kept trying to force a conversation about sex, even after I had repeatedly told him that I was not interested in discussing it with him. At some later point, he tried to make the assertion that I was responsible for cooking as a woman, and I said “really? You think having a vagina has something to do with cooking?” He freaked out because I said the word “vagina.” Interesting, how he someone preoccupied with trying to force a conversation about sex was so affronted by the use of the word “vagina,” the female sexual organ! The name of a body part, just like a cornea or tibia, was too disgusting for him to have to hear because it’s a female body part. I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed someone mentioning the word “period” or “menstruation” and seeing all men in the room grimace and cover their ears. Women’s bodies are just so disgusting.

Arunachalam Muruganantham, a man from rural, southern India, has spent the last 15 years trying to make sanitary pads affordable for women, starting with his wife, after seeing the rags that she used during her period. Women make up half of the world’s population, yet for so many, access to pads (much less alternative forms of menstrual sanitary accessories) is completely out of reach, sometimes meaning they end up dropping out of school and severely limiting their income potential; trapping them in a cycle of dependency.

Muruganantham ended up being completely ostracized from his community– his wife left him, his mother left, and he was run out of town, facing vitriol from both men and women- simply for trying to find an affordable method to provide with a basic health provision.

Fortunately, thanks to Muruganantham’s perseverance and his invention to allow women to make and sell affordable pads, women in over 1,000 villages have access, and stigma around a natural biological process is disappearing. He says of his success: “My aim was to create one million jobs for poor women – but why not 10 million jobs worldwide,” and is planning to expand to over 100 countries around the world, including Nigeria, the Philippines, and Mauritius.

Although the initiative is by no means a panacea for the vitriol that is directed towards women’s bodies on a daily basis, just imagine, all those attitudes changing, all that income potential for women, and all those pads, thanks to one man from a rural Indian village.

Gender Discrimination v. Abortion Rights

I am 100 per cent behind a woman’s right to choose what to do in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. I am completely against “informed consent” laws that require a woman to have an extremely invasive ultrasound before being allowed to go through with the procedure. It seems like a complete waste of time and money to make a woman undergo what I think constitutes a sexual assault before allowing her to exercise something that is her right. I am completely for actual informed consent, when a woman is advised of what the procedure entails, and what risks there are.

I think that any reason for wanting to get an abortion is legitimate. Regardless of how stupid someone else might thing the reason is, it’s still a woman’s decision to decide what happens to her body.

There is one instance where I think abortion restrictions should exist.  The only instance in which I think restrictions on abortion should exist is when it comes to gender-selective abortion. It would be impossible to regulate, because a woman wanting to abort a fetus on the basis of its sex could just give another reason. But if you believe in gender equality, then aborting a fetus simply because she shares the sex of her mother is completely antithetical to what you want achieve. Girls have a right to life, a right that cannot be taken away simply because of their femaleness.

Some states have laws against gender-selective abortions. But as I said before, this is almost impossible to enforce, and preventing a woman from having an abortion when she wants one is a violation of her reproductive rights. But aborting a fetus for being female is an extremely misogynistic act.

India and China, the biggest offenders when it comes to gender-selective abortion due to their sheer population size, are already missing tens of millions of women and girls. India’s 2011 census showed that the country was missing 37 million women and girls, and sociologists estimate that by 2020, there will be 35 million women and girls missing in China.

Some sociologists argue that having so many extra men results in an increase violent crime. There is no positive effect of too few women. On the one hand, women are undervalued by society, which leads to gender-selective abortion, while on the other hand, the deficit of women means that they are in such high demand that they’re kidnapped and forced into marriage- a result of social norms that place a high emphasis on marrying and having children.

Many societies prefer sons because boys are educated whereas girls aren’t, meaning they grow up to be breadwinners, they carry on the family line, they take care of their parents in old age. But girls are also capable of going to school, making money, and without women, no one’s family line would be continued. The only thing that can increase the value of girls and women in people’s eyes is education. Education for girls, so they can reach their full potential. Education for entire societies to realize that girls and women are just as capable of being contributing members and have more to offer than just their wombs. I’m not arguing that girls are identical to boys, but girls are just as important to every family, every society, every country, as boys. Only when this is universally accepted will the worrying gap between men and women be closed.