Considering childlessness: an argument for the extrication of childbearing and motherhood from the concept of womanhood
Oja, Tanya Elise
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The stereotypical concept of womanhood is tethered to childbearing and motherhood. Even though childlessness is becoming more common, the belief seems to be that all women must want and should have children as well as should assume the role of primary caregiver. I explore and argue against the belief that bearing and raising children is essential to the concept of womanhood. I pinpoint four reasons why childbearing and motherhood are thought to be rightly tethered to the concept of womanhood: that childbearing and mothering are the “norm” for women, that women’s potential to bear life is considered a sufficient and necessary condition to reproduce, that the presence of a “maternal instinct” means women want to bear children and they exhibit maternal behaviour, and that it is “natural” for women to want to procreate and mother. I then present a series of arguments showing why childbearing and mothering must be extricated from the concept of womanhood. I focus on the concern that the concept of womanhood demanding procreation means a woman cannot independently meet the criteria for womanhood, the oversimplifying consequences of making a biological possibility a defining characteristic of women, the oppressiveness of prescribing the demanding role of motherhood to all women, and the freedom associated with the child-free life. I argue against the existence of the maternal instinct and point to the coercive manner in which the term “natural” is employed. After illustrating the social pressures women face to procreate and mother, I argue that such pressure would not be needed if procreation and mothering were indeed “natural” for women. Allowing for the possible existence of the “maternal instinct” I argue that its existence is irrelevant in light of the wax and wane of the importance placed on what is “natural” and the ability of social pressures to overcome what is deemed “instinctual” and “natural”. Finally, I argue that both a belief in the “maternal instinct” and the idea that wanting and raising children is “natural” undermine belief in women’s intelligence.