Last week, a good (lesbian, childfree, professor) friend sent me an article from an issue of the Palgrave MacMillian journal Feminist Review from 2003. I’ve tended to stay away from these sorts of pieces in this series because I don’t assume I’m writing for a specifically scholarly audience. That said, the article is a great overview of some dense, theoretical issues facing childfree feminist women, specifically in the scholarly research/analysis context, and I thought it was worth mentioning.
In “Vacant wombs: feminist challenges to psychoanalytic theories of childless women,” (free download!) Myra J. Hurd writes:
“The bulk of contemporary literature on childless women reveals a strong association between women and maternity as it focuses almost exclusively on determining why some women are childless, as though the answer is to be found in some demographic or psycho-social specificity. As such, childless women tend to be portrayed as white, tertiary educated, middle-class women who prefer their own careers over raising children. Indeed, childless women are often constituted as desiring to be (like) men by devoting greater time to their paid careers and rejecting motherhood as an inadequate or less valuable contribution to society. Insofar as these studies
attempt to explain childlessness, the association between femininity and sexual reproduction remains implicit.”
Now, it’s been a long time since I was immersed in theory, and I won’t pretend to understand everything Hurd dissects in this piece. But essentially, after a long deconstruction of Freud, Judith Butler, and a bit of Luce Irigaray, Hurd seems to conclude that childless women should not be defined by a definition of femininity “anchored by sexual reproduction.” She ponders whether childless women have chosen to refuse the supposedly “natural” relationship between gender and maternity. She asks whether or not childless women can be part of the feminist process of inclusion and if so, in what limited capacity if we’re all judged based on our sexual and gendered characteristics.
It’s tough to know how to wind down this series, so I picked a wild card for today. I don’t hate on theory, nor do I think it’s productive to act like academic jargon should be ignored and avoided if that’s meaningful to some (and arguably, the vehicle for some men and women to discover and embrace feminist principles). But this whole series has been about how we define our own experiences, and mine has been a bit removed from the ivory tower for a few (happy) years now. So, please join in and tell me what I’m getting wrong on this one, or why this does or does not matter to you.
Do you think childlessness warrants academic inquiry? Do you think childfree women deserve their own psychoanalyic investigations? Why do you think scholarly analysis of intentional childlessness might be beneficial to women’s studies or women more generally?