Can women "have it all"? Who cares! Increasing numbers of women are deciding that they don't want it all. In "Pride and Joy: The Lives and Passions of Women Without Children," Terri Casey relates the tales of 25 women who have chosen not to have children. Far from the stereotypical selfish or child-hating old crones, these women are vibrant, happy, contributing members of society, many of whom work with children or are involved with the children of friends and relatives. They have chosen to remain childless for a variety of reasons including freedom, career ambition, concern for overpopulation, and just plain lack of interest in kids. In this collection, the reader hears their voices as they describe whether their choice was easy or difficult, how their family reacted, what they spend their energy on currently instead of children, and how they envision their old age.
Casey has done an excellent job stitching together these women's "lives and passions" from her interviews; the reader senses clearly that their backgrounds, interests, and motivations vary as widely as those among people in general. Many of Casey's confidants are married, a few single, divorced, or widowed, and a few lesbian. As outlined in the Introduction, this book not only draws from a diverse pool, but also serves a diverse audience, from women who think they don't want children in need of some reassurance, to women with children trying to understand a friend's or relative's choice to remain childfree. Even those who are trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant may find solace in the joy of those who never reproduced, but shared in the lives of many children around them.
Make no mistake; women are expected to have children, and those who don't must explain themselves. The women in this anthology do so eloquently, with a fire in their eyes and excitement about life and the future-- and without apology. No shamefaced, looking-at-the-ground, toe-twisting-in-the-dirt justifications here! Childless is a positive choice.
Women who choose not to have kids are already bucking tradition, so it's not surprising to note that, on average, they are high achievers educationally and economically, and tend to be independent thinkers and not members of established religion. What may be surprising is how happy and socially engaged they are, and how much they contribute to society and their communities. With more time, energy, and money than their friends who are mothers, they pour their souls into those areas of life that fuel their passions: art, science, romance, athletics, activism. These are women I would love to know-- I found myself wishing for their email addresses!
The Introduction to "Pride and Joy" neatly lays out some interesting statistics about women and motherhood, and provides background about Casey's study of these 25 women; the rest of the book is devoted to their voices. I recommend it to everyone, but especially to young women and men of all ages, the two groups who benefit most from listening to thoughtful, lively women who know where they are going in life.
The tales captured here stirred up two emotions in me. First is the predictable one: warmth and validation, for I too have chosen not to bear children. Although for me it was never a momentous, wrenching decision fraught with tension and made in the face of hostility, hearing other women speak about their own choice to remain childfree felt secretly pleasing. It's always comforting to find out that some really cool people are behaving the same way as you.
But more interestingly, "Pride and Joy" made me angry. Why? There were two reasons:
In sum, I would say that this book, and others of its type, are getting us 3/4 of the way toward a balanced view of women's roles and choices. There are God-knows-how-many books about happy mothers and unhappy nonmothers who long for a bundle of joy. And we are seeing more books like Casey's, celebrating childlessness as an acceptable and satisfying state for normal, healthy, average women. The real revolution will come when we put the final 1/4 in place: when we start hearing from unhappy mothers who wish they had chosen not to have kids (or wish they hadn't been railroaded into it by social expectations). When all four of these voices can be heard clearly, women will finally be free to consider motherhood like other important decisions, making informed choices for their-- and society's-- future. We'll be better off when all the kids in the world are wanted because each mother freely chose to have them.
Hey, check it out! A shortened version of this review appears in Moxie Magazine, a cool publication in general.
Copyright 1999, 2000 Kim Allen.