On The Many Voices That Influence Women’s Fertility

From governments to travel agents, the message to women is clear: Make babies.

Religion. Economists. Politicians. Family. Friends. Oh yes, and travel agents.

How many voices can fit into one woman’s head? How many aspects of her life come into play when evaluating her role as a woman?

Religion often plays a part.

Some religions embrace the idea that a woman’s function is to bring forth life. The Bible speaks of women being “saved in childbirth.” (1 Timothy 2:11-15) During interviews for my book, The Female Assumption, I found a substantial number of women who walked away from or switched their religion when they realized they didn’t want children. Some women who wanted motherhood, but it didn’t happen for them, feel pain rather than solace from their religion.

In the book What To Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, Jonathan Last makes the case that the selfishness of childfree Americans is responsible for the possible destruction of America’s economic future by reducing the number of consumers and taxpayers. It seems that women (and men) who opt out of parenthood are big bad lions, tigers and bears—oh my!

Here’s an idea: How about we take care of the humans who already exist, ensuring equal opportunities for education and jobs so that more taxpayers are lined up to save America from economic failure?

Nah. It’s much easier for women to have more babies.

Political control or influence over fertility has run the gamut worldwide: from Stalin’s “Motherhood Medals” (for women with six or more children) in the early 20th century, to cash incentives for parents in Japan, Germany, and Taiwan in the 21st century.

China has limited population since the 1970s through its One Child Policy (one child per family); this policy was eased in December 2013 (if either parent is an only child, a couple may have a second child).

Russia’s current President, Vladimir Putin, has vowed to spend £33 billion in an attempt to increase Russia’s population by 30%. One wonders how his condemnation of homosexuality as “a threat to Russia’s birthrate” will play out.

In Denmark, a travel agency’s advertisement went viral when it claimed that “Danes have 46% more sex on holiday compared to their everyday lives.” Thus, to help the Danish birth rate (at a 27-year-low), couples were encouraged to “Do it for Denmark!

The commercial reportedly shows a sexy blonde who was born and raised in Denmark but “Made in Paris” while her parents were on holiday. Higher libido while on holiday? Dare I say it? Duh! Marketing experts have used sex to sell many products, from mops to insurance. And now we’ve entered the marketing realm of promoting sex itself—for the sole purpose of producing more babies.

In my book, I interviewed/polled 200 women, and found—not surprisingly—that one’s family and friends play a very important role in whether women pursue motherhood.  In many cases, women feel equal amounts of ambivalence and pressure to have a child (or to have additional children).

Women who don’t want kids hear, “You’ll end up old and alone!” Women who are busy with careers hear, “You’re too serious about your career!” or “Tick, tock, you don’t have forever!” or “You’re too picky!” (with regard to choosing a partner). Women who reach the end of their childbearing years hear, “You’d better freeze your eggs or you’ll regret it!”

One woman I interviewed, Cheryl (an alias), told her mom she didn’t want to have kids. For a long time, her mom dropped hints and glared at her. Cheryl happens to be a great teacher; her passion is underprivileged kids. Cheryl’s mom is getting used to the idea that Cheryl will not give her grandchildren. Now her mom just makes comments that it’ll have to be Cheryl’s siblings who will give her grandchildren.

Expectations from family and friends are powerful. If a woman is not interested in motherhood, or if she has a passion for something different, shouldn’t she be allowed to voice her feelings without judgment?

Fifty years after the Second Women’s Movement, this still is not the case.

A decade and a half into the 21st century, women’s voices are still stifled. Their voices in government and Fortune 500 companies are minimal. They are not “saddled with priesthood” (a direct quote in a phone interview I conducted with a Christian church leader). And the weight of America’s future is squarely placed on women’s shoulders (by producing a sufficient number of future taxpayers).

Have babies. Don’t have babies. If a woman wants children, by all means. But if she doesn’t, everyone—and I mean everyone—needs to step off and respect her voice.

Melanie Holmes is the author of the newly released book, The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story, Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate. Follow her on Facebook.

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