Archive for Women

The Awkwardness of Not Having Kids

This week I had two separate, incredibly awkward conversations about the failure of me and my uterus to do what we’re apparently supposed to do. In the minds of many, especially fellow Christians, we had One Job, and we are joint failures, my lazy uterus and I.

Both times, while chatting with some women at work, all of whom are mothers, parenting and kids inevitably came up. I casually stated, almost offhand, something like “since I won’t be having kids of my own, it’s nice to be so close to my little niece and nephew, so I can be part of their lives as they grow up.” And, like always, this derailed the conversational train a bit. Two of the women just stared at me, mouths open, not knowing what to say, while one started into the typical response of “don’t worry, you still have time, I didn’t start having my kids until I was in my 30s! You can’t be more than, what, 29? Are you even in your 30s?” And thus the awkwardness grows.

“Actually, I’m 39.”

At this point, we all just stand there looking and feeling even more awkward. I don’t look my age, so this frequently comes as a surprise. Some brave souls continue on after this revelation with phrases like, “you can still have kids if you start soon!” but most don’t continue.

And I always wonder, how much should I go on after this? Do I explain that I haven’t been in a relationship since my early 20’s, and have only been on one date in the last decade, so the likelihood of finding a man with whom I’d like to reproduce any time soon is minuscule? Do I discuss how miserable trying to online date made me feel about myself, so I just don’t even bother anymore? Do I explain how removing trying to date from the picture has made me so much more happy? Do I dare go into how my body might actually be going through perimenopause early, which would make conception even more difficult? Do I delve into the odd fact that I seem to have missed out on the ticking biological clock, and never felt a strong desire to have my own bio kids, so even when I still thought marriage was a probable outcome, I wanted to adopt? Do I get on my soap box about how expensive adoption is privately, and how I don’t have the resources, financial or emotional, to even try to go through fost-adopt  as a single woman? Do I try to assure them that I’m actually doing pretty well with this not having kids thing, and feel like God’s plan for me is just different than for them, but it’s still good and noble and useful? How can I convince them that this is actually okay, fine, even?

Instead, I usually just blush and feel stupid and try to end the conversation as quickly as possible. Embarrassed. And maybe even a bit ashamed. And then I spend the rest of the day wondering if these women look at me as immature, or selfish, or weird, or less than a woman because I can’t join the PTA.

I get it. They love being moms. They find deep meaning in their lives because of their children. And they are great mothers! I love their passion for their kids, and am so glad these little ones have been blessed with such amazing women to raise them! Because of this, I think it’s really difficult for them to imagine a life without kids. For them, even the thought of a life without their beloved babies fills them with sadness. I get it.

But, I’m not sad.

Yes, over the past few years as I got older and my body started to change a bit, and I realized having my own kids was no longer just something I wasn’t particularly interested in but was most likely an impossibility, I felt a bit weird sometimes. Any time choice is taken away, I feel odd. But again, not bad exactly. Just odd. Like I need to wrap my head around it a bit more, that’s all. And when I do think it through, I realize that I’m just fine.

It’s other people who seem to have more trouble with this concept than I do. Especially Christians. Especially Christian women. Married Christian men struggle with the idea of me not ever getting married as much as the women do, but the topic of me not having kids doesn’t really come up with them as much. But man, put me in a group of evangelical mommies, and I stick out like The Demogorgon out of the Upside Down.

This becomes more and more problematic each year, because fellow single, childless friends drop like flies the older you get, succumbing to marital and parental bliss. Yet here I stay, perpetually single and childless. Happily so, I might add, at least in this episode of my life. So here are a few things it would be nice for other Christians to know about being single and childless:

  • It’s not a sin to be childless or single. It’s not wrong for a man or woman to remain unmarried and without kids.
  • Some of us have purposefully chosen to be single and childless, some of us have just ended up that way, and others of us had no choice. We are complex humans, remember that before “comforting” or “encouraging” us.
  • Some of us are perfectly happy without kids and some are devastated. Please get to know us a bit instead of automatically judging or pitying us, so you can find out how we feel about it instead of projecting what you think you might feel if you were in that situation. Then you’ll know better how to actually encourage us.
  • Not having kids does not make us selfish, lazy people. Many singles are judged as not being quite as responsible, caring, and selfless as their married with kids counterparts. There are many studies that show singles are often paid less and promoted less than their married coworkers because the “not having a family to support” makes them appear less driven or dedicated. In actuality, single workers work more hours and take less time off than married ones. We are dedicated to our families and friends. We often serve in the church, volunteer in our communities, and take care of our lives responsibly all on our own.
  • God has different plans for different people, but they are all for our good and his glory. Please keep this in mind when you struggle to understand the plan he has for your single friend without children. His perfect plan for my life so far just hasn’t included a husband or baby, that’s all. God’s plan for my life has allowed me to grow closer to him, closer to my family and friends, more in love with the beauty of his creations, and has allowed me to bless and be blessed by the lives of hundreds of students.

I look forward to the rest of my single, childless life because I know God has beautiful and glorious things in store for me, along with the difficult things. And, the next time someone throws me into the middle of the awkward “you can still have kids” conversation, I might just get into a graphic biology lesson about the aging uterus. If I do that enough times, perhaps people will stop.

Oops . . . My Feminist is Showing!

As a girl, I learned about friendship from Frog and Toad, Anne and Diana, Frodo and Samwise, Han and Chewie. I learned about adventure from Huck Finn, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Peter Pan. I learned about growing up from Jo March, Douglas Spaulding, Ender Wiggin, and the Cosby children. I learned about courage from Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. What an amazing way to grow up! I had so many kick-ass role models to look up to. The fact that the vast majority of these characters were male never really registered with me. I was able to read books and watch movies, identifying with the hero or heroine, enjoying the stories of both men and women, getting something out of male or female targeted fiction. This is the world I grew up in, what I knew and never questioned, an excellent world – one which I loved.

As I got older, I noticed more and more how much of the literature I read and the films I watched were dominated by male heroes. Ensemble casts would add in one or two women, but were still mostly male, one Hermione to both a Harry and a Ron, a Black Widow and a Scarlet Witch to the rest of the Avengers.  As an elementary school librarian, I still have to search to find books with female leads – even when they’re about animals and not humans. Even after the fabulous push for strong heroines in sci-fi books like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent,” they are still the minority. At school, at least three out of every four books assigned were by male authors.

And yet, as a girl who grew up on this literature, watching these films, reading these stories and poems and books in school, I was still able to find great value in them. I never really had a choice – it was either find something I could identify with, appreciate, or be entirely left out of the story. I was never taught to do this – no one ever sat my sister and I down and said, “now we’re going to read a book written by a man about boys, but you can still appreciate it and get something out of it.” No, we just learned to do that by reading and watching and putting ourselves into the heroes’ shoes. It was expected that this would come naturally to us, and, for the most part, it did.

This, by the way, is how half the world grows up – being exposed over and over again to the male perspective as representative and authoritative, and we mostly accept it, even love and appreciate it. These mostly male-dominated stories and characters are dear to my heart, and helped shape me growing up – I have nothing against them. I am the first in line for the latest “Batman” movie clearly targeting a male audience, and have read and reread the almost entirely male “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

As a geek and a Christian, this ability to put myself into the male narrative became even more necessary. Both of these cultures are dominated by male voices, so I learned to listen to pastors give illustration after illustration of being husbands and fathers, and I learned to somehow apply the lesson to my life. I read comic book after comic book in which many of the female characters were just there to be rescued, depicted scantily clad, or were just absent and I learned to love the story line, the artistry, and the adventure anyway.

And yet, when the 13th Doctor is announced as female, the internet reveals pockets of geeky men who just can’t handle this. When “Wonder Woman” strikes a powerful emotional chord with its female audiences, boys are confused about why. When Christian women bloggers start to bring up topics like this one, articles are written on how they need more male supervision.

I realize the trolls in comment sections aren’t the best way to judge how most people feel or think about controversial topics, but they do represent a growing, vocal cohort of the population. About a female lead for “Doctor Who,” one thing the more logical, thoughtful male commentators say is, “well, I’m not a misogynist and have no problem with women, but I just think this is going to alienate the original fan-base.” The assumption that the original fan-base was all male, and all macho men who can’t handle a female lead, is problematic in and of itself. I personally, woman that I am, have been watching “Doctor Who” since Eccleston resurrected it back in 2005. More importantly, why on earth should a female lead alienate anyone? Male leads haven’t alienated female audiences, why can’t men appreciate the courage, passion, and awesomeness of women in fiction just as much as we appreciate it in male characters?

“Wonder Woman” was a big deal, but if we bring up how powerful and important it is for us to see a strong female superhero as the lead of her own blockbuster movie, we are called “libtards,” “PC snowflakes,” or other words I won’t honor in print. When Christian women ask genuine, important, thoughtful questions about gender roles in the church, even those of us who are actually quite conservative in our beliefs, we are called “rebellious,” “unbiblical,” “upstarts,” and again other words I won’t honor in print by so-called Christian men.

In the library, I’ve had multiple little boys tell me they can’t read particular titles because they’re “girl books.” I have yet to have a single little girl tell me they won’t read a “boy book.” When I was a high school teacher, I never had a female student groan about the assigned text just because it was written by a man or for a mostly male audience, but the minute I assigned a text by a woman or one written for a mostly female audience, the teenage boys would whine and complain as if I was asking them to exert themselves in some horrible way.

As my wonderful brother-in-law pointed out, this isn’t just a problem of sexist men, but rather the result of a society in which men are expected to behave in very specific ways, one which is sadly emphasized too often in the church. “Manly” men are all the rage – some churches even preach this as the theologically necessary view of manhood. Therefore, even if a little boy wants to read “Nancy Drew” books along with his “Hardy Boys,” he might be bullied or seen as effeminate, so that desire is crushed out of him. In this way, I actually had more freedom as a little girl since I was never judged too harshly for reading “boy books” along with my “girl books.” So this issue goes beyond just a few sexist men to the way both fathers and mothers, pastors and teachers, really our whole society, raises its children. 

As I would tell my teenage boys when they groaned as I assigned Charlotte Bronte or Maya Angelou: “your female classmates, half the class, have been reading books by and for men since they started school and they haven’t once complained, the least you can do is read one or two by and for women.” All I’m asking is for those threatened guys to quiet down for a moment about not liking a woman being cast as the lead, or not understanding why a female superhero movie is a big deal, or not wanting pastors to allow female voices and stories be heard in the church, and instead learn to find the value in hearing someone else’s story. Rather than only being able to identify with stories when they feature someone exactly like you, do what the rest of us do and learn to use your imagination to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And if you don’t understand why things are a big deal to women, please ask us. Avoid the temptation to mansplain why it shouldn’t matter, and just listen for once.

This disparity in representation between men and women only increases when discussing people of color, and especially women of color. At least as a white woman, I have a few heroes that look like me – but the minute you add any race other than Caucasian into the equation, the chances that you’ll find yourselves depicted as the hero or lead diminish to almost nothing. Though the focus of this article is on sex and not race, I cannot keep from mentioning this because it is a topic which seems to bring out the worst in people. If you think men shouldn’t have to be alienated by trying to appreciate a female lead, then how much more do you think men and women of color are alienated by having to try to identify with often stereotypically white macho males being held up as the quintessential hero?

What is my goal with this rant? I call upon my two favorite communities, Christians and geeks, to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are showing compassion and understanding to those different from us by allowing them to tell us their stories. Are we shying away from hearing someone else’s voice because it does not specifically represent us? Are we refusing to read or watch or listen to something because we might feel uncomfortable or alienated? Are we raising our sons to think anything written by a woman or with a female lead is too girly for them? Are we judging the value of story only based on things we know we already like, already can relate to? Like men and women of color, and women in general, have we ever trained ourselves to be able to listen to voices other than our own and still find value in them, or do we groan, whine, get angry, turn away, and search for a face that looks just like us?

My challenge to all of us this week is to read a blog or a book, watch a movie, or listen to a sermon by someone totally different from ourselves, aimed at a different audience. Take it in. Ponder. Look for something other than confirmation bias from it. Try to find points of connection. Do what every single woman and person of color spends their life doing. Who knows, you might find a new voice you actually like.

*If you are reading this via e-mail and are unable to see the gifs, please click through to the webpage, there are a lot in this one! 🙂