If you’re someone like me, who’s been scrolling through feminist websites for years and absorbing a constant flow of opinion pieces, cartoons, and even tweets since you were fifteen years old the concept of women being expected to give birth and to mother is nothing new. If you’re anything like myself I’m sure you’re sick of hearing it. Several old-school conservative values are normalized and seen as harmless in our day-to-day lives that have more sinister connotations, all of which are geared towards women and the way they live their lives. Expectations for women to be feminine, to be thin, to be submissive—marriage is a must, buying that big three-bedroom house in the suburbs comes next, then obviously children!
By no means do I believe that when the nice older lady across the street asks a young couple about having children, she is being intentionally malicious or trying to put women in their place, most likely she asks because having children was the right choice for her and a huge joy in her life, so I want to preface this article by saying I don’t mean to attack anyone because I get it, I do.
Beyond the surface of “it’s none of your business”, this is why you don’t ask women when they intend to have children.
It Diminishes her to Just her Biology Asking a woman when she expects to have children, or why she hasn’t had children, or more frustratingly, telling a woman that her “biological clock is ticking” are all ways of diminishing a woman to her ability to produce eggs and thus, children. When people say stuff like “biological imperative” or “a woman’s purpose” I get total Nazi vibes, and to tell a woman that her clock is ticking is super ageist, implying that a woman’s worth is tied to a young uterus.
Setting aside the fact that not every woman has a uterus and ovaries, as human beings there is so much that women can accomplish, if she chooses to raise children then that’s fabulous, but her choice to raise children is not a product of her biological purpose on this earth as a woman, it’s a product of her autonomous choice to bring forth life because she wants to, not because she has to.
Women are not baby-making machines!
It Suggests that her Accomplishments are not Enough
I don’t know if you remember, but after Michelle Williams won the best performance by an actress in a limited series at the 2020 Golden Globes, this stupid garbage meme created by someone who was obviously very bitter and misogynistic circulated:
The meme depicts Michelle Williams holding her award, staring longingly with an unsure face at a baby cradled in its mother’s arms. “I won!!” says the bubble over Michelle William’s head, “No, you didn’t.” Says the bubble over the mother’s head.
There’s obviously a lot to unpack here, from the crappy drawing to the painful red knees that the mother has, to the way the artist drew shoes like the Grinch’s feet. The big thing that I didn’t get was that the mother in the comic says that Michelle lost because she has a baby and Michelle doesn’t, but Michelle Williams has a daughter! Michelle Williams has a child and an award, but I’m guessing this “artist” (a term I use very generously) didn’t know that, and just wanted to hate on successful women.
I could go on forever, but my main point is that the fact that this meme circulated last year, shows that this mentality is still very much alive. Asking a woman when she’s going to have kids instead of asking her about her future plans, her goals, her dreams, diminishes all she’s accomplished and intends to accomplish going forward. We all have so much more to offer than just our ability/inability to have children.
It Suggests that her Family is not Complete
Especially when it comes to couples, you hear the words “start a family” referring to having children. Young couples are asked quite often about when they intend to settle down and start a family, or if they’re trying to have children, with some people going as far as suggesting a couple conceive on their wedding night! Like marriage is specifically entered for the heavenly right to have babies!
Pushing and pestering a young couple about conceiving and “starting a family” suggests to the couple that their family is not yet complete without a baby in the mix, furthering the idea that the nuclear family structure is the only way to have a family.
Families take on all shapes and sizes beyond mother, father, brother, and sister. This is definitely a pretty hetero-normative and gender-specific way of thinking that can alienate many families. A woman and her friends can be a family; a couple can be a family, sometimes the last step in completing a family is to adopt a dog instead of conceiving, families could mean ten kids or none at all, our only job is to respect the way a family is presented to us, and to not diminish its value by suggesting something (or someone) is missing.
Honestly, not Every Person Should be a Parent
This one is definitely a harsh truth, but it needs to be said. Just because someone can physically bring forth life, this does not mean they’re meant to. Some women just don’t like children or don’t want to dedicate their lives to having children, some women are working through trauma from their own childhoods, or fear passing down a family illness to future children.
Pressuring women who don’t want children or who don’t intend to be active mothers to have children is dangerous and unfair. People have trouble empathizing with perspectives that are not their own, if children have brought great joy and value to your life it can be difficult to imagine someone else not feeling the same way, but trust me, it’s true.
Children do not want to be brought into the world out of obligation. I’m sure you’ve heard the idea that you shouldn’t have a baby for any reason other than having a baby. Having a baby to save a relationship, have someone take care of you when you’re old, keep you company, get your mom off your back about having one—they’re all bad reasons to bring life into the world. It’s just genuinely not fair for the child to be brought into the world to be parented by someone who never really wanted them.
Asking a woman when she’s going to have a baby pressures her to become a parent, and babies should only be born to people who want to have them, and who are ready and happy to raise them.
You Don’t Know the Details of Everyone’s Life
When you ask a woman—or a young couple—when they intend to have children, especially when they’re outside of your immediate intimate circle, you don’t know every detail of their life, what’s going on with their health, or how that question might make them feel.
When asking a question like that, you don’t know if you’re speaking to a woman who can’t physically have children due to her own fertility or even a battle with uterine or ovarian cancer; you don’t know if the woman you’re speaking to has had miscarriages in the past, or if she’d lost a child at some point in her life. The woman you’re asking this to could be in the midst of trying to adopt a child or in the midst of trying to conceive, which can both be very stressful processes.
It’s also possible that the woman you’re asking this question to is just happy without children and is sick of being asked about it because nobody owes you an explanation for their own life choices, especially their choices regarding their bodies.
Personally, I love babies! I think babies and children are gorgeous and fun and enlightening; I grew up with younger siblings and baby dolls, my Barbies were always having babies, my Sims families always had at least 3 kids, and a huge dream of mine is to have children of my own one day. Still, I also recognize that my dreams and my definition of happiness are not by any means everyone’s. When it comes to babies, I keep to myself unless someone brings up their plans to have babies first, then it’s a totally free game!
For the most part, my rule is that I respect what other people consider their dreams even if they don’t align with mine. I try my best to steer clear from specific questions and ideas surrounding someone else’s families and speak specifically to mine.
The closing advice to this is to just be respectful of others and their plans for their futures, and if you want to gush over babies with somebody, or ask somebody about their baby plans you can come to me because I never get sick of that!