Joy Bryant recently wrote a Lenny letter titled “Stop Telling Me I Should Have Kids,” in which she addresses comments regarding her choice to forgo children. I read her letter, and it got me thinking: Who are we to judge a woman who chooses to be childless?
Joy Bryant is 41, married, and does not want children. Oprah is 62, in a committed long-term relationship, and has also decided against having children. Both women are childless by choice because of their careers, other life goals, and what motherhood requires. But why isn’t that the end of the discussion? Why have Bryant and Oprah been scrutinized and, sometimes, called “selfish” for their decision? Why should any woman who chooses to forgo motherhood be questioned or judged?
Joy Bryant on people telling her to have kids:
Those people say the darndest things.
“But you’ll have beautiful children!”
This one is the most ridiculous of all the reasons given to me, and it is also my personal favorite. So I should have kids just because they would possibly be beautiful (and, let’s not forget, smart and athletic)?
I should commit to one of the toughest jobs in the world, all for the sake of populating the planet with a super-human specimen of good breeding? No, thanks. I’m good.
But I guess I can’t blame them, right? I mean, they look at me and my tall, handsome stuntman husband and can’t wrap their brains around why we would purposely waste such prime eggs and sperm, the selfish people we are. I guess I’m the selfish one, because I refuse to be the vessel through which mankind is delivered from its mediocrity. ~ LennysLetter
As women, we are pressured to start thinking about children in our mid to late 20s or early 30s. By 35, we are told to heed our biological clocks. Black women receive the added pressure to procreate in order to “keep the population going” or “keep the race from dying”. Thus, when a woman, especially a black woman, chooses not to have children, she is deemed “self-centered” or “selfish”.
Oprah on her choice to not have children:
Gayle [now a mother of two] was the kind of kid who, in seventh grade home ec class, was writing down her name and the names of her children … While she was having those kind of daydreams, I was having daydreams about how I could be Martin Luther King.
… If I had kids, my kids would hate me. They would have ended up on the equivalent of the Oprah show talking about me; because something would have had to suffer and it would’ve probably been them. ~ Hollywood Reporter
An insulted mother on Oprah’s decision:
Oh Honey, that’s so precious that you think that being a successful talk show host is on par with Martin Luther King Jr.’s achievements. No denying that you’ve done a lot of good for a lot of people, but you hardly led the Civil Rights Movement.
… In a way, I have to commend you for making the decision that you did, since you knew that you were too selfish to shuffle things around to make being a working mom work. You knew that your kids would always come second to what you wanted for your life.
Oh Oprah, only you can take something like being too selfish to have children and turn it into a selfless virtue. ~ The Stir
Are women like Bryant and Oprah really too selfish to have children? Or do they simply have different goals in life? Does becoming a mother have to be on every women’s list?
Additionally, is there really no hint of “selfishness” in having children? Do not some women become mothers to fulfill their own desires, whatever they may be? Is the choice to become a mother vs the choice to be childless really as black and white as selfless vs selfish?
“But you’ll be such a good mother!”
It took a lot of therapy and a deathbed reconciliation with my own mother to realize that she wasn’t the monster I made her out to be. She was just a human being who made shitty choices that deeply affected me. I wouldn’t be that kind of mother. My grandmother, on the other hand, was all sacrifice, putting the needs of her kids and then me ahead of her own, going without to make sure everyone had what they needed. She died of a broken heart. I wouldn’t be that kind of mother either. So on the scale of martyr to monster, I’d probably fall somewhere in the human range. I’d be a “good enough” mother. Still not a good enough reason for me to actually be someone’s mother. I’d be a good competitive eater, too, doesn’t mean I should. ~ LennysLetter
If one is going to judge women who choose to be childless, then can’t one also judge women who choose to be “good enough” mothers? Or how about we, as women, not judge each other on our choices to reproduce or not. Her womb is her womb, and your womb is your womb.
I wouldn’t be surprised by the anti-woman rants and actions of knuckle-dragging male conservatives who may judge my decision not to have kids. I am surprised, however, by people — often female people — who should know better than to question or comment on a woman’s choice, and my choice is not to procreate.
.… While the lives and livelihood of women are still under assault, we have come so far and accomplished so much. We don’t have to be automatic breeders. My womb doesn’t belong to the world. ~ LennysLetter
You can read the rest of Bryant’s words on LennysLetter.
So, what are your thoughts? Share below!