Saturday, August 24, 2013
The TIME article: What's wrong with this picture?
(I started writing this post a few weeks ago, right when this story appeared... I've lost track of the number of related stories I've seen in other forums, as well as some of the points I was intending to make (!) -- but I've decided to publish what I have now anyway. Let me know of any other gems you find.)
What's wrong with this picture? It's the illustration for Time magazine's recent cover story on "The Childfree Life." Perhaps stereotypically, an attractive, smiling (smirking?) young couple basks on a sandy beach. Because, you know, if you don't have kids, you have all this TIME and MONEY to just laze around in paradise, right?
The main inside photo makes the point even sharper -- the same couple, seated under a beach umbrella, clink glasses, while a family of four trudges by the beach. The poor dad is towing a supersized wagon filled with toys, beach balls, an inflatable pool, etc., followed by the mom and two kids trailing behind. Yep, life is just one big beach party when you don't have kids....
The buzz on the story started the week before it actually appeared on newsstands, and I was dying to get my hands on a copy. Online, the cover story link goes to an excerpt only; if you want to read the full story, one way or another, you have to pay. However, there are several other related pieces online, which you can find here -- including a poll where you can sound off on various issues related to childfree living.
So, as you can tell, I was irritated by the stereotyping on the cover. And while the article does make a vague nod to the fact that not all women who want children wind up having them, the focus is primarily on the childfree by choice segment, which I also found irritating.
On the bright side, the TIME article has ignited broad discussion across the blogosphere and Internet about childless/free living, and why so many women and men are living without children. Here are just a few of them:
* The NotMom (whose target audience includes all women who are not mothers, for whatever reasons) takes a positive and generous view of the article, noting that "Childless and childfree women are officially news".
"When I first saw the mag’s cover headline, I thought, “Here we go – another spotlight on women who happily chose childfree life with no thought to the rest of us who didn’t.” I’m happy to report that’s not the case."
"The article is primarily about the by-choice crowd, but I’m betting almost every NotMom will find herself somewhere in its detailed stats and stories."
* Amanda Marcotte makes a good point in Slate, asking "Where Are the Men in Child-Free Trend Pieces?" (also noted by Mary Elizabeth Williams in a Salon article sarcastically titled "Time discovers some people don't have kids"). Many men don't have children either, for various reasons, but any media discussion of childless/free living tends to focus almost exclusively on the female perspective.
After all, many women don't have children either because (a) they don't have a partner in their life and don't want to go it alone, or (b) the men in their life don't want to have children (or may have children from a previous relationship and don't want any more). Often the men say or hint that they want children early in the relationship, and change their mind later, leaving the woman to make the difficult decision: which does she want more, the man or a child (never mind that she will have to find another man who is willing to have children with her, get pregnant and bring the pregnancy successfully to term before her fertility ebbs -- if it hasn't already...).
The best responses, naturally (IMHO), come from women who are childless/free-not-by-choice themselves, and who recognize that the picture painted by the story is not a full one:
* Melanie Notkin of Savvy Auntie wrote "The Truth About the Childless Life" for Huffington Post. Notkin says the story "presumes that the decreasing birthrate in America is mostly due to a choice by many modern American women and men to be childfree, i.e., to remain childless by choice. After all, with all the choices available to women -- the gender the piece correctly identifies as the one that carries the brunt of societal negative attitudes towards childless people -- it's assumed by many that we've made childlessness a choice." This assumption, of course, is not correct in all cases and, in many, adds to the heartache that many women without children feel.
* The always-reliable Pamela of Silent Sorority neatly dissects the shortcomings of the Time piece in a post titled How About a Time Cover Story on Women Who Aren’t Moms or Childfree? "Nothing like being made to feel invisible to make you want to wave your hands, whistle and declare in your outdoor voice: “heeelllllo….we’re over here!” " she writes. "Living between the two worlds — the moms and die-hard childfree — can often times be downright weird." Yep.
* The New York Times' Motherlode blog uses the TIME article as the jump off point for a conversation around the question: Can Parents Stay Friends With the Child-Free? Some interesting points in the discussion (including a few contributions from yours truly!). (Some other recent Motherlode topics of interest: Fertility Diary: Baby Envy (Fertility Diary is a new regular feature by guest contributor Amy Klein) and "Take Back" Your Pregnancy? With Caution.)
Did you read the TIME article? (or any of the others I've lined to here?) What did you think?