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TEMPLATE DESIGN © 2008 www.PosterPresentations.com Childfree Status as Gender Transgression? Amy Blackstone, Ph.D., University of Maine, Department of Sociology Supported by a Grant from NCFR’s Feminism and Family Studies Section Talking (or not talking) About GenderReifying Gender Key References Future Friendly Families?: A Book Project on the History, Ethics, and Cultural Impact of Families without Children Resisting Gender Research Question How is the decision to remain childfree reached and what role, if any, does gender play in this process? Background Percent Childless Women Ages 40-44: 1976-2006 U.S. Census Bureau. 2008. Statistical Abstract of the United States. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Increasing rates of childlessness (whether by choice or not). This study of childfree people focuses on those who made explicit and intentional choice to not bear or rear children. Cultural norms centered on heteronormative binaries of gender (male/female), sexuality (heterosexual/homosexual), and family (biological/chosen) prescribe that adults couple with/marry individuals of the other sex AND that they rear children together. Thus choosing to remain childfree could be viewed as a form of gender transgression. Mentioned gender without prompt: Emily : “I think I'm probably a little more evangelical [about being childfree] because of my gender and, and you know all of the ramifications that go along with that. I think it's in a sense easier for men and I feel like women have to be more strident in their decision and more solid because of the stuff you get from society and people. I just feel like I've got to be more clear and definitive in what I say when people ask me about my child status.” Data & Method What role does gender play in decision to not have kids? MEN Steve : I would feel more pressure to have kids if I was a woman. Cory : I’d say zero. It’s totally gender-neutral. Bruce : It probably has played some role but I haven’t framed it as a bigger question for me. Joel : I don’t see how it could [play a role]. WOMEN Allison : HUGE! I think I am realistic enough to know that no matter what arrangement I have in any relationship, the women are the primary caregivers. Julie : For the mother, it’s even more consuming, that role as a parent. You lose a lot of yourself for a while. Janet : If I were a man, no one would give me a hard time about not having kids. Sara : People assume that if you’re a woman it is your instinct and you should want to have kids. When a man doesn’t want kids, no one really says anything or has a strong reaction. Reinforcing gender & family stereotypes Sara : The woman is more involved with taking care of the child. Jill : I look at all my high school friends on Facebook and I’m the only one who isn’t married and doesn’t have kids. I question if there’s something wrong with me. Jack : With my nephews, I have that Papa Bear instinct. It’s like, yeah, I’ll throw my body in front of a car for you. There is just something about blood. Feelings of guilt Women mentioned “maternal instinct” & guilt over not having it. Some expressed guilt over denying their parents grandchildren. Pushing back against social pressure Kim : Am I less of a woman because I don’t have kids? Not at all. Janet : When people tell me it’s the most fulfilling thing a woman can do, I just name off the ten fulfilling things I did in the past week that they didn’t get to do because they have kids. Redefining family Participants included pets, friends, neighbors, and community in their definitions of “family” Tony : It’s the group of people that you want to be with and you still want to be with, even when you disagree with them. ThemeDescription Talking (or not talking) About Gender Participants’ comments about gender (or lack thereof) tell us something about how they understand the concept and how/whether they believe gender is linked to parenting decisions. Reifying Gender Some reify gender by not questioning or talking about it. Others called up heteronormative ideals by reinforcing gender and family stereotypes and by expressing feelings of guilt over not having children. Resisting GenderResisting gender can be seen in participants’ efforts to re-define family. By emphasizing that they choose their families, participants raise questions about the utility of definitions that rely on biology or traditionally heteronormative connections such as marriage. Findings: Three Themes Data 5 heterosexual, married couples (5 men, 5 women) 19 additional participants (5 men, 14 women) Convenience sample Method Intensive interviews with couples, 60-90 minutes Focus groups of 2-5 people each, 90-120 minutes Analysis Recorded & transcribed interviews & focus groups 2 coders; coded independently, then collaboratively Inductive approach MenWomen Mentioned gender without prompt0%5% Said gender plays role in decision to not have kids9%27% Participants reify gender by 1) not talking about it; 2) calling up heteronormative ideals of gender & family; and 3) expressing guilt about not having children. Participants resist gender by 1) pushing back against negative social responses and pressure to have children and 2) redefining family in ways to do not rely on heteronormative binaries. Gillespie, R. 2003. “Childfree and Feminine: Understanding the Gender Identity of Voluntarily Childless Women.” Gender & Society 17: 122-136. Oswald, R.F., L. Balter Blume, and S.R. Marks. 2005. “Decentering Heteronormativity: A Model for Family Studies.” in Sourcebook of Family Theory and Research, edited by V.L. Bengtson, A.C. Acock, K.R. Allen, P. Dilworth-Anderson, and D.M. Klein. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Park, K. 2002. “Stigma Management Among the Voluntarily Childless.” Sociological Perspectives 45: 21-45. Next Steps Chapter TitleDescription 1. Childless By Choice Describes emerging trend of adults choosing not to have children, considers rhetorical meanings ascribed to terms “childfree” and “childless,” and maps out the content of the book. 2. Rethinking Gender and Family Presentation of ways childfree people both resist and reify heteronormative cultural norms/ideals. 3. A Sustainable Lifestyle Examines environmental impact of childbearing with particular attention to social class and differences between consumption patterns of families with and without children. 4. It Takes a Village Explores role that childfree people play in children’s lives. Considers benefits of these relationships to childfree adults, to children and parents, and to communities. 5. Healthy Lives and Communities Considers claims made by some childfree adults that they live happier, healthier lives than their parent counterparts and that they are better situated to contribute to their communities because they do not have children. 6. Future Friend FamiliesAsks whether/how families without children help create a more just, equitable, and sustainable future. Implications for cultural practices such as workplace policies and long-term care considered. http://moralchildfree.tripod.com/id1.html
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