What Does it Mean to be a Woman Without Kids? – The Journey to Changing Public Perception
by: Chloe Peacock
I founded and manage The League of Fabulous Women (tlfw) in the UK. It’s a light-hearted community and style-conscious lifestyle network for women who do not have children either by choice or circumstance. It differs from infertility support groups or other childfree networks in that our women have a variety of different reasons, stories, and feelings about not having children in their lives. Nevertheless, we are bound in our approach to life without kids: friendship, honesty, toughness, kindness. This along with a whole lot of fun and plenty of good times out together is what unites us. I did a lot of research before starting the group. Some of that research included focus groups. Off the back of it, I felt that we were still greatly misunderstood despite being a growing demographic. Many of the women without children I spoke to articulated to varying degrees that they felt misrepresented, not fully considered, or even invisible in popular culture unless subject to unpleasant stereotype. So one of my implicit goals became to try and soften public perception of what it means to be a woman without kids.
Hanging Up the Stereotypes
Unfortunately, there are still negative stereotypes that continue to have currency in the UK such as party girls who refuse to hang up their stilettos, bitter old spinsters, free spirits with no sense of responsibility, baby-haters, and desperate singletons. We have to try to get on with it and show the world we have rich and complex lives and are real women who do not fit into these boxes.
Also on tlfw – we have a policy never to say anything unkind about mothers and we do not even dabble in stereotypes directed at motherhood. After all, many of our friends are mummies, we have our own mums and some of our community long to become one. So our core value of friendship extends to all. We have nothing but respect for other people’s life choices and the decision they have made to become a parent.
However, looking back at the group’s beginnings – it’s true that a few things really nagged at me. I was anxious about creating something potentially divisive when my intension was to build bridges and help people. Basically, I let self-doubt creep in for a while. I worried what other people might think about me. So when Brittany wrote a guest post for us recently about setting up the rinky-DINK life, her comments about fear really resonated with me.
Fighting Negativity with Positivity
Before launching I had run a local meet-up for childfree women with some friends as a kind of trial of the tlfw idea. We went out together to do lots of fun and social activities and actually rarely spoke about our choices or children. It was simply about meeting like-minded individuals and having fun and all the children/non-children stuff was under the surface somewhere. The group became popular and quickly. A local newspaper ran a piece about us. The article was also published on their site and there were a few mean and misogynistic comments left online. Then a local radio station picked this up and also discussed the group. The presenters are young parents and they were malevolent about us, to say the least.
For a while, this added to my concern. Would tlfw upset my friends with children and could it even have a negative impact on my public/professional reputation? By putting myself out there might I even be perceived as anti-family or ‘that baby-hater woman’, even though this could not be further from the truth. Would I be stuck constantly having to justify myself and epilogue about how much I love kids?
I have very close relationships with my niece and a few of my friend’s children. I volunteered for two different charities related to child poverty and education. I have even been to antenatal classes and enthusiastically supported a single parent friend through her pregnancy. These points would go around and around in my head and I ended up feeling quite cross feeling I shouldn’t have to share personal facts just to justify myself.
To be honest though, none of the negativity was a surprise to me. I felt indignant for a short while, yes, and I know the comments from the local press had upset some of the other women in the group. I had read views about the childfree feeling victimised yet this wasn’t the case for me. It was tiresome to be on the receiving end, but it actually served to galvanise me into doing something positive for my tribe.
My close friends and family were supportive of my ideas to grow the meetup into something more and so I decided the best thing was to not engage with the trolling and just be myself. What finally prompted me, in the end, to pull my finger out and get going and build the site was that I could see women coming to the childfree face to face get-togethers and making new friends. For every negative bit of feedback I had received, I also got five times as much from people saying that the community was making a positive difference in their life. Quite a few reported that it had helped diminish a sense isolation for them.
Childfree by Choice: Different but Equal
However, I still looked online for reassurance and other people’s views. Unfortunately, this did not make me feel better. I came across a lot of unpleasantness. I even discovered parenting bloggers comparing the childfree movement to hate groups! I then found material saying people without children were going against God. And yet they themselves were referring to some of the childfree community as ‘freaks’ and ‘insufferable whiners’. To be fair I also read some very strong views from certain sectors of the childfree community. These were directed at parents and parenting rather than children – nonetheless, both communities were expressing themselves in unfriendly and juvenile ways.
Well, it makes me feel very sad that this binary opposition still exists. Can’t we just be people with different life experiences, goals and views? Anyway, I put all this to one side and went and ahead and launched the website and started more meet-up groups in different parts of the UK! It’s been hard work at times, but also a great joy to see it grow, more women making new friends and very satisfying to watch traffic to the site increase and for brands and businesses to start taking notice of our demographic.
I hope society gets used to the idea that not all women without kids are simply militant childfree types or defined by loss, in a permanent in a state of grief or end up baby-haters. We are way more complex than this! Even better, what about a society where women without kids are perceived as equally valid members of society and a social norm?
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