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Men, Women, and the pressure to have children

By Victoria Fryer

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between men and women, particularly with regard to the experience of being childfree. But it’s more of an open question than an assertion: is the male experience different than mine?

Earlier this year, an anthology of essays on the choice not to have children (Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Children, edited by Meghan Daum) earned a lot of well-deserved publicity. And, as is common on the Internet, that publicity turned into several think-pieces posted here and there on the choice to remain childfree.

Evidently, some people began to feel there was a bit of an oversaturation on the topic. One day, I saw a series of tweets from a man (whom I won’t name) to the effect of, ‘No one cares if you have kids or not.’

My first inclination was to go on the defensive. ‘I’m glad you don’t care,’ I thought, ‘but I’ve had a number of experiences to the contrary.’ For me, over the years, it seemed like plenty of people have cared whether or not I’m having children. Then I started to wonder, though: what accounts for the difference? Is it having one certain group of friends versus another? Is it living in an urban versus a rural area? Is it the difference between the male and female experience?

Ever since I was old enough to understand the implications, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the woman’s biologically-required level of participation in the child-making process. I often thought that if I could choose to be the father instead of the mother, things would be easier. No nine months of pregnancy, no hormone fluctuations, no three months out of work and breastfeeding and … the list goes on. And, though society is, of course, changing, women are still often seen as the primary caregiver.

Does that contribute to a difference in the way childfree women are perceived as opposed to childfree men? Because it certainly contributes to the way I think about it.

I decided to ask my husband about his own experiences. He says that, though plenty of people have told him that he should have children (more women than men, he reports), he never allowed their opinions to make him feel any kind of pressure or judgment. So, I’m willing to concede that perhaps my inclination that this is a women’s problem is incorrect.

Whether we like it or not, the way child-freedom is currently talked about publicly, it’s often framed as a women’s issue. Fewer men speak up about the issue than do women, and perhaps I always assumed that was because they felt less pressure: from their families, society, their own biology. Even in the anthology I mentioned earlier, only three of the contributors are male. I’m curious about your experiences-do men experience the pressure to have children differently than women?

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.

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