Big Families, Small Families, Women Still Can't Choose

Selfish People

Growing up in a large family, my mom would often receive glares from other people when she walked into a store towing all her kids.  Women would even chastise her for having that many children, calling her selfish and clearly unaware of how she is overcrowding the world by her actions.

I found that strange considering many of these people were self-proclaimed liberals were for women’s rights’ issues like abortion and privacy, yet they had no problem telling my mother what she should do with her body.

On the other hand, I’ve had friends called selfish because, according to their religious family members and peers, they are not producing enough children.

And all these arguments have recently become tied into the contraceptive debate.

Contraceptives: The People Limiter

In view of statistics in the US, the average number of children being born to a woman is only 2.03, up from the 70’s and 80’s, but still slightly lower than the replacement level of 2.1 [1a].  So all the arguments that contraceptives limit the amount of children born in the US are true! Absolutely true!

And This Is a Bad Thing?

I believe people read these reports and see “less than replacement level” as a concerning point.  Replacement-level fertility is actually defined as, “The level of fertility at which a couple has only enough children to replace themselves, or about two children per couple.” [1b] This, however, is not to be confused with a more important term: sustainable population or carrying capacity.  According to SUSPS,

The growing population and its consumption patterns have profound consequences for the global environment, including species extinction, deforestation, desertification, climate change, and the destruction of natural ecosystems. [1c]

In my opinion, the decline in birth rates should be seen as a good thing based on the above quote and other concerning bio-statistics. I think they can be interpreted in two ways: One, our evolutionary mechanisms are leading to natural population inhibition – rather than needing a law like China currently has in place – and two, women are finally taking control of their fertility.

My Choice?  Sure, If I Want to be Chastised

A major victory women achieved in the 1950’s and the 60’s was finally breaking free from the patriarchy and allowing ourselves to control our own fertility.  Considering we have the lion’s share of responsibility when it comes to children, it is only natural that we have more control over if, when, and how many children we have.

But, my idealistic look at fertility rates is continually shattered when I read comments by male leaders in various church and political forums on various woman’s health issues.  It’s like a return to medieval times.

Rush Limbaugh considers women “sluts” because they want contraception. [2]

Foster Freiss, President of Santorum’s super PAC, said in his day, “women used to put bayer aspirin between their knees [3],” indicating that they just didn’t have sex.  (To which I ask, did he and what were his consequences?)

Rick Santorum, contender for the GOP nomination, has made past and current remarks about how contraceptive “is harmful to women” because it “goes down the line of being able to do whatever you want to do without having the responsibility that comes with that [4].” (Again, women face the consequences, men don’t.)

Elder Scott, member of the Quorum of the 12 in the LDS church, recently said, “In the past 50 years the birth rate has dropped in nearly every nation of the world. Marriages are being postponed until later in life, and families are getting smaller, even in the [LDS] Church [5].” (Basically telling women to pop out more children.)

Because, apparently, men have absolute control of their sexuality and never, ever have sex outside of marriage, we women should be punished.  Even if men are having more sex than women, they don’t have to worry about unexpected pregnancies because, oh yeah, they’re men.  They also have every right to tell women to have more children so that our population doesn’t die out (which wouldn’t happen anyway).

Big Or Small, That’s Your Decision

If a woman wants to have a big family, like the Duggars, good for her!  She has every right to a big family and shouldn’t have hurtful comments about her choices slung at her from the left.

At the same time, if a woman chooses to have none or, gasp, one, child, we should support that decision.  For many women, pregnancy is awful (I should know) and is not something they could realistically do again.  And, for other women, children are of no interest to them.  Some of them don’t like children, and others don’t want children.  Either way, it’s their choice.

I feel disheartened, though, when I see that men are still trying to control women’s reproductive choices.  I also feel sad when women allow this.  Ladies, are we not people? Do we not have voices?

On the flip side, why are we so disdainful toward our sex’s decisions? Why are comments of “selfishness” being swung around by both sides?  Especially as women, we should support others of our sex in whatever reproductive decision they make because we all know how hard it is – even if you haven’t experienced pregnancy, you’ve most likely experienced menstruation and that alone gives you street cred.

I know that, for me, I pass no judgment on women when I see their family size.  I hope they  can extend the same courtesy to me. Maybe, just maybe, we we can build a more respectful and kind community of women than what currently exists if we recognize the difficulties and complexities of reproduction and refuse to allow the media to exploit our sexual choices while ignoring the male part of the equation.

References:

1a: http://www.susps.org/overview/birthrates.html
1b: http://www.susps.org/overview/population_terms.html
1c: http://www.susps.org/overview/population.html

2: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/29/rush-limbaugh-sandra-fluke-slut_n_1311640.html

3: http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2012/02/santorum-backer-friess-gals-used-to-put-aspirin-between-their-knees-for-contraception.php

4: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/02/rick-santorum-declared-contraception-harmful-to-women-in-2006/

5: http://www.lds.org/broadcasts/article/worldwide-leadership-training/2012/01/the-doctrinal-importance-of-marriage-and-children?lang=eng

Don’t forget to read my review of Looking Up.  You could win a free copy!

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22 Comments

Filed under Feminism

22 responses to “Big Families, Small Families, Women Still Can't Choose

  1. Carisa

    I agree with almost everything you’ve mentioned. I’m a big supporter of each person (male or female) to do what is best for them, personally. One of my best friends and co-workers has absolutely zero interest in having children. Even the thought makes her heart rate shoot up. I commend her on knowing what she wants for herself and sticking to it – even though people at her church (and family) keeping pressuring her and her husband to start a family. And in turn, I know she supports my decision to have kids… whatever amount the hub’s and I decide we want – even though, for her, two kids is an insanely large family.
    I have no tolerance for old men in power, limiting one of our basic freedoms as women. I’d rather a woman not have 6 children if she can only take care of 3.
    The only differing opinion I have is the quote from Elder Scott. His talk wasn’t about Mormons cranking out more kids. It was about focusing more on the importance of families and less on the importance of worldly success. People are delaying getting married and having kids because they figure it would be better to wait to have kids til they are out of debt, have a house, done with school, etc. His talk was just a reminder that the family is the most important thing we can achieve on earth. Be that 10 kids or 1… that’s where our focus should be.
    I do hope that we can all support each other, as women, and realize that having control over our own lives is a beautiful thing. Something to be celebrated.

    • Laura J.

      Well said, Carisa.

    • admin

      Re: Elder Scott. The quote I mentioned came from the beginning of his talk when he was giving an introduction to his fears on selfishness invading Mormon culture. So, if we take it that way, everything below the statistic -i.e. when he goes in depth into how delaying children for reasons that he doesn’t deem righteous -reinforces his idea that Mormons should be ahead of the curve in reproduction. In my opinion, he is relating family size to selfishness, or the idea that Mormon couples are choosing to delay marriage and families for so long that they can’t have more kids or begin to place “wordly” values about family. In my experience, I haven’t seen a couple delay family or have less than whatever the desirable amount is within the church for selfish reasons.

      The Church’s own statement on birth control says that “Husband and wife are encouraged to pray and counsel together as they plan their families. Issues to consider include the physical and mental health of the mother and father and their capacity to provide the basic necessities of life for their children.” Clearly the church recognizes that providing for children is important; however, some general authorities take it a step further and emphasize that if couples choose education over family they are being selfish. I disagree, I think starting a family is inherently not selfish and members, especially GA’s, shouldn’t criticize couples for their decisions to wait to have children or decide against having any kids.

      • Carisa

        I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree because I didn’t get any of that from Elder Scott’s talk.

        I’d just like to make one point: nothing that a General Authority says is doctrine – merely the opinion of the speaker.

        I think the Church’s official stance on family size/contraception is spot on. It needs to be between a husband and wife and God.

      • admin

        That’s okay!! We can’t all agree on everything, that’s what makes the world go ’round! 🙂 (And I respect your opinions, Carisa, and I think that you’re right. I was not trying to criticize you, just explaining how the talk came across to me. But, if you took something different, and more positive, from the message, great!)

        “I’d just like to make one point: nothing that a General Authority says is doctrine – merely the opinion of the speaker.” That, though, we can both agree on.

  2. Tay

    I’m always a little jealous of moms with 5 kids who aren’t going crazy, maybe with some semblance of order. Mostly because I’m realizing that it won’t be possible for me to have 5 – mentally as well as physically. Maybe I’ll adopt, because it’s mostly physical and I really want more than 3.

    Anyway, the point being that I think moms should have the kids they can have. But that can needs to include wanting them. Just like a lot of other important things in life, don’t do it if you don’t want it; you shouldn’t have kids if you don’t want them. Is that an inflammatory statement? 🙂 Of course there are caveats to what I just said. But that’s my generalized feeling. I wish there was more of a ‘live and let live’ feeling as far as others’ decisions go if the decisions don’t directly affect us.

    • admin

      “I wish there was more of a ‘live and let live’ feeling as far as others’ decisions go if the decisions don’t directly affect us.” Me too.

  3. Isn’t this how it is with every facet of our lives? No matter what we do, we are chastised from one side or the other. That’s why the best thing to do is to ignore all the voices and do what you think is best for yourself and your family. As far as legislation is concerned, all legislation has a domino affect on everyone, even if it doesn’t appear to affect someone immediately, it eventually comes around to affect everyone.

    Many women don’t feel that these men are trying to control their choices. I don’t care if anyone else has 20 babies or no babies or uses birth control or they don’t, but I don’t think I should have to pay for someone else’s loose lifestyle (if that’s the reason they need access to free birth control) just because they have the freedom to do what they want with their body. As far as the mudslinging things some people in the public’s eye are saying, it’s all ridiculous. Although I am of the same opinion as Carisa on Elder Scott’s address. He wasn’t inadvertently telling “women to pop out more children”. He was talking about making families a priority over careers and other successes in life. And it wasn’t directed at just women either. It was directed at both men and women.

    I don’t think anyone who has a child or twenty and does the best job they know how in raising them is selfish. Taking care of a child is one of the most selfless things anybody does.

  4. That’s something I’ve been getting a lot of lately.. Judgment on my plan to start a family – and I think it’s ridiculous. We all have the right to make our own choice, and whether or not to start a family is one of them and it’s personal – not up for discussion with the general public.
    I respect other couples’ choices to have one, five, or none – so why can’t my choices be respected?! I find it so frustrating!

    • admin

      I am so sorry for what you’ve experienced. It’s strange how personal decisions can be considered up for debate. You are making it, not someone else!

  5. Laura J.

    Thank heaven for contraceptives and the power to choose. Without them, I would either have twice as many kids as I do now and be in a difficult financial position (we are by no means rich anyway), or I would have a very unsatisfying marriage since I would essentially have to give up a lot of much needed “happy hour” with hubby. Thanks for including your references, too!

    • admin

      Laura, you bring up a great point about relationships being affected by children, or by having more than you could realistically handle. I know many couples with big families whose relationship with their spouse is stronger, but I know that for me it would not be that way!!

  6. Great post. I second everything you said. When I was about 18 or so, I hate to admit, but I would look down on women who decided to have a lot of children basically because it wasn’t the choice *I* would make. Luckily I’ve grown up a bit since then. My husband is number 13 of 15 brothers and sisters. His mother is a tremendous and wonderful woman. How could I have ever judged women like her? Women should be able to live however they want without reproach.

    • admin

      Exactly, Taylor! I’ve had many awakenings since my youth as I’ve looked at my previous perspective and realized just how wrong I was. (I was on the opposite of you, I always looked down on women who didn’t have more than 5 kids. I wish I were kidding.) I suppose that’s part of maturing and becoming more passionate and less judgmental of other’s decisions.

      As you said, “Women should be able to live however they want without reproach.”

  7. What a thoughtful, thorough post, Amber. I work with organizations that focus solely on reproductive health/choice and they remind their community that all this contraception talk is part of a methodical strategy to limit women’s rights and choice. Hard to believe that there are people who think like this today but the numbers show that it’s mostly men with very archaic religious beliefs (the Santorum-types) who feel this way. Wouldn’t it be great to advance the topics of debate in Washington? The world heats up at an unprecedented pace and we’re talking about contraception. If men were the ones who had to carry the children in their bellies and had to parent more than the women, I wonder what that would look like.

    • admin

      Two things.

      1) “The world heats up at an unprecedented pace and we’re talking about contraception.” I was just talking to my husband about this, the absurdity that we are arguing over something like contraception when there are kids starving, women suffering, and wars occurring (with men and women dying on both sides). Add the environmental issues we are clearly ignoring and I just get flabbergasted by these issues that side track us. Gah.

      2) “If men were the ones who had to carry the children in their bellies and had to parent more than the women, I wonder what that would look like.” I don’t think men are deliberately trying to harm women (at least in most cases), I think that they’ve but taught for so long by our culture to keep women in control that these things are often done without much thought. (Or maybe I’m just idealistic.) Yet, like you said, if they could experience just a minute of what women do when they are pregnant, I think their minds would be greatly changed.

  8. Wonderful post. I think you know where I stand…

    I especially like this:

    Especially as women, we should support others of our sex in whatever reproductive decision they make because we all know how hard it is…

    And I agree, completely.

    My two cents, if you don’t mind… http://dailyplateofcrazy.com/2012/03/04/contraception-personhood-debates-in-the-news/

  9. Melanie

    I, too, find it frustrating that it’s almost exclusively men who will make all of these decisions on our behalf. Why don’t you or Ben run for public office?

    As for comments regarding numbers of children, I don’t have a right to input into how big or small ANYBODY’s family is. Having said that, I’m also not happy when a woman chooses to have children knowing full well that she can’t pay to maintain them.

    I think I’ve said this before, but if every girl’s mother ensured she was given norplant or depo provera at onset of fertility and kept it up until the girl grew up and was financially and emotionally ready to have a family, welfare as we know it would no longer be as as big a budget item as it currently is. (Family employment situations change so there would always be some need for it but it wouldn’t have to be a big surprise to some young girl who didn’t think it could happen to her:)

    I sound hard, but no matter how much a person wants something, they’re not entitled to it until they can pay for it and that includes a car, a house or a family. And that’s my two cents for all its worth!

  10. ANON

    I too have found the recent discussion/debate around birth control/contraception retroactive and unhelpful.

    I am in the middle of fighting HG right now and that makes me all the more sensitive to the situation. This is my third HG pregnancy and dealing with this over the years has made me completely pro-choice. In fact, it DID play a part in my leaving the Mormon church as I found no solace in that doctrine or community as I’ve gone through this. Judgement, loneliness, and alienation, yes, but not peace.

    This is my third and final pregnancy outside of the faith, and I believe I am handling so much better. I do not feel forsaken by any god, ANY MALE GOD, or organization. Instead, I feel profoundly grateful for modern medicine and the immediate support I’ve gotten from family and friends- AND from hired help.

    I’ve been privileged to have medical care that comes without dogma or stipulations over what choices I make over my reproductive health. I am feeling the need lately to be more active and political to make this current pro-choice, pro-woman world remains for the next generation. I am sickened by the latest legislation for transvaginal ultrasounds before an abortion. The world still is very patriarchal, very condescending, towards women. The last month or so has proved this so well.

    As for Elder Scott’s comment, he himself comes from a major patriarchal organization who’s survival (financial and size-wise) depends on MORE babies, more children. The church family-speak really comes down to the church interests, not women’s interests.

  11. Well said Amber. I know I am coming to the discussion late, but feel the impetus to add this to the conversation. We are the parents of one child, but people (sometimes strangers) feel compelled to ask us when we will have another child. When did that become an appropriate question? People don’t realize the plethora of emotions it may trigger in the person asked.

  12. I think it’s important to respect each others’ choices, especially when we are talking about married people deciding about their family size. But I think there are other issues at play here when we talk about birth control. And I think that sometimes we don’t consider the downside of birth control. I do think that sometimes women are harmed by it, because, for example, they engage with men who are not committed to them. There are more consequences of having sex than just getting pregnant.

    I think it can also feed a selfish pursuit of sexual pleasure in ways that can harm individuals and have a negative impact on our society. People talk about helping single moms who are poor, or fatherless kids, for example, but they don’t want to talk about how so many women end up single (because of promiscuity on their part and/or because of a husband leaving them for selfish sexual pursuits). It’s like we spend time hacking at the branches instead of addressing the roots. People want sexual freedom without seeing the problems it can cause.

    I also think birth control has had a significant effect on how men view women. I hear feminists talk about being angry that women are objectified, but then not seeing how sexual ‘freedom’ has contributed to that.

    Don’t misunderstand me. Without knowledge of family planning options, I’d probably be dead, because of health issues. We’ve had to limit our family size for my life’s sake. I’m grateful we have choices. But I think we also have to be honest with ourselves about the fact that choices have their costs, and at some point, you can’t pick up one end of the stick without picking up the other. I think birth control is both a blessing and a challenge for our society. And I wish we could have more nuanced discussions about it in the political realm.