Challenging Gender Stigma: Why Woman Isn't Synonymous With 'Mother'

Challenging Gender Stigma: Why Woman Isn't Synonymous With 'Mother'

It's time to question why exactly there is such a strong social stigma against women adopting children, or not having children at all.
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“So, how many kids do you want when you grow up?” “What do you want to name your children?” Questions like these are not uncommon to come up in conversation with friends. However, having children has become such a tradition, and this has created a stigma against women who don’t want to have children, or don’t want to birth their own children.

Adoption has been something that has, in the past, been seemingly restricted to women who want children, but are not able to have their own — usually related to medical issues. But why does adoption have to be restricted to this? Yes, going through adoption can be a long and difficult process, but many women are willing to go through this. And, if anything, pregnancy is probably an even longer and even more difficult process. There are so many children in this world who don’t have parents and would otherwise grow up their entire lives without parents. In a 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, it was found that at least 500,000 women were seeking to adopt at that current time, and the numbers of women taking concrete steps towards adoption are increasing each year.

So, is it selfish to only want your own children? No; plenty of people in this world want to be able to birth their own children with the same genetic inheritance to pass down to the next generation. Many argue that they would love their child no matter what, but what they don’t consider is that even if someone were to adopt, that adopted child becomes their own, and they will love that adopted child no matter what as well. Adoption is a viable option for those who cannot conceive, but why can’t adoption be for all? Regardless, there should not be a stigma against mothers who adopt children, or even choose not to have children, regardless of if this is because of medical reasons or not.

Well, why is there such a strong social stigma against not having children of your own? Whenever you see someone with adopted children, the first thoughts that come to your head are pity, perhaps a, “oh, she must not be able to have children, how sad.” Yet, almost half the US population of women choose not to have kids. According to the US Census Bureau Population Survey of 2014, 47.6% of women between 15 and 44 have never had children.

It seems as though one of the biggest hesitations against adopting is the idea that your genes are not passed on. Perhaps this stems from our human social tendencies of a fear of death, fear of end, and fear of being alone.

On the other hand, women who choose not to have children at all, otherwise known as childfree, biological or adopted, are seen as cold-hearted, in a way. Does this stem from a traditional belief that all women are motherly and nurturing? We have come so far in fighting for change in gender roles and the singular idea of the woman as the nurturing, caring being who belongs at home, yet women who choose to put their careers first before children are still stigmatized.

Many men often choose not to have children until they are older — even in their 40s, when the peak age for women is in their upper 20s. These men who choose to not marry or have children until they are older are seen as independent, career-driven, smart, and successful entrepreneurs, driven by their passion. Yet, women who choose to put their careers first are seen as selfish women who are bound to be “cat ladies” in the future. Why can’t career-driven women be seen in the same light, as independent and successful? Why are women still expected to put their own careers and lives on hold to have children at a particular time and age? In addition, why does having children mean having to settle down?

So, why is it okay for men to be “selfish” but not for women? This strong link between women today and this old mother stigma leads us to be so stuck in this backwards idea that we cannot move onto a new way of thinking — that women can be independent, career-driven women. That women can have the choice to adopt children. That women can have the choice to not have children at all, and not seen in a negative light. It’s 2016, and it baffles me that this way of thinking still isn’t universal.

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No, I Don't Have To Tell You I'm Trans Before Dating You

Demanding trans people come out to potential partners is transphobic.
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In 2014, Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old Filipina woman, was brutally murdered after having sex with a U.S. marine. The marine in question, Joseph Scott Pemberton, strangled her until she was unconscious and then proceeded to drown her in a toilet bowl.

Understandably, this crime triggered a lot of outrage. But while some were outraged over the horrific nature of the crime, many others were outraged by a different detail in the story. That was because Jennifer Laude had done the unspeakable. She was a trans woman and had not disclosed that information before having sex with Pemberton. So in the minds of many cis people, her death was the price she paid for not disclosing her trans status. Here are some of the comments on CNN's Facebook page when the story broke.

As a trans person, I run into this attitude all the time. I constantly hear cis people raging about how a trans person is "lying" if they don't come out to a potential partner before dating them. Pemberton himself claimed that he felt like he was "raped" because Laude did not come out to him. Even cis people that fashion themselves as "allies" tend to feel similar.

Their argument is that they aren't not attracted to trans people, so they should have a right to know if a potential partner is trans before dating them. These people view transness as a mere physical quality that they just aren't attracted to.

The issue with this logic is that the person in question is obviously attracted to trans people, or else they wouldn't be worried about accidentally going out with one. So these people aren't attracted to trans people because of some physical quality, they aren't attracted to trans people because they are disgusted by the very idea of transness.

Disgust towards trans people is ingrained in all of us from a very early age. The gender binary forms the basis of European societies. It establishes that there are men and there are women, and each has a specific role. For the gender binary to have power, it has to be rigid and inflexible. Thus, from the day we are born, we are taught to believe in a very static and strict form of gender. We learn that if you have a penis, you are a man, and if you have a vagina, you are a woman. Trans people are walking refutations of this concept of gender. Our very existence threatens to undermine the gender binary itself. And for that, we are constantly demonized. For example, trans people, mainly women of color, continue to be slaughtered in droves for being trans.

The justification of transphobic oppression is often that transness is inherently disgusting. For example, the "trans panic" defense still exists to this day. This defense involves the defendant asking for a lesser sentence after killing a trans person because they contend that when they found out the victim was trans, they freaked out and couldn't control themselves. This defense is still legal in every state but California.

And our culture constantly reinforces the notion that transness is undesirable. For example, there is the common trope in fictional media in which a male protagonist is "tricked" into sleeping with a trans woman. The character's disgust after finding out is often used as a punchline.

Thus, not being attracted to trans people is deeply transphobic. The entire notion that someone isn't attracted to a group of very physically diverse group of people because they are trans is built on fear and disgust of trans people. None of this means it is transphobic to not be attracted to individual trans people. Nor is it transphobic to not be attracted to specific genitals. But it is transphobic to claim to not be attracted to all trans, people. For example, there is a difference between saying you won't go out with someone for having a penis and saying you won't go out with someone because they're trans.

So when a cis person argues that a trans person has an obligation to come out to someone before dating them, they are saying trans people have an obligation to accommodate their transphobia. Plus, claiming that trans people are obligated to come out reinforces the idea that not being attracted to trans people is reasonable. But as I've pointed out, not being attracted to trans people supports the idea that transness is disgusting which is the basis for transphobic oppression.

The one scenario in which I would say a trans person should disclose their trans status is if they are going to have sex with someone and are unsure if their partner is attracted to whatever genitals they may have. In that case, I think it's courteous for a trans person to come out to avoid any awkwardness during sex. But even then, a trans person isn't "lying" if they don't come out and their partner is certainly not being "raped."

It is easy to look at the story of Jennifer Laude and claim that her death was due to the actions of one bigot. But it's more complicated than that. Pemberton was the product of a society that told him that disgust towards trans people was reasonable and natural. So when he found out that he accidentally slept with a trans woman, he killed her.

Every single cis person that says that trans people have to come out because they aren't attracted to trans people feeds into the system that caused Jennifer Laude's death. And until those cis people acknowledge their complicity in that system, there will only be more like Jennifer Laude.

SEE ALSO: Yes, You Absolutely Need To Tell Someone You're Trans Before Dating

Cover Image Credit: Nats Getty / Instagram

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I Joined A Gym And This Is What Happened

Three weeks ago I made the decision to take better care of myself, for better or for worse.

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Three weeks ago I made the decision to take better care of myself, for better or for worse.

Like many people, I'm notoriously known for jumping on the health and weight loss bandwagon and sticking it out until it gets hard. It would last a few days to a few weeks but never really much more than that. My trips to the gym would dwindle into non-existence. Where was the accountability? What was keeping me going besides a shadow of my high school self?

It's a frustrating, endless cycle that ends only in depreciating my self-esteem.

Three weeks ago, that cycle stopped.

A friend of mine tagged me in a post promising custom meal plans, fun workouts, accountability, and best of all—results. To be honest, this initially sounded like another one of the thousands of gimmicks thrown at consumers every single day. However, my friend went to a consultation, and the more she told me, the more I became hooked.

The gym we joined is a small, family-owned business dedicated to helping people lead healthier, happier lives. They believe in building you up while teaching you to be healthier—in and out of the gym. The price tag almost scared me away, but part of their challenge is that if you reach the weight goal they give you, you either get your money back or can put it towards a gym membership after your six-week challenge.

After speaking with my family and friends, I decided this was the best decision for me right now, despite my current medical conditions. I was tired of the excuses and knew if I wanted results, obstacles would have to be worked around.

Week one was absolute hell.

Everyone was given a custom meal plan that, although straight and simple, is easy to stray from. The plan consists of several food options I would eat anyway when eating healthy, so that wasn't the difficult part. The hard part is everything not on the list. Week one shows you explicitly just how terribly you eat and drink. Week one reminds you of all those days you spent inside instead of exercising.

Week two was easier… and more satisfying. Cravings were still there, but they weren't as strong as the previous week. Even more rewarding, I had lost three pounds! My family could already see a difference in my body. I was performing exercises and eating foods I never expected myself to do or eat.

Week three was a giant curve ball I thought I had prepared for. My family went on a week-long vacation out of town, taking me away from the gym and the environment I had grown used to for this program. I decided I would continue to meal prep and utilize the at-home workouts the gym provided for us. I wanted to stay on top of the game. Things changed, however, when I got sick and was bedridden for the rest of the week. I couldn't eat, and I certainly couldn't move enough to work out. Whatever it was that hit me didn't leave for over a week.

I lost six pounds in four days, which wasn't the way I planned to lose that weight.

Going back to the gym this week was difficult. My morale was lower. Sure, I'd lost more weight, but it wasn't through the work I had signed up to do. I feared gaining it all back after being able to eat again. Working out is shaky at best due to being on a liquid and soup diet, but this time, I'm not giving up.

It's only week three, and I've seen more results in less than a month than I have in the last five years. I've never felt so empowered to treat myself well.

If anything, it's a lesson in challenging yourself. Don't hold yourself back; you may be surprised by the rewards.

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