I had several titles in mind for this piece:
-“Stupid things people say to me because of the heteronormative patriarchy.”
-“GTFOutta my Uterus.”
-“No, seriously, I don’t want kids and I am not insane.”
– “REPEAT AFTER ME: A woman’s worth is not determined by her willingness or ability to reproduce, how often she reproduces, or how many of those children are male. SAY IT!!!!”
After having family members, masjid aunties, and even strangers ask me, as though they have a vested interest in my baby-maker, when I am going to get married and have children, I feel I am about to explode in a fit of righteous feministic rage.
So rather than going on a tirade the next time someone tries to poke around in my personal bid’ness, I will simply send them a link to this article. I am tired of explaining myself. I am tired of trying not to offend people whose dehumanization of me is offensive. I am tired of people saying I will have children and expecting me to hollowly echo “Insha’Allah” when I absolutely do not ever want a husband (or wife) or children.
I have reasons for not wanting rugrats, some of which I will explain below, but hear me now: I do not need a reason not to want kids, and neither does any other girl or woman or female-bodied/identified person who gets asked these absolutely asinine questions. I do not need a reason to make decisions as an autonomous, independent, intelligent being. I am not broken or defective.
I am not afraid of men, I do not look down on mothers, and I do not abhor children. I am me, and I am not strange or wrong for not wanting children. Rather, what is strange, and very very wrong, is treating women as though our only purpose in life, our only path to emotional, physical, and spiritual fulfillment is the bearing and raising of children.
I do not need a reason not to want kids, and neither does any other girl or woman or female-bodied/identified person who gets asked these absolutely asinine questions. tweet
So here now are a list of some terrible things people have said to me or asked me recently, and some insight into my life as well as the misogynistic and deeply patriarchal origins of this particular brand of anti-feminist stupidity.
“When are you going to get grandchildren?”
Ladies, this is something I have learned through years of squirming and uncomfortable conversations. If you hear this question, whether you are married or single, no matter your sexual orientation, answer this question truthfully, immediately, and shut the conversation down.
No one, not even your parents, has a right to dictate whether or not you reproduce. Indeed, if you want to have children, it should never be to please your parents. If they want children, let them adopt. Let them have a change-of-life baby. Let them volunteer with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters club.
If they want children and you don’t, defend yourself, and remind them that you are their daughter, and that while honoring your parents is a component of Islam, you are under absolutely no obligation to “give them grandchildren.” When it comes to your parents, be the Little Red Hen. They will not have to do the work, or make the sacrifices that motherhood entails, and so they have zero stake in the hypothetical bun in your oven.
Remind them that you are their daughter, and that while honoring your parents is a component of Islam, you are under absolutely no obligation to ‘give them grandchildren.’ tweet
Parents, don’t say this to your daughter. You yourself probably have an idea of what it is like to have your own parents boil your value down to whether you can create a copy of yourself for them to play with.
Your child is a fully-formed human being with thoughts, emotions, desires, and aspirations — so many of which might have to be sacrificed or set aside if a baby enters the picture. Don’t compare your children to fruit trees, or tell them their clock is ticking. You had children, and fulfilled your desire. They do not owe you grandchildren, but you do owe them respect as a human being.
“You just haven’t met the right person yet.”
Here, an anecdote from my own life with the reminder that we who wish to remain childless do not owe you an explanation.
There is no “right person” for me. So many people get teary-eyed when I make this statement, as though I am living in despair, a Cinderella with no prince around, thinking I will forever be alone.
I am not some damsel longing for spiritual or sexual fulfillment in a husband, lamenting my empty bed. (Saying this makes people with subscriptions to Patriarchal BS Quarterly spin their heads around like that kid in the Exorcist).
I am the one that I want. I am the right person for me. If I could run down the beach, slow-motion, into my own arms, I would do it. I enjoy being single, and I know myself better than anyone else. Wallah Bros can chant “Allah created us in pairs” all they like. Marriage (especially for a happy asexual) is not a commandment, and being unmarried is not a sin. Plenty of old maids and virgin men have gone to their graves content in the knowledge that they worshipped for Allah, and not because someone told them that if they weren’t consummated they wouldn’t get into heaven.
“You just don’t know if you want children because you don’t have your own yet.”
Having children is not like trying a new ice cream flavor. You cannot “try” having children, because while there are no severe consequences for disliking pistachio, you can’t go back to the hospital and present your children for return. Nope, not even with a receipt. There is no money-back guarantee on kids, and treating child-rearing as though it is something every woman will absolutely love is not just stupid, it’s dangerous.
Having children is not like trying a new ice cream flavor. tweet
Children require and deserve a mother who is committed to them; someone who is prepared to care for them from the moment the test reads blue until she enters her grave. Burdening children with a resentful mother is not just bad Islam, it’s child abuse.
Which brings us to the next favorite saying of Masjid Uncles and Wallah Bros.
“You’re not fulfilling your deen.”
Perfecting religious practice and worship requires three things above all else: patience, dedication, and self restraint. Marriage and/or children also require all three of these things.
It takes patience to live with another human being and their idiosyncrasies. It takes dedication to care for your spouse or work on building a relationship. It takes self restraint not to go ballistic when the other person doesn’t take out the trash, or insists you are doing it wrong, or tries to dominate a conversation. Being good at religion is practice for being good at marriage, and being good at marriage is practice for being a good Muslim.
Asking anyone who does not desire marriage to get married is not a recipe for creating a good Muslim, it is a recipe for creating a marriage under stress or parents who will struggle with their new roles. tweet
However, throwing the “fulfillment of half your deen” around to badger women (or men) into getting married shows that you miss the point entirely. One can be unmarried and be a good Muslim. One can complete the five pillars of faith without getting hitched. Asking anyone who does not desire marriage to get married is not a recipe for creating a good Muslim, it is a recipe for creating a marriage under stress or parents who will struggle with their new roles.
Even the best Muslim, if unwilling or unready to accept the many challenges and hurdles of marriage and family, will fail both in completion of their faith and their duties to their spouse and their children. It is not any of your beeswax what reasons a person might have for keeping their neck out of the sacred noose, but you should trust that they alone will know if and when they are ready for marriage.
Furthermore, happily married couples who do not have or want children do not need your input. Let them honeymoon for one, seven, or 45 years if that’s what they want. Their marriage is not a promise to you that they will have children for your sake.
Kindly butt right out.
“I will pray for you to get married and have children.”
Don’t. Pray for me to ace my tests. Pray for me to have success at work. Pray for me to be a good person and make a difference in this world with the many gifts Allah has given me. Pray that the grocery store is fully stocked on Ben and Jerry’s Americone Dream and that I won’t gain an ounce of weight, even if I eat a pint a day.
But if I don’t want marriage or children, don’t pray for me to get married and have children. Yes, Allah knows what is in my future, and His will is the river on which I float. But Allah also gave me free will. God put me in that river with a sturdy boat, two oars, and the ability to row. God knows what the painting will look like before I touch the pigments, but He handed me the brush. I am shaping the life I want.
I am authoring my own life, and forging my own path to the Lord. Your statement that you will pray for me is not because you want God’s will done: it will be done regardless. Your statement tells me that you want me to have children, and that your prayers are not for Allah’s sake, but for your own.
If you want me to be happy, pray for me to have what I want, not what you want for me. tweet
You pray selfishly, and your statement belies your total disregard for my own wishes about my body and my life. Beware: selfish people don’t get to stay in the lives of strong Muslimas for very long.
And if you have decided to counter with, “Oh, but I love children and marriage and I wish the same happiness for you,” know that I find happiness in cats and chocolate, and pray for me to have those instead. If you want me to be happy, pray for me to have what I want, not what you want for me.
“But motherhood is wonderful!”
Before motherhood is wonderful, motherhood is painful. People who throw this one around belittle the sacrifices and hardships faced by women who are already mothers, making pregnancy and parenthood seem like a walk in the park.
Before a woman can even have a baby, her feet swell, her joints loosen and relax, her skin stretches and tears as the baby grows inside her, her breasts become heavy and sore. She carries her child in sickness and in pain for nine months, risking her very life for the safety and wellbeing of the fetus before it rips her open to be born into this world. Motherhood is wonderful only for women who are able, physically and mentally, to assign themselves this brutal task, and still find reward at the other end of so much sacrifice and suffering.
Why is it that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said in Bukhari, “Honor your mother, then honor your mother, then honor your mother?” Because the life of a mother is much harder than anyone imagines, and no one gives these women enough credit.
Another reason never to throw this one around: while there are plenty of us who do not want children, who find our lives to be perfectly wonderful without the sacrifices of motherhood and the pitter-patter of tiny feet, there are also many women who long to have children, and for reasons of physical or mental difficulty, can’t.
Some women try to conceive and are unable (note I didn’t use the word “fail,” infertility is not failure). Constantly pressuring women who desperately want children, bringing up the most painful area of their lives, is not just insensitive, it’s cruel.
Some women are ill and decide that while they want children, becoming pregnant would be far too dangerous to their health. Some women have a hard enough time caring for themselves mentally and emotionally, and would rather preserve their sanity and enjoy their child-free lives than introduce a new and exhausting variable. Some of us just don’t want to clean sticky mystery-stains off our hard surfaces or wonder why there’s glitter on the dog.
Motherhood might be wonderful for you, but it is not wonderful for all women. Women who are unable to have children or simply do not want children are told all too often that they are not really women, that biology is destiny, and that childless women are therefore worth less — that they are worthless.
Newsflash: our worth is not couched in the patriarchal notion that we exist to reproduce, to bear children in service of men or mankind. We have worth whether or not you believe in it.
Motherhood might be wonderful, but patriarchy sucks, and yours is showing.
“You should have more children/Aren’t you going to try for a boy?”
Just stop. Once again, this question places more value on women as baby machines than as human beings. No one should decide how many children it is appropriate for a woman to have other than the woman who is going to be doing the baby-making and child-raising.
I know families who have four children and are always hearing that their family should be bigger. Furthermore, I know many happy families who have two, three, even four daughters, who constantly field the question, often from Desi and Arab aunties, “When is the boy coming?”
This deeply patriarchal Jahaliyya thinking is is as dangerous as it is disgusting to girls who do their families proud and to parents who love their daughters just as they would love a son.
These families are full and happy, and yet are considered invalid because none of their children has a penis. This type of devaluing of girl children not only demeans parents of girls as failures, it communicates the poisonous idea that no matter how successful a girl is, no matter what she achieves, her worth will always be less than that of a boy.
I do not want to be a mother every minute of every day for the rest of my life, and that’s not selfishness, it’s self-awareness. It’s self-empowerment. It’s self realization. tweet
Do not tell our women that their value is determined by how many children they have or how many of those children are male. Do not tell our girls that they are less worthy than boys. Do not tell our boys that they are more valuable than girls. Allow children to flourish in being loved equally, for they are equally capable of achieving greatness.
“But don’t you love children? You would be an excellent mother.”
Actually, I do really love children. I have been a preschool teacher, nanny, and childcare provider for more than 10 years, and I have loved all my weird, wonderful little kiddos. But loving kids, being good at caring for kids, knowing how to make kids laugh, none of these things compare to being a full-time mother.
Reproductive agency and respect for women as human beings rather than potential vessels is severely lacking in this world, and these attitudes are not just profoundly ignorant, they are dangerous to women. tweet
I might, if I wanted to, be good at wrapping my life around the needs of a child, but that isn’t what I want. I want to play with the children I care for, I want to make my goddaughter giggle, I want to play superheroes with my nephews and braid my nieces’ hair.
But I do not want to be a mother every minute of every day for the rest of my life, and that’s not selfishness, it’s self-awareness. It’s self-empowerment. It’s self realization. I might be an excellent mother, or I might not, but ultimately, it is my choice, and the choice every other woman must make on her own.
“Aren’t you lonely/unhappy?”
No. I have family, I have friends. I form relationships that meet my needs.
I am active in my community. I have a full and even busy life, and I am loving every second of it. Except for those seconds when someone feels they can inquire about the contents of my period-purse.
“Don’t you feel incomplete? Like something is missing?”
Nothing is “missing” from my life. Strong milennial Muslimas have this peculiar drive: when we want something, we go and get it. If we sense something is missing, we locate it and make it ours. My life is complete at the moment.
In fact, I wish there were just one thing my life were missing: people who feel that a young woman, without a husband or children, is to be pitied rather than praised.
Reproductive agency and respect for women as human beings rather than potential vessels is severely lacking in this world, and these attitudes are not just profoundly ignorant, they are dangerous to women.
Placing our value in our wombs dehumanizes and objectifies women, allowing for women and girls to be treated as things and not people. This leads to girls being denied education, women being denied their full rights with regards to property, marriage, and employment, and even contributes to sexually motivated violence like rape, female infanticide, and so-called honor killing.
When you meet a girl who does not have children, don’t make your eyes the size of dinner plates, don’t let your jaw hit the floor, don’t ask her “Why?!”
Because this is what she wants, that’s why.