Tuesday, September 25, 2007
As an American, one of the ideals I hold most dear is the idea that I can be whatever I want to be - this ideal of self-determinism is as American as apple pie. We have all been indoctrinated from birth that we live in a great country where we can aspire to be anything - even the President of the United States - if we truly apply ourselves and give it everything we have. We are taught that America is the "land of opportunity", that people flock here from around the globe for the chance to live a prosperous life of their choosing. I may be growing weary and cynical with age, but I generally still believe this to be true and am grateful to live in a country where I can determine my own path in life. A woman like me wouldn't fare too well in Afghanistan.
Yes, American self-determinism is alive and well. There is one big caveat, however, for Americans who also happen to be women. You can be anything you want to be - a doctor, lawyer, executive, President or Indian Chief - as long as you are also a mother. This is where American self-determinism hits a wall. While it's true that one can certainly choose not to be a mother (take me, for instance), this lifestyle choice is not supported, sanctioned, encouraged or in most cases tolerated in our country. How many childfree-by-choice role models did I have growing up? None. How many tax breaks do I get as a childfree person? None. How many television shows or films feature lead characters who are childfree by choice? Can't think of any. How many politicians running for office are childfree by choice? I can't think of any. Do you think a childfree-by-choice person could be elected President? Doubt it.
Being a childfree-by-choice woman in this culture gets about the same reaction as announcing you are an atheist or a househusband. Everyone agrees in freedom of religion, but most people wouldn't elect an atheist as President. Most people agree that men should contribute to the care of a home, but would have a pretty low opinion of a man who stayed at home and cooked and cleaned while his wife brought home the bacon.
This is American self-determinism in a nutshell: you can be whatever you want to be as long as you select from the list of pre-approved gender-appropriate aspirations. And if you are woman, motherhood is aspiration number one.